The Time Ranger | When the President Blew Off Saugus

The Timer Ranger
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A sincere and most Western howdy to you, saddlepals. Last I looked, it’s still spring. Another Official Mighty Signal Spring morning — time to stretch out the kinks, hop into the saddle and ride back through the back trails of SCV time.  

Today, we’ll be trying to say howdy to a U.S. president who set a world record for the shortest visit. We’ve got famous local lawmen, superstar athletes and movie stars with whom to chat. 

And, of course, we simply must talk about the weather. 

C’mon. Sit up straight on those ponies and let’s act like we know what we’re doing… 

Oh. And we’ve another special permanent guest to welcome. My pal, legendary golf scorecard bender and dead-eye basketball shot, Lee Harris, made his transition last weekend. Can’t think of someone more full-of-mischief than the SCV’s premier money mogul, financial planner, and beloved mighty Hart High Indian. Tip of the Stetson to you, Lee. Do look to the left, right and behind for any members of the SCV Ladies’ Church Auxiliary before sharing any, ahem — light-heartedness… 


PRESIDENT BEN’S SCV APPROVAL RATING WASN’T TOO HIGH — Back on April 25, 1891, President Benjamin Harrison’s train roared through Saugus. Nicknamed “Little Ben” for being the second-shortest U.S. president, Harrison was scheduled to make a brief, “Hi, everybody!” stop at the Saugus Depot, but reportedly didn’t even wave from his car. In fact, locals threw together an impromptu brass band of three musicians, but the president’s train just plowed through the banner and the greeting committee forlornly watched the speeding train pass. “Little Ben,” by the way, was 5-foot-6, towering a full 2 inches over James Madison at 5-4. (I shall graciously step around nicknames for the current Oval Office occupant…) 

BUSY DATE FOR SAUGUS — Same date, but in 1906, the Bercaw General Store opened in Surrey. For a couple of years, there was some confusion as to where Surrey ended (at Mr. Bercaw’s store) and where Saugus began. If it weren’t for the Post Office, today, we might have the Surrey High Centurions, the Surrey Speedway, and the Surrey Cafe instead of the Saugus Cafe. For a short period of about four years, the big question in the valley was what to call the area currently around the Saugus Cafe — Saugus or Surrey? It’s a bit puzzling, but here goes.  

The Saugus Train Station opened its doors On Sept. 1, 1887. The little area around it was dubbed “Saugus” after Saugus, Massachusetts, the boyhood home of town founder Henry Mayo Newhall. Around the same time, merchant O.C. Bercaw moved the post office from his store in Soledad to the Saugus train depot. But, he called the post office “Surrey.” Smart money feels it was because his relatives hailed from Surrey, England.  

Bercaw built a hotel (called the Surrey Inn), an ice house (called the Surrey Ice House), and a general store. Uh, no. It was called Bercaw’s General Store. Bercaw’s friend, Martin Wood, operated the Saugus Café; his blacksmith shop was called the Saugus Blacksmith Shop and, later, Wood’s Garage. People got quite a kick out of the humorous “feud” between the two friends, Wood and Bercaw. The south end of town was called Surrey and a few inches away to the north was Saugus. It finally got so confusing that the post office stepped in and officially dubbed the town Saugus on Sept. 4, 1915. And it’s been thus ever since. As the story goes, goes, the SCV Historical Society supposedly still has an envelope with a “Surrey, Calif.” postmark on it.  

IT AIN’T FOR SUPERMAN — Adding to the confusion, do you know what the “S” in William S. Hart stands for? Yup. Surrey. 

APRIL 23, 1922  

OUR BIGGEST KKK FUNERAL — On this date, Jack Pilcher was appointed constable of the Newhall Court. Jack had served over the hill in Chatsworth as the constable there. He would become one of the most famous lawmen in America during his career in the Santa Clarita Valley, fighting bootleggers, bank robber and bad men and making national headlines while doing it. Pilcher would die in a freak accident. His rookie partner dropped a small revolver from his shirt pocket while bending over. The gun went off and a bullet hit Pilcher right between the eyes. Pilcher was buried in a spectacular funeral in Newhall, paid for by the Ku Klux Klan. 

APRIL 23, 1932  

NOT EVEN THE LOCAL HOAs? — You don’t see many, well, ANY folks applying for this anymore. Local farmers who needed a hand during the Depression were urged to hitch up the horses and go over the hill to Van Nuys. That’s where the federal government was offering seed loans under the Reconstruction Finance Act. The loans could be used for buying seed, fertilizer, paying water bills, or for fuel, and were to be paid back at 5.25% a year. 

APRIL 23, 1942  

MOVIE STAR GOES TO THE MOVIES — On this date, our own world-famous actor and Saugus rancher, Harry Carey, surprised many of the patrons when he showed up at the American Theater. After the first show, Carey stepped up on stage to give a plug for locals to buy war bonds. 

SOUNDS RATIONAL — In these early days of World War II, locals were given notice that they had to register at the SCV’s elementary schools for ration coupons. A wide variety of staples, from sugar to meat to tires, were rationed to help the war effort. 

DROP AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH-UPS!!!! WELL. MAYBE 2? — Local men aged 45-65 were ordered to register for the draft. 

APRIL 23, 1952  

YET ANOTHER HORRIFIC CAR ACCIDENT — Karen Volf was the pretty, 16-year-old newlywed who, hours earlier, had quit school in Santa Ana and eloped with her 22-year-old boyfriend. They were headed for Seattle to make their new life when the Grim Reaper paid them a visit. The husband was driving on old Highway 99. He came around a corner where a huge lumber truck had stalled. The car struck the back of the truck, killing the young bride. Mr. Volf suffered a broken leg and a lifetime of horrid memories.  

NO SCHMIDT? — Helm Schmidt was the proprietor of the 6S Ranch and airfield where Sierra Vista and North Oaks are today. It also doubled as a drag strip in the late ’40s and early ’50s. On this date, a young pilot, Maynard Ingalls, made an unscheduled landing on the 6S Runway — while a jalopy drag race was going on. Ingalls missed the racers but plowed into a couple of parked cars. Ingalls, by the way, didn’t have a pilot’s license. 

APRIL 23, 1962  

YET MORE HIGHWAY DEATHS — Four young men in three separate accidents died this week 40 years back. Two men were crushed when a Rambler hit their small motor scooter on the Ridge Route. On a whim, the two lads had been driving around their home in Salt Lake City when they decided to just keep on going to Sylmar, where relatives lived. They fell 10 miles short of their 734-mile impromptu journey.  

DON’T BLAME ME. JUST SOLD ’EM. DIDN’T MAKE ’EM. — I used to work at the old Sprouse-Reitz Drug Store on San Fernando Road when I was a kid. Today, that’d be the northwest corner of Main and Market. On this date, we held a sale on toasters — just $7.99 each. We also sold cowboy hats for $1.98. They weren’t very good cowboy hats. 

APRIL 23, 1972  

SNOW!? SEE! TOLD YA! — A two-month drought ended in spectacular fashion late this April in ’72. Not only did it rain, but it also snowed at the 2,500-foot elevations. The storm didn’t exactly leave enough to ski on, however. 

JUST SAY NO. — Local voters didn’t like taxes, no matter how small. By an almost 2-1 vote, citizens rejected a 50-cent tax increase for the William S. Hart School District. 

APRIL 23, 1982  

FORD MOTORS — The legendary Samantha Ford of Hart set a CIF record on this date, pitching her seventh no-hitter in girls’ softball. She had retired 20 straight batters, walked the next, and then struck out the last to miss a perfect game but still garner that amazing no-hitter. 

WELL DID IT RAIN OR DIDN’T IT? — I’m betting since the days of the Tataviams and the Anasazi before them, locals have been arguing about the weather. There seemed to be a big debate about rainfall records 20 years back. Depending on whom you quoted, and certainly where you measured, the SCV had several different rainfall totals. The Newhall County Water District, which kept records for decades, had us down for nearly 20 inches of precipitation since Oct. 1, 1981. Fire Station 73, a mile-&-change away, totaled a little over 14 inches. The U.S. Forest Service marked down 23 inches in Castaic for the season so far, but in Bouquet Canyon, they had just 15 inches. Normal, if there really is such a word, it’s about 14 inches a season for the Santa Clarita, depending on where you’re standing. . . 

• • • 

As I’ve oft noted before, you dear SCV saddlepals are good medicine. Appreciate the company and thanks for sharing the back trails of local history with me lo these many weekends. See you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post for another exciting Time Ranger adventure and, 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 

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