Hey saddlepals. Happy last weekend of January. While it’s a beautiful day in the Santa Clarita of here-&-now, best you dig through the trunks and pull out some winter (some fashionable and Western winter) duds. We’ll be trekking through a few snowstorms on today’s journey.
Despite some cold weather, we’ve got hot romance, crooked politicians (what a surprise!), more stories of the SCV during World War II and we’ll be joined in today’s time traveling with not more horses, but camels.
Single file through yonder vortex and do cup a gentle hand atop your Stetson as there’s a slight breeze entering yesteryear…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
THE SCV’S TIMELESS & CLASSIC ROMANCE — It would become one of the most significant books of the 19th century in that it helped launch a huge real estate boom in California. Author Helen Hunt Jackson stopped at the Camulos Ranch on Jan. 23, 1882, off present-day Highway 126. There, she interviewed Blanca Yndart, a young, rather short and plain-looking Tataviam Indian girl. From those sessions, Jackson would create one of the most powerful books of the 19th century and create a beautiful heroine. The book’s title? “Ramona.”
NOPE. HIS MIDDLE NAME WAS NOT ‘PLUG’ — Rudolph Nickel, store owner and newspaper publisher, founded the Acton Post Office on Jan. 24, 1888. Back then, the Acton/Agua Dulce area had more folks living there than in the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley.
BACK WHEN A CAMEL WOULD WALK A MILE FOR YOU —Abraham Lincoln refused to make Edward Fitzgerald Beale surveyor general of the United States, noting: “He tends to become master of all he surveys.” On this date minus a day, in 1858, before he was a general, Beale drove a herd of brightly tacked camels through Los Angeles, en route through Newhall and the San Joaquin beyond. Beale had petitioned Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to try an experiment using camels to patrol the vast stretches of California. Soon, the Civil War would start and Davis (who would later resign to lead the Confederate armies) and Beale would have other things on their minds. Besides, there were few cowpokes out here who had the patience or training to work with camels. Eventually, the Army would sell most of the dromedaries to zoos or private owners.
THE SCHOOL’S RICH. THE KIDS? NOT SO MUCH. — The little one-school Castaic School District was, for decades, one of the richest per-student districts in all of America. What with subsidies coming in from cattle herds and oil wells, the superintendent wasn’t chosen so much for his educational abilities, but ranch management skills.
JANUARY 29, 1922
GOIN’ MOBILE — Ed Frimback and Fred Cooper were racing in two “auto-mobile machines” on the main drag of Newhall. Constable George Hitchcock caught up with them, found them both to be drunk and threw them in the pokey. They were released on a staggering $1,000 bond — about the cost of six downtown lots back then. A new Chevy cost just $675.
WOMEN. WOMAN. WHATEVER IT TAKES. — The Newhall Woman’s Club reopened. It was initially established in 1901, disbanded for a while, and reformed on this date. The NWC went strong until around 1990, when they disbanded again. No one was going to the meetings. Mrs. Louis Gormley was elected president in 1922, and, interestingly, she showed up for an anniversary celebration with the local club 50 years later. I don’t even want to get into the endless grammatical complexities as to why this national and local organization was “Woman’s Club” vs. “Women’s Club.”
JANUARY 29, 1932
AND OLD DAD WAS NEVER THE SAME AFTER THIS — On this date Signal owner, publisher and editor A.B. Thatcher lost the love of his life. His wife, Anna, passed away at their Newhall Avenue home. She was born in Tama County, Iowa, in 1859, married “Dad” in 1881 and moved West.
GETTING INTO CIVIL SERVICE — Former Signal owner and editor Blanche Brown had been retired from the newspaper business for nearly 10 years, but she was still the town librarian. The Newhall branch of the county library was in its third year and under librarian Brown, she had doubled monthly book rentals to 1,500.
SOUNDS LIKE A GOOFY GLADIATOR NAME — The MacMarr Market had a special on Max-I-Mum Coffee — 3 one-pound cans for a buck. In modern Starbucks money, that’d probably cost you about $12,000.
JANUARY 29, 1942
LIGHTS OUT DURING THE WAR — The rule of the valley was no lights after dark. But, we had trouble enforcing it. Seems there was a shortage of local air raid wardens for a while during the early days of World War II. A huge campaign for volunteers still didn’t do much to fill the quota. The predominantly African-American community of Val Verde, however, was the most patriotic, almost immediately filling their quota of 31 air raid wardens.
THE WAR DIDN’T STOP THE CROOKS — Topping the list of the burglars’ wish list were tires. With the rationing of rubber during WWII, tire thievery became prevalent. Al Taylor had four new whitewalls stolen from his basement. In due time, I’m betting someone even stole Al’s basement, because you sure don’t see many basements in Santa Clarita (or California) today.
THE SCV’S LEBRON JAMES OF HIS DAY — Melford Hearn played for the 8th grade team at Saugus Elementary in the Foothill Junior League. The squad ran up seven wins in a row, including a 33-7 trouncing over Newhall Elementary, a 30-13 win over Southwestern Military Academy and beating mighty La Canada twice. Hearn scored 24 points in that last victory.
JANUARY 29, 1952
SO LET’S DO IT TWICE: ‘PUNKS!’ — It’s a good day in journalism when you can get the word, “PUNKS” in a headline. On this date, The Mighty Signal noted on the front page: “CHP Bullets Halt Six Fleeing Punks.” Seems some kids — pre-teens from Bakersfield — stole a few cars during a crime spree and were finally halted when Highway Patrol officers fired a few shots into the hood of their car. Southern California headlines dubbed them: “The Baby Bandit Gang.” The six ranged in age from 8 to 13.
OL’ POORE DAN — Newhall cowboy Dan Poore was anything but. He won $3,000 at the Denver Rodeo riding the broncos. I’ll tell you a little something — three grand was a bona fide ton of money in 1952, especially for staying on the north side of a horse.
JANUARY 29, 1962
LET US NEVER FORGET DEAR RUTH JONES — We so often remember scoundrels and egomaniacs in history. It’s rare we honor the simple good soul. On this date, Mrs. Ruth Jones retired after teaching kindergarten for 37 years at Newhall Elementary. She started teaching here in 1925, back before Newhall Elementary was in its present location (Newhall Elementary had moved around quite a bit and in 1925, it was near where Jimmy Dean’s is today on Lyons). She barely kept her job because in those days, by law, you had to have 10 kids in kindergarten. Mrs. Jones taught for over a decade in a small, condemned building that hung together with baling wire and scrap lumber. She personally raised $300 to buy a piano for her class and it was one of the few things saved when the new campus burned to the ground in 1939. When she retired in 1962, Newhall School held an all-day party. That must have been so hauntingly empty the next day, to not be going to your job of so long.
THE BLIZZARD OF ’62 — The week before, Newhall was hit by a pretty big snowstorm. One of the effects was hundreds of downed trees, including some ancient oaks estimated to be 200-400 years old. As one old-timer noted: “There will be a lot of firewood in this winter of 1962…”
JANUARY 29, 1972
WHAT A SURPRISE. CROOKED POLITICIANS. — On this date, the congressional boundaries for the SCV changed. Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. was redistricted out of representing us. John Rousselot, of San Marino, was now our new congressman. That’s almost like our beloved Rep. Mike Garcia getting gerrymandered to represent Berkeley. Rousselot, by the way, was a former member of the John Birch Society.
POSSE NO SHOW — A troupe of horseback riders starting in Missouri to protest a lack of inquiry to American POWs in Vietnam was supposed to arrive in Castaic. Dubbed the “Pony Express Ride for POWs,” riders would carry a sack of letters from local citizens and ride them in 10-mile stretches across America to the next group of riders. The letters were supposed to be eventually turned over to Congress. Strangest thing, the POW riders turned up MIA. They never showed up in Castaic.
JANUARY 29, 1982
YUP. ANOTHER BLIZZARD IN A YEAR ENDING IN ‘2’ — It’s downright eerie. It does seem like at the end or beginning of a decade, we get snow. We had substantial snowfall not just up in the hills, but on the Santa Clarita Valley floor in 1922, 1962, 1949, 1950, 1970, and, a decent dusting in 1982. It didn’t close down schools or topple trees, but a small layer stuck to the ground (Oh. We also had a pretty good snowstorm in 1974 that shut down the valley.) Wonder if snow is heading our way in 2022? We sure seem due…
BIG SHAMELESS HISTORY PLUG
“EXCUSE ME FOR LIVING, HELEN!!!” — I’m sure when CalArts’ alum Pee-wee Herman (Paul Rueben) blurted out that line years ago, Pee wasn’t referring to Helen Hunt Jackson. The Rancho Camulos Museum is hosting a special Meet & Greet at the Camulos Ranch on Highway 126, just a few miles west of Santa Clarita. It’s at 1 p.m. today (Jan. 29) with “Helen” and members of the Camulos family, plus a tour of the estate. I hope I don’t have to remind you historians that Ms. Jackson wrote one of the most influential novels in American history, set right here in the SCV. Call 805-521-1501 for more info. It’ll be a hoot AND you’ll get some education. There’s a suggested donation of $10.
Whelp. That’s the thing with time travel. We’re back to where we started in the blink of an eye. Hope you get all your weekend chores done and have time for at least six naps. I’ll see you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post seven days hence and until then, dear saddlepals — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!”
Check out John Boston’s new SCV history book — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America” at http://johnbostonbooks.com/