The Time Ranger | A Heroic Old-Timer Passes in Acton

The Timer Ranger
Time Ranger

Not only is today’s trail ride into Santa Clarita lore and history pretty darn interesting, some of us might get a pharmacist’s degree out of today’s pleasant ordeal. 

We’ve an outstanding expedition ahead of us today, with newspapermen shooting bad cowpokes, fires, more fires, and torturing our poor sheriff’s deputies by making them wear wool in TRIPLE-DIGIT heatwaves. 

That’s just plain wrong. 

Got a real neat connection to Show Business Royalty, too. 

C’mon, dear friends and neighbors. We’ve got the perfect horse for each of you. Shall we hold onto our O’Farrells, duck into the Santa Clarita Time Continuum and as the nieces and nephews used to snidely comment, “Show us where the dirt used to be…” 


CATS. BOYS. GIRLS. — There were saber-tooth giant cats roaming the Santa Clarita Valley and there was no such thing as the Boys & Girls Club Auction. 

INDIAN REMEDIES — Speaking of things ancient, the Tataviam used to use a variety of local plants for salves and remedies. Balsam sage was used to help cure kidney problems and fever. Juniper berries were used for stomach, liver and blood treatments. Manzanita bark was used for treating constipation, and rather strangely, also for dysentery. The cochineal bug was crushed and used to create a bright red hue for face paint. (Some early settlers used it for decorating cakes!) Snakeweed, appropriately, was used for treating rattlesnake bites. 

JUST A THOUGHT FOR THE UPCOMING FIRE SEASON — This has but the slightest thread of linkage to the history of the SCV, but you might find this interesting. Back in 1676, the Duke of York mandated that if you started a fire in the woods or cultivated farmland, you were liable for ALL damages and expenses of fighting said blaze. Then tack on an additional 50% fine. Can’t pay? Then you were publicly flogged. That’s worse than getting your feelings hurt on Twitter…  

HE MUST’VE BEEN A BIG EATER — William Chormicle, one of the chief combatants in the great Castaic Range War, once had an unpaid food and feed bill owed to Mr. Bercaw of Bercaw Store fame. Chormicle swapped the general store owner straight across — his feed and food bill for 40 acres of land in Castaic. With food prices today, that might be an even swap… 

JUNE 18, 1922  

ANOTHER KIND DEED BY THE NEWHALL FAMILY — The Presbyterians were busy putting together plans for their new church. The original blueprints called for a 46- by 49-foot edifice that was budgeted for $12,100. The original church had been built in 1891 and the land was donated by the Newhall family.  

DON’T TELL RICHARD BUDMAN THIS. TIM AND I WILL BE GOING DOOR-TO-DOOR — Besides offering a pretty decent death-to-traitors editorial every Friday in 1922, The Mighty Signal had a side business. We sold light bulbs — 35 cents for a 10-watt and 95 cents for the 100-watt model. 

IT WAS A WESTERN. NOT A BASKETBALL MOVIE. — Our own William S. Hart starred in “Traveling On” at the Cody Theater over the hill in San Fernando. 

AT LEAST LOUIS DIDN’T GET FLOGGED — On this date, Louis Sroh was trying to burn off some foxtail on his ranch and ended up starting a 30-acre blaze. He had to pay quite the fine for his carelessness. 

OUR PAL, TOM FREW, JUST DOWNLOADED THESE ONTO 8-TRACK — If you were lucky enough to have a phonograph player in Newhall, you still had to motor into San Fernando to buy records for it. The Linne Music Shoppe was the closest record emporium. Back in 1922, some of the hits of June were: “My Wee Little Hut on the Hill,” by Barbara Maurel; “Looby Loo — Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow” by Prince’s Band; and, “Oogie Oogie Wa Wa,” by Al Jolsen.  

JUNE 18, 1932  

FIX — Locals hunched over their radios, listening while Jack Sharkey, in a controversial referee’s call, beat Max Schmeling. In a rare editorial on boxing, The Mighty Signal noted that the only suckers were the ones who paid a total of a half-million dollars to see the event in person and claimed the fight was fixed. 

YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS. THERE’S MORE TODAY. — There were just 27 families living in all of Castaic 90 years back. 

JUNE 18, 1942  

SOMEBODY EXPLAIN TO THE YOUNGER GENERATIONS WHAT ‘RECORDS’ ARE — We have a lot fewer “Oldies but Moldies,” thanks to Walter Cook. He chaired a local committee to collect old phonograph records and donate them for the war effort. Each member of the local American Legion had a quota of bringing in 25 records. 

THAT’S MORE THAN A THOUSAND POUNDS — Citizens of the Santa Clarita also helped our fighting forces in World War II by raising 10 tons of rubber the first two days of their drive. 

MORE FIRE — Two women and seven children worked feverishly to stop a brush fire from spreading. The nine had been working in a victory garden in Arrastre Canyon, south of Acton, when they spotted the fire a quarter-mile away. They put it out, using buckets, shovels and hoes.  

PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD, BUT NOT A .32-CALIBER REVOLVER — Three local rodeo riders turned bad and tried to rob Tarzana Tribune Publisher Bill Sandlin and some other local bar patrons. Sandlin was up in Newhall, getting his paper printed. When the trio demanded his money, Sandlin came up with something other than a wallet. He shot one of the cowpokes rather seriously, then missed the other two as they high-tailed it for the door.  

I WONDER IF HE’S RELATED TO GAYLE? — Wimpy Johnson returned home to Newhall after a tour in the Merchant Marines. That’s not exactly big news. Except for Popeye’s friend with the penchant for ground beef, I just never saw a person named Wimpy before. That HAS to be historically significant . . . 

JUNE 18, 1952  

HAY THERE! — I was just talking this week with my saddlepal, Dr. Rodger Phillips, about spontaneous combustion in alfalfa. Wouldn’t you know it, a huge hay fire erupted at the Wertz Ranch in lower Bouquet Canyon a half-century back. Mr. Wertz lost 250 tons of baled oat hay, a cement mixer, a feed mill and two buildings in the epic blaze. 

YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO SWEAT CONFESSIONS OUT OF CRIMINALS, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND — The Mighty Signal went after the petty bureaucrats in the Sheriff’s Department who wouldn’t allow officers to switch to summer uniforms. Seems like some fuddy-duddies downtown insisted that the cops wear these heavy wool trousers and shirts, WITH neckties, no matter what the temperature. And that was before the days of air conditioning. The Signal noted our armed forces had discovered the beauty of cotton. Why not the county sheriff? 

THE POPULATION BOMB — The fabled Lloyds of London announced that our neighboring San Fernando Valley was the fastest-growing location on the planet. Originally, Lloyds predicted the SFV would hit 1 million people by the year 2000. They updated that to 1970. Actually, it would reach that figure even earlier. A Signal editorial wondered what the effects of stunning population growth would be here in the Santa Clarita Valley. Quoth The Signal, “All signs point to the fact that Newhall has just about shucked its character as a remote mountain village, and within the foreseeable future is to merge its character into the vast Los Angeles suburban area. All of which will make some people glad — but quite a few others just the opposite.” 

JUNE 18, 1962  

EYESORE AVERTED — I’m not sure why this never took place. I can only say, I’m glad it didn’t. A Sherman Oaks development company, calling itself Newhall Enterprises Inc., announced it was going to build a giant regional mall — in Placerita Canyon. The $2.5 million shopping center was to be at 12th and Arch Street, as you enter Placerita from San Fernando Road (now Railroad Avenue). Newhall Enterprises also said they were going to take over the canyon and build 1,000 homes (called “dingbat” homes, selling for $20,000-$26,000) and 80 apartment buildings in a seven-year, $25 million package. There had been (and is, I’m told) a quagmire of titles involving the acreage. But back in June 1962, this Newhall Enterprises company felt confident they would have all the deeds neatly packaged and that the first bulldozer would break ground in October 1962. It never happened. 

WONDER WHY THEY NEVER CALL THEM ‘KA-BLOOEY MEN’? — You never know what you’re going to run into as a firefighter. Poor Battalion Chief Stan Barlow. He was standing in front of what he thought was a routine garage fire on Newhall Avenue when the darn garage blew up. Seems like the owner had been storing a significant amount of gunpowder inside. Barlow had burns on one hand and arm, but otherwise — and really, when you’re injured even with a darn hangnail, it’s never “otherwise” — he was pronounced all right. 

THAT’S ONE WAY TO STOP GLOBAL WARMING — The new Valley Federal Bank building had just opened — to the lament of some. It wasn’t that a few locals didn’t like VFB. It was the giant two-story thermometer tower at 5th and San Fernando Road. The Signal pointed out that when the mercury hit 114 in the summer — and, it kept clicking away every few seconds, reinforcing the obvious — it would affect summertime productivity. The Signal suggested that no one in town minded knowing the time, but if someone from the bank could jimmy the temperature gauge to never go above 95 degrees, we’d all get more work done.  

JUNE 18, 1972  

TREE KILLERS THWARTED — The battle to widen Placerita Canyon and take out hundreds of oaks was won by the residents. Many of them purchased land, making the road officially private.  

I THINK THE VOTING AGE SHOULD BE 62 PLUS YOU HAVE TO TAKE A 3-DAY-LONG IQ TEST — Here’s an interesting tidal mark in local history. The 1972 classes from Hart and Canyon highs graduated. With the recent passage of the 18-year-old vote, they were the first local teens to graduate from high school as bona fide adults. 

THOSE WERE THE DAYS — We think of history in terms of battles and elections. It’s not always so. As the valley morphs from the rural to suburban and government and CC&Rs abound, there are a few scenes you just don’t see any more. One is a boys’ fort. Rick Ashley, George Engle, Terry Gorman, Bob Ashley, Gary Spangler and brothers Bobby and David Coats just finished building a four-room lean-to hideaway, completely illegal by current building and safety codes. It had wall-to-wall carpeting, a water bed, and even electricity — in the form of a 12-volt battery used to power a discarded car radio. 

JUNE 18, 1982  

BAD APPLES — A former L.A. Police Department officer and four LAPD officers were arrested for being involved in an extensive burglary scheme. The ringleader was arrested at his Canyon Country home by LAPD Internal Affairs. 

AND NO. HE DIDN’T BECOME THE SIGNAL EDITOR — A Saugus High senior was not allowed to graduate. He had transferred a year earlier from Canyon where he had been expelled for arson. The boy had yet to pay back the $10,000 in damages. His family had hired an attorney to force the William S. Hart Union High School District to let him graduate, citing that the district had violated his civil rights.  

HIP-HIP-HOORAY FOR JUNE GLOOM!! — Funny timing. I wrote yesterday’s Mr. SCV on June Gloom. We hit a cold spell prior to summer. One weekday 40 years ago, the local daytime high barely made it into the 60s. Think I’m going to pretend to check my cinch and stay back here in the cool weather. Kidding. Gotta lead you Santa Claritanites back to the here-&-now. Cripes. Listen to me complain, me who is so blessed. Think you saddlepals might get a kick out of this last vista . . .  

JUNE 17, 2017  

FROM THE LESS THAN SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION DEPARTMENT — John Tracy died up in Acton. He was 82. I’d bet nearly all of you never heard of John, but you surely knew his father — Oscar-winning actor Spencer Tracy. John led a quiet but heroic life. He was born deaf, yet spent his life helping others and served as a shining example of what it means to be heroic. His mother, Louise, founded the ground-breaking John Tracy Clinic for hard-of-hearing children in Los Angeles. Spencer was the sole supporter of it during its first several years. Spencer and Louise were both actors and got married between a matinee and evening performance. Louise never gave up on her child. She would sometimes speak one word, a few thousand times, teaching John to read lips and “hear” through osmosis. John had polio at 6 but made himself ride horses. He graduated from CalArts when the campus was in Los Angeles. John Tracy had a full career in the motion picture business, got married, had a child and three grandchildren. The John Tracy Clinic over the years has helped nearly a quarter-million deaf kids and parents. In a 2003 newspaper interview, Tracy noted, “I want to let the kids know they can live a full life. Sports, schools, hobbies, interests, dating, marriage, have a family, drive a car — all of it.” John spent his last five years, now blind, in Acton, at his sister Susie’s ranch.  

I’ve got to start using my noggin and when we go out on these journeys, we’ll go back to cool autumn days in both summer and winter. Oh well. No matter what, it’s grand to be atop a horse, metaphorical or otherwise. Thanks for the good companionship, amigos and amigo-ettes. See you next too-hot-too-darn-early weekend with 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 One AND Two. Get ’em BOTH at 

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