Hey dear saddlepals. Happy Second — wait a second. Wasn’t I just wishing you a “Happy Second weekend” in January 2003 like 20 minutes ago? Having fun or not, time flies. Can’t believe it’s March already. Or 2022. Seems like that number should come with a starship.
Whelp. Let’s just sneak out the back door of Santa Clarita for a bit, forget our troubles, woes, and mad Tasmanian devil modern pace and go on a nice, leisurely horseback ride through our rich, epic and oft-quirky history.
All those in favor of stampeding whilst screaming past the cranky SCV Universal HOA/Hall Monitor President’s condo raise your hand. One, two, a million six. The motion carries…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
HEY! MY TOAST TASTES LIKE FEET!! — Newhall pioneer and wife to farmer/millionaire William, Pallie Mayhue started out with humble roots. When she and her husband came out here in the late 19th century, Pallie took a job as a cook in Mentryville. Pallie had never cooked for 50 people before and took a trial-by-fire apprenticeship with the chef where she learned to bake bread by the seeming ton. What shocked Pallie was her first day. The cook poured the ingredients to make loaves for 50 hungry oil workers not into any pan, but a metal washtub. Then, the oval-mouthed Pallie watched in horror as the man took off his shoes and climbed into the tub to knead the dough with his bare feet. “Gosh,” he said. “I wash my feet until they are just as clean as my hands, and besides, it would take too long the other way (using your hands).” Yeah. But you put your dang feet back into your boots. Pallie, by the way, reportedly never baked bread in such a fashion.
A GOLDEN BIRTHDAY — Here’s an interesting juxtapositioning of dates. Francisco Lopez was born at Mission San Gabriel on March 9, 1802. Forty years later, on his birthday, Lopez would make that historic discovery POSSIBLY in Placerita Canyon (there’s some debate about that) of the first documented gold strike in California history.
MARCH 12, 1922
‘GISHING’ WITH PRIDE — Entertainment wasn’t the 24-hour-a-day god it is today. We have movie houses with a dozen different films playing, cellphone shops every mile and, of course, TV, cable and Internet. On this date, 100 years ago, the closest thing we had to all that show business was one, two-reel silent movie with Lillian Gish in “The Tiger Girl” in a special showing at the Newhall Opera House. Admission? Just 15 cents for kids, a quarter for adults. Lilian, by the way, was known as the First Lady of Cinema, enjoying a career that spanned 75 years.
MARCH 12, 1928
THE GREAT FLOOD — Three minutes before midnight and 93 years ago on this date, the Santa Clarita had the dubious distinction of making the record books. The St. Francis Dam burst, sending a wall of water nearly 200 feet high down San Francisquito Canyon. It killed nearly 500 people and caused millions in damage. Next to the Johnstown Flood and the San Francisco Fire, it was the third-worst man-made disaster in American history. One of the aspects of the disaster was that it changed a beautiful, scenic canyon with ancient shade trees, meadows and endless flora into a gutted valley. Gone were most of the shrubbery, trees and wildflowers and the topsoil to grow more.
MARCH 12, 1932
DUCK SEASON. PIGEON SEASON. DUCK SEASON. PIGEON SEASON. KA-BLOOEY — Here’s a great name for you — Belmont Boster. On this date, ol’ BB was arrested by Game Warden Harbuck for shooting pigeons for sport and out of season. Fine for such? Forty bucks. And that’s a lot of cash during the Depression. I keep using this comparison, but you could buy a new house for about $600 in the SCV then.
MARCH 12, 1942
A TRAGIC MARK IN THE RECORD BOOK — We still don’t have all the data in some 80 years later, but so far, it seems like LaVern Furgeson was the first local armed forces member killed in action in World War II. The Castaic boy was killed in battle in the Philippines.
THE BIG SORTA GOLD ANNIVERSARY — Around 1,000 people attended the 100th anniversary of the first RECORDED gold discovery in California, at Placerita Canyon. (There have been stories of gold mining as early as the 1820s in San Francisquito Canyon and the discovery of the fabled Lost Padre Mine in the Castaic mountains in the late 1700s.) Lots of muckety-mucks made lots of speeches and there were fine refreshments.
BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE(s) — We had an acute housing shortage in Newhall in the 1940s. It wasn’t helped when we lost two homes in Happy Valley to fires. Value of the combined two buildings burned? About $2,000.
WILL YOU TAKE AN I.O.U. FOR VASQUEZ ROCKS? — The purchase of the famed Vasquez Rocks by Los Angeles County was delayed. Reason? Lack of funds. The county had signed papers with Alvin R. Toney, owner of the scenic 218-acre spread. L.A. didn’t have the spare $200 per acre lying around to consummate the deal. Originally, the county was going to use Vasquez Rocks as a minimum-security prison for delinquent boys.
MARCH 12, 1952
JUST MISSED THE ENVIRONMENTAL NIGHTMARE — Save for the unconscious flicking of a match or cigarette butt, Newhall could have burned to the ground. On this date, an underground oil pipe burst, creating a bubbling lake of oil in the middle of downtown Newhall. Tankers with special vacuum hoses rushed in to suck up the thousands of gallons coating Beautiful Downtown Newhall. John Ghione, who lived right exactly on top of the rupture, watched in amazement as the earth slowly rose in front of his home near 8th and Newhall avenues. The sidewalk split and a gusher of oil started filling the village streets. The pipes belonged to General Petroleum, by the way. The ground under Newhall to this day is still a maze of long-forgotten sewer, water, gas and oil pipelines.
GOING TO THE DOGS? — Fashion rage in the valley was the “Poodle” haircut. One old-timer noted that if he saw one more of them, he’d start barking.
MARCH 12, 1962
AND NOW YOU CAN BUY IT IN STORES — Doug Crowell was arrested for drug possession on this date. He ate the evidence, a handful of marijuana seeds. Unfortunately, he couldn’t reach the bag of weed under the front seat and eat that before the cops cuffed him.
MARCH 5, 1972
THE DROUGHTIEST OF THE DROUGHTS — January and February are historically wet months. But with just 0.15 inches of rain falling in February and none in January, we had the driest two-month period in the SCV since 1912. We did have about 8 inches of rainfall in December of 1971, but that came from one storm. Adding insult to injury, we had a summer in March. The mercury hit the 100-degree mark in some SCV spots. John Nicoletti of Newhall Ice made unprecedented emergency visits delivering much-appreciated ice cubes.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH GAS. AND THEN SOME. — Today, you can drive up and down Interstate 5 from here to parts unknown and enjoy gasoline, bathrooms and burgertoriums without seeming number. Such was not the case when a new stretch of Interstate 5 opened. The newly completed section of I-5 from Wheeler Ridge to Los Banos (ironically, translated from the Spanish, meaning “The Bathroom”) went a staggering 184 miles without a gas station. On the first three days of operation, 107 cars ran out of gas from here through the San Joaquin Valley. On the bright side for speeders, just two CHP cruisers patrolled the 368 miles of road.
WHEN WE WERE A TWO-NEWSPAPER TOWN — O.R. Tucker, 58, died 30 years back. Opie, as he was called, was in stiff competition with The Mighty Signal for years. Opie founded the Record-Press, the weekly newspaper. After The Signal had burned to the ground in the 1960s, Opie let the staff print this paper using his facilities. A true gentleman. He also wrote a column for this paper after he sold the Record-Press to the Storinskys. Don’t forget. In 1972, all around America, the local newspaper was just about the only venue for news and advertising. There was no such thing as the internet, local radio, or local bus benches even.
VANGUARD OF A NEW SPECIES — Red Peterson was the proud grandfather of some puppies 50 years back. His Australian sheepdog, Blue, gave birth to a litter of seven males and two females. Evidently, Blue had been dating outside the ranch because her kids were half dog, half coyote. Peterson called the brood, “Shepoyotes.” If I may be excused a small detour, if Blue had been married to the Three Stooges, she would have borne “Moe-oyotes,” “Lar-oyotes” and “Curlyjoeoyotes.”
MARCH 12, 1982
PAYS TO ADVERTISE — Well. Part of it was the power of The Mighty Signal. Part of it was a rental shortage. A Valencia subscriber called to tout our real estate section. She placed an ad for a clean, three-bedroom home rental in Valencia. Her phone rang off the hook, from calls all over Southern California. The woman confessed: “I was only able to return the first 75 calls. It was rented right away, and I want to apologize for not answering the rest of the calls.” Heavens. Don’t you wish we could bring back those 1982 prices? The home rented for just $525 a month.
WE SHALL SHED TEARS NO MORE — Here’s something you don’t see anymore — people picking onions in front of the county civic center. Just 40 years back, it was still agricultural land where Auto Row and the mall sit. I remember being a kid and a young man in Santa Clarita. During hot, windy days, everyone in the valley would be bawling their eyes out. Not making that up. The scorching, gusty days would send invisible clouds of onion juice all over the place. I’m emotional now just thinking of it.
HEY! GO OUT LONG! AND NO NEED TO COME BACK!! — On this date, the COC board of trustees stopped looking for a new football coach. They didn’t need one. Cougar football was axed from the budget.
ONE OF OUR GREATEST SPORTS TRAGEDIES — In horrific timing, former COC All-American football star Ron Jamerson was stabbed to death at a party, trying to help a friend. The 1972-’73 star was in the middle of breaking up a fight, but the assailant stabbed both men, Ron, fatally. While playing for COC, he led the state in both rushing and scoring.
As my dear childhood pal, John Duarte, used to say: “Time, like your uncle, is relative.” And so are we. Hate to say it, but we’re back in the here-&-now of Santa Clarita. I’ll miss you saddlepals and saddlepalettes but not to fear. What say we do another exciting Time Ranger adventure next week? See you back here at your Mighty Signal, 259-1000 for subscriptions, it’s a local felony if you don’t have one. Vayan con Dios, amigos!
Check out John Boston’s new SCV history book — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America” at johnbostonbooks.com/.