Well a warm and Western howdy, dear buckaroos, buckaroo-ettes. Got a special heads-up. I’ll be speaking at Rancho Camulos on Highway 126 on your way toward Lake Piru this Sunday, March 27, at 1:30 p.m. I’ll be chatting about my two new Santa Clarita history books on local monsters and the supernatural, plus all sorts of gee-whiz SCV history tidbits.
The kind of stories that make you gnaw on your knuckles.
Not the kind of stories that make you sleep in class, or, drive 20 miles one way to sleep in class.
It’s free, but there’s a suggested donation of $5 for adults, $3 for kids and $179.99 for hecklers and people who think they know something.
That terribly important public service announcement aside, let’s time travel.
All of us are going to hop in the saddle on our own fine steed and mosey toward the Santa Clarita time vortex and see what’s what in yesteryear.
We’ve got a particularly interesting trail ride through SCV history this morning, saddlepals. We’ll see one of the best days in the history of the SCV, and one of the worst. There’s also a local gynecologist you might think twice about before setting an appointment.
We’ll watch as the famed Saugus Cafe moves over a few feet and there’s giant gravel pit wars from yesteryear, a heroic dog rescuer, and some civic-minded cops who dug deep into their own pockets.
Glorious day to be on a horse, amigos…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
CHUGGA CHUGGA CHUGGA CHOO CHOO CHOO — With a blast of Hercules dynamite, back on March 22, 1875, construction began on the train tunnel that connected the San Fernando Valley with the SCV. On the other side of the hill, they call it the San Fernando Train Tunnel. Over here, we call it the Newhall Train Tunnel. When it was completed about a year later, working from both sides of the mountain, engineers were off in their digging calculations by an amazing less than an inch. That’s old-time math. When completed a little more than a year later, it would be the third-longest railroad tunnel on Earth. More than 1,000 Chinese workers — many of whom would stay here to live and work in Santa Clarita — labored to build this epic engineering project. Many of the Chinese would lose their lives from explosions, landslides and flooding.
THE BIG SHAKE — An epic earthquake, centered at Mt. Whitney, shook much of the state at 2:30 a.m. on March 26, 1872. It was later estimated to be about a 7.9 on the Richter Scale, about on the same catastrophic scale as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and took the lives of 27 souls with 56 seriously injured. It shook the few buildings and walls here in the Santa Clarita.
I’D KILL FOR AN 1889 8th GRADE LETTERMAN’S JACKET — Back on March 25, 1889, the Castaic School District was founded.
MARCH 26, 1922
AND TODAY, IT’D BUY YOU TWO OR THREE TANKS OF GAS — Back in 1922, if you had a Model T Ford and needed to replace a new convertible top for it, the cost was just $9.50. Of course, the whole car, brand new, cost just $580. You also had to pay something called a war tax on top of the asking price of $580.
IT’LL TIRE YOU OUT — Bob Woodward was a successful businessman here in the 1920s. He owned several acres of Downtown Newhall and on this date, he began construction on a new business — vulcanizing. This was the process of applying heat, sulfur and sometimes other trace materials to make rubber — specifically tires. The 16- by 32-foot new shop was run by a Mr. C.M. Cambridge, whom, I believe, was the valley’s first vulcanizer.
IF YOU SEE IT IN SCRABBLE, DON’T CHALLENGE — Here’s another word from a century back not used much if at all — Stereopticon. It was a new type of film projection. Saugus Elementary was showing a short festival of history headlines as a fundraiser.
MARCH 26, 1932
OK. A RADIO UPDATE FROM 7 DAYS AGO — Remember on last week’s ride? We noted how, for the first time in history, the local sheriff’s deputies got their first radio in a patrol car. There were a few days of celebration around the sheriff’s office until they got the message from the county that the SCV deputies had to pass the hat and pay for that first car radio themselves. As always, above and beyond the call of duty, boys…
BEFORE E-BOOKS… — … there was Mrs. Richards. She opened a small book shop on this date in Downtown Newhall. Not only did she sell the latest bestsellers, but she also rented them out at 2 cents a day. Seems in the 1930s Depression money, that was a considerable bite.
MARCH 26, 1942
ONE OF THE DARKEST DAYS IN U.S. AND AMERICAN HISTORY — On this date, the first motorcade of 148 cars and trucks passed through the SCV. The people driving them had all their earthly possessions they could carry, including lawn chairs and baby carriages, tied to the roofs. The convoy was escorted by military Jeeps and the California Highway Patrol and was bound for the upper Owens Valley. The somber line stopped outside of Newhall at a routine check because one of the drivers had a chauffeur’s license issued to another name. The American-born youth, Tadao Kimura, carried the license for a friend and his trucking company. “I was given the license originally to keep out of trouble,” said Kimura. “And look where I am now.” Kimura was part of the families who had been driven from their homes and who were being escorted to the Japanese-American internment camps in Manzanar in the Owens Valley. Interestingly, in those harsh climes, Manzanar means “apple orchard” in Spanish.
BUY BONDS — Silent film superstar and local cowboy William S. Hart was on the steps of the Treasury Building in New York City, urging citizens to buy war bonds. He ordered his business manager to sell $60,000 worth of stock, at a loss, to buy war bonds for our effort in World War II.
ALL PART OF THE JOB — Rookie officers in the Highway Patrol had mandatory extra studying to do. New patrolmen were expected to become experts in arboriculture and had to take care of and study trees their first 12 months in uniform.
MARCH 26, 1952
TAKE THAT ORDER TO GO? — The historic Saugus Cafe moved to a new location. Kind of. Actually, local businessmen Red Andrews and Bill Rolls bought the old café building and remodeled it to include a hotel. The café part they moved a few feet over to where the old Saugus Pool Hall sat. A few extra touches and the Saugus Café held its grand reopening around March 1952. Interestingly, several years ago from present-day, Caltrans looked into yet again widening Railroad Avenue in front of the SaugCaf. They noted that because of technically moving the address over a few feet, the building didn’t qualify for historic building status and could legally be razed. I remember a state bureaucrat called me years ago to test the waters, wondering if razing the ol’ SC would ruffle any feathers locally. I seem to recall asking the gent if he knew the definition of the word, “jihad…”
PLACERITOS TO THE RESCUE — We had an early Fourth of July parade emergency on this date. Seems Placeritos Movie Ranch (where Melody Ranch is today) manager Chuck Hays booked a movie shoot on Independence Day. Normally, Melody/Placeritos Ranch was where we held the annual post-Fourth of July parade activities.
SGT. DODGE DODGES. FOR A WHILE — Sgt. Richard Dodge escaped injuries in several battles in Korea. He had just been discharged a few days earlier. Coming home on the Ridge Route, he was hit by a driver crossing over the center divider and sustained major injuries.
MARCH 26, 1962
HAH!! — A Signal editorial proudly proclaimed that the SCV would never end up like “Los Angeles’ other faceless bedroom communities.” Quoth us: “The very nature of its hills and mountain tops (and these do have an effect on people) will keep us apart and above many other areas.” Okey-doke…
A STRANGE LAST GLANCE TOWARD HEAVEN — When Andrew Jepson was unloading firewood at his San Francisquito ranch, he heard a strange but familiar sound in the skies — engine trouble from a faltering airplane. Jepson, an aircraft machinist, shielded his eyes and watched as a vintage World War II fighter plane coughed, sputtered then fell to Earth right over Jepson’s house. The plane crashed and tangled into high-tension wires and the sole person aboard was killed instantly. The pilot turned out to be Jepson’s best friend, John Lewis.
A HAPPIER LANDING — Same darn day, a 70-year-old pilot, Bob Morrow, was piloting his Cessna through the SCV when he ran out of gas. He made an emergency landing on a Newhall Land & Farming Co. property. Recent rains made the dirt road a mud pen and Morrow’s plane flipped over. He walked away without a scratch.
MARCH 26, 1972
IT’S THE PITS — Giant gravel pit wars are nothing new for Canyon Country. For more than a decade, locals were battling with Ray Schweitzer, owner of Soledad Materials Co. Neighbors were complaining of air pollution, traffic jams caused by dump trucks, and strange explosions going off in the middle of the night. Schweitzer, sometimes showing up to planning commission meetings in colorful cowboy garb, told the planners: “I didn’t tell these people how to build their homes and buildings. They don’t have the right to tell me what to do with my land.” Well. Actually, “they” did. Over the decades, the SCV would be the center of proposed garbage dumps and more gravel pits.
DRAW, SHOOT, AIM, OUCH — Another hapless quick-draw artist got the age-old order of firing a gun way out of order. A 21-year-old way up Sand Canyon was practicing, poorly, his gunslinger prowess when he shot a good-sized hole through his knee. He had to be airlifted out of the rugged canyon. I’d like to say the youngster didn’t limp or hear the wind whistling through his leg, but that would be optimistic.
ISN’T JIM FROM NEBRASKA? — Placerita Junior High Vice Principal Jim Tanner gave a hilarious speech about what would happen if Hart High changed its mascot name from the Indians. People thought it was such a stupid idea, they howled. Hm. Wonder if any of the current four Hart district trustees who overrode local community opinion to eradicate the Indian attended the speech then?
MARCH 26, 1982
SEE! I TOLD YOU GUYS IT CAN SNOW IN MARCH!! — March 19 was one of the prettiest days in the history of the valley. We were blessed when the snow level dropped to 1,300 feet and all the hills were lightly dusted with white powder. The surprise storm landed after an early warm spring when all the wildflowers were blooming, so you had this riot of color popping up from the light snow.
GLAD I DIDN’T NEED A GYNECOLOGIST 40 YEARS AGO — Some of Dr. Kim Beauchamp’s patients were a little more than unhappy. And Dr. B wasn’t exactly getting a stellar reputation around town. On this date, the local gynecologist lost a $700,000 malpractice suit in which he was found liable for mutilating a local woman’s genitals so badly, well. I’ll spare you the details. This came four weeks after Dr. Beauchamp lost another $2 million malpractice suit where one of the doctor’s patients couldn’t control her bowels after routine surgery.
IT WAS A DOG’S FIRST DAY OF WORK — Val Thomas used to work for us at The Mighty Signal. On this date, the normally impeccably-dressed Mrs. Thomas showed up late, wet, tattered and muddy. On her way in to work from Placerita Canyon, she rescued a wounded dog from the flooded wash.
Looks like that’s our Santa Clarita vortex up ahead. Kudos and an impressive 94 for getting out of the chute and holding on for more than 8 seconds on this particular ride through the back canyons of SCV history. Looking forward to seeing all you rough riders and rough riderettes at The Mighty Signal hitching post seven days hence. Take good care of one another and this wonderful country and valley. Hope to see you at Rancho Camulos Sunday, 1:30. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Check out John Boston’s new SCV history books — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America, Volumes 1 AND 2” at http://johnbostonbooks.com/.