Ever see an elephant water ski?
Drinking or not, you’re going to.
Top of the first weekend in February to you, dear saddlepals. We have a most interesting trail ride ahead through Santa Clarita history.
Right through those time portals are snowstorms and movie stars, chemical warfare, and tales of our little Newhall International Airport. We’ve got snowbound posses, a thief of pennies and, of course, that water-skiing elephant, which we will watch from a distance because last time I checked, none of these ponies — with whom we ride through the vortex — water-skis…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US! — Back on Feb. 7, 1919, the very first edition of The Mighty Signal was published by World War I vet, Ed Brown. Setting the standard with that first issue, the very first typographical error in The Signal was leaving the “j” off the word, “jackass.” To the paper’s credit, in the numerous times they’ve since used that word, I believe it’s been spelt correctly. Math was never my strong suit, but I believe this week we’re 103 years old and we still have all our teeth. We cost but a nickel back then…
FEBRUARY 5, 1921
YOU GOTTA HAVE HART! MILES AND MILES AND MILES OF HART!! — We’re sort of sneaking in an extra year, but this is important. One of the most famous men on the planet and one of the three top movie stars in the world (with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford), silent film icon William S. Hart bought the Horseshoe Ranch from Babcock Smith on this date. He would move into the rustic cabin while construction of his mansion would begin. Hart would forever leave his stamp, his identity, the Western/cowboy culture and name on this community of Santa Clarita. A little trivia? While they were building his castle, Hart himself walked up the hill to map out today’s modern paved road. To mark the trail, he took an armful of Newhall Signals, set down a page every few feet and placed rocks on them so they wouldn’t blow away. We’re always glad to help in the construction of local castles…
FEBRUARY 4, 1922
BEST YOU TRY BAKERSFIELD BY DOG SLED — Autos were still stranded along the Ridge Route from the snowstorm of the previous week. A trio of men was stranded in Lebec for five days. They had to abandon their car, hike through deep snow to a ranger station, and gratefully camp out on the floor in front of the fireplace. Then, they snowshoed from the ranger station back to Lebec. When they finally got into their Model T to drive to Newhall, it took nine hours for them to make it. As a writer from the Auto Club magazine once noted about this new “modern” road linking us to the San Joaquin, “…people who made the trek in winter wrote adventure stories about it.”
FEBRUARY 4, 1932
ONE OF OUR WORST AIR DISASTERS — A massive search involving hundreds of men on foot and horseback combed the hills of Santa Clarita for a downed cargo/passenger plane. Dead were the pilot and seven passengers. One of the riders was local sheriff’s deputy Frank Dewar. The posse guessed the pilot had tried to turn back from an intense snowstorm and hit a mountain. A second plane, a big military bomber with two men aboard, crashed in the same locale. They were on a rescue mission, searching for that first fallen aircraft.
THE NERVE!! PAYING $1,200 A DECADE FOR RENT! — Some local misers were sitting on their empty lots in Newhall, hoping the prices would go up. This caused a shortage of homes to both sell and rent. Back then, a decent new home could be leased out at around $10 a month.
THE MAN WHO SAVED SANTA CLARITA — Perhaps the most influential person in the SCV for the 20th century, Atholl McBean addressed a group of community leaders on the airport question. There had been a movement afloat to re-create the little Newhall International Airport (dubbed thus because it made a mail run into Mexico once a week) into the future gigantic Los Angeles International Airport. McBean was against the move, noting it would hurt the future development of the valley. The land around the airport (which is about where Granary Square is today) was assessed at $167 an acre, with a yearly property tax of $11 an acre — pretty steep at post-Depression prices. Still. The then-California Aviation Agency CAA had made an offer of $550 per acre for the airport acreage. Later, in 1938, a state bond would pass to, indeed, turn our Newhall strip into LAX. Eventually, the little airport would stick around and serve nobly in the World War II effort, but the would-be “NIX” would still only be used as a secondary, emergency landing strip and LAX would end up where it is now — OFF Century Boulevard near Westchester). Side note? It was McBean with his business acumen who saved The Newhall Land & Farming Co. from bankruptcy and who ushered in the early steps to turn the thousands of acres of farmland into the future Valencia.
FEBRUARY 4, 1942
WOULDN’T YOU JUST KILL TO HAVE A VINTAGE WW2 LEATHER BOMBER JACKET WITH THE PATCH ON THE BACK OF ‘SKY WATCHERS?’ — In the early stages of the second World War, after a shortage of air wardens, publicity in The Mighty Signal helped recruit “Sky Watchers.” At a meeting of the new recruits, 81 air wardens were signed up. They went through weekly meetings on how to handle a wide variety of situations where people refused to shade their windows at night. (Because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a fear that Japan would attack the West Coast, including Saugus, one of the top 10 military targets in the world. The blackouts were designed to not give nighttime bombers a target.) One imaginary scenario was how to deal with a young mother with a baby who was afraid of the dark. Another scene had air wardens going against a tough customer who just plain refused to turn out his lights or shade his windows. One warden suggested shimmying up the pole and cutting his electricity. There was also the concern of gas or chemical attack and the local Newhall wardens were taught proper gas mask procedure and care of the injured.
A PENNY STOLEN IS A PENNY EARNED — Talk about a hard-times robbery: On this date, someone broke into the Hawley Drug Store, busted open the weight scale, and made off with an estimated two handfuls of pennies.
AND MOST OF YOU YOUNGER RIDERS HAD BETTER DARN WELL SEE THIS MOVIE BY NOW — “The Maltese Falcon” debuted at the nearly brand-new American Theater. Got some trivia. (I love this stuff!) Mary Astor, a friend of Bill Hart’s, was a nervous wreck during filming. Director John Huston made her run around the set to calm down before scenes. I could see why Mary was nervous. She was having an affair with Huston during filming. George Raft turned down Humphrey Bogart’s lead role as Sam Spade. The three statues of the Maltese Falcon still exist today and each are worth about $1 million. Bogart dropped two and dented them. Leonardo di Caprio owns one of the originals — and one of the most expensive props ever — today. The total cost to design, build and paint those three statues? Just $700 total.
FEBRUARY 4, 1952
BANKRUPT BUILDERS — The final nail was hammered into the nearly block-long addition to Newhall Elementary. The project was fraught with problems, from the contractor going broke to the bonding company pulling back its guarantees to a whole passel of other problems. Still. It got finished and is still in use today.
THAT’S MAJOR BIG BUCKS IN ’52 — My old pal Mary Jauregui took the phrase “cold cash” quite literally. Mary was chair of the local March of Dimes project. When all the precincts turned in their money to her, it was on a weekend and Mary felt a little nervous about having so much money ($615) around the ranch. So, she hid it in a deep freezer. When Monday came around, she had to chip away the edges (it was one of those old-fashioned freezers) and bring in a large block of cash, coins and ice into the Bank of America. Branch Manager John Bronaugh had to set up a special table to let the money thaw before he could count it. That $615 then would be worth about $7,000 today…
POOR JESSE NEVER MADE IT HOME — Jesse Small never made it back home. The county road crew worker was out by Weldon Canyon (today’s Old Road) when a nearby giant crane swung around, coming within a yard of high-tension wires. A huge arc sparked, sizzled down the ladder and struck Jesse, frying him dead.
OL’ A.B. vs. THE HIGHWAY PATROL — California Highway Patrol Capt. Charles Eagan was the center of a lot of rural abuse. On this date, several dozen residents were ticketed for parking at an angle on Market Street. Of course, everyone in town had been parking at an angle on Market Street since there had been cars. (We still park that way today on part of that street.) Eagan stiffly noted that law and custom are two different things. Judge A.B. Perkins tore up every one of the parking violations and Eagan later quietly had his officers hold off on issuing parking violations. Eagan was not exactly a favorite around town. He ordered his officers to hand out parking tickets for cars not parked within 18 inches of the curb — ON RURAL DIRT ROADS!
FEBRUARY 4, 1962
THERE GOES THREE YEARS OF PAY — Destroyerman Ken Woods of the Navy (ours) not only proved he earned his handle but also that Ken was a triple threat. Woods, 22, drifted off to sleep while piloting his Rambler motorcar. A-snooze, the sailor failed to notice a gentle curve, swerved off the road, ka-plowed right through a wooden fence, knocked over a telephone pole, then smashed through the same fence at the end of the curve. Sailor Woods wasn’t fined, but had to pay for repairs.
FEBRUARY 4, 1972
WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE — At exactly 10:03 a.m. on Jan. 26, 1972, a switch at the Edmonston pumping station south of Bakersfield was thrown and water began pumping. The first drops of water roared through the massive pipeline, headed to fill the new Castaic reservoir. Despite 2,500 gallons being pumped every second, it would take nearly three years to fill the massive manmade lake.
FEBRUARY 4, 1982
THE DAY WHEN CIVILIZATION TURNED — On this date, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block announced that Wayside would be expanded. Wayside had originally been a “country club” minimum-security jail with the prisoners maintaining the 2,800-acre spread as a working ranch. Over the years, the minimum security slowly changed to maximum. In 1982, Wayside housed about a third of the county’s 10,000 prisoners. The expansion called for increasing the prison from 2,296 beds by 1,800 more at a cost of nearly $100 million. Eventually, Wayside would have its name changed to Pitchess Detention Center, in honor of the old sheriff, and today houses an entire passel of tough customers.
’T’WEREN’T A REPUBLICAN — On this date, one of the oddest sights ever to appear on water was shot at Castaic Lake. A crew filming a Panasonic commercial had a waterskiing elephant being towed by a speed boat.
What do you know? Been gone for more than 100 years and minutes later, we’re right back to the here-&-now of our well-cemented Santa Clarita. Surely appreciate the companionship and if you’re amenable, what say we do this again seven days hence back here at The Mighty Signal, 259-1234 for subscriptions? Until then dear saddlepals, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Order John Boston’s hilarious and scary new SCV history book, volume No. 1 of “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America” at http://johnbostonbooks.com/