Normally, I don’t throw out to you saddlepals too many unasked-for pieces of advice. But, this morning, if I may offer a polite warning: Don’t be dangling any KFC Extra Crispy from your shirt pockets or have honey dripping from the saddlebags. We’ll be riding into some Santa Clarita backcountry where one of the world’s largest bears was spotted.
We’ve got more Fourth of July tidbits, brush fires and a scarcity of gendarmes to investigate. From the “Wooooooo Department,” we’ve got ghosts. There are heat waves and some old-fashioned, albeit positively amazing, long-distance phone service stories to peruse and we’ll say howdy to Charlie Chaplin. Bonus? My dear pal, Fred Trueblood III, was given the only “Heathen of the Year” award in world history.
By the way.
After all this chattering, I plumb forgot to say, “Good Saturday morning” to you saddlepals.
Good Saturday morning, saddlepals!
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
BIG OL’ BEAR & THEN SOME — July 7, 1873 — three years before Newhall became a town — John Lang shot what for years was believed to be the world’s largest grizzly bear. According to books and several sources of the 19th-century day, the beast tipped the scale at 2,350 pounds and had a track nearly 19 inches in diameter. It was credited with killing and devouring seven men and several hundred head of cattle. Reportedly, the bear would later become the model for an early version of the California flag. A contemporaneous letter, from John Lang himself, surfaced fairly recently, putting, by his own confession, the weight at 1,600 pounds — still making it one of the biggest grizzlies on record.
OUR FAMOUS PLACERITA OIL — America was celebrating its centennial on July 4, 1876. In Philadelphia, a sample of opaque, thick white oil was wowing the tourists at the Philadelphia American Centennial Fair. This oil was so pure, it burned 100 times longer and much brighter than regular oil. This mystery mineral came from our own backyard in Placerita Canyon. In fact, there still is a “secret” well where the white oil bubbles to the surface.
SOUNDS BETTER THAN ‘SCOFIELDVILLE’ OR ‘SCOFIELDBERG’ — Mr. D.G. Scofield started the California Star Oil Works up Pico Canyon on July 8, 1876. He hired a young Frenchman, Charles “Alec” Mentry, to run the place. Eventually, the Pico Canyon area would be named after the ingenious fellow. Today, it’s still called Mentryville.
PUNCHING THE PADRE TIME CLOCK FOR THE FIRST TIME — Our most famous pastor in the history of this valley started his illustrious career on July 5, 1914. The Rev. Wolcott H. Evans was named pastor of the Presbyterian Church on Newhall Avenue. He’d later earn the beloved title of “Shepherd of the Hills.” The Rev. Evans would work himself to exhaustion, comforting the hundreds of friends, relatives and mourners of the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PAC BELL! — In 1896, the fledgling communications company made a deal with The Newhall Land & Farming Co. for a right-of-way easement through the ranch property. Those first phone lines went from Newhall and stretched into Santa Barbara.
This very week, in 1900, they installed the first telephone in the Santa Clarita Valley. It was hooked up at Campton’s General Store. I’ve read that Campton’s had the only phone in the valley. But, according to a Signal article, the Newhall Ranch field office in Castaic also had a phone installed in 1900. They also noted that Ralph Carr, a telephone company employee, was the first private resident in Newhall to have his own phone. He lived on Kansas Street and that was in 1910.
Apparently, a second, separate line belonging to the United States Long Distance Telephone Co. ran from Santa Maria to San Diego and passed through the general store. That was in 1898. Pearl Russell worked in that store and part of her job was to answer the rare phone call, and physically walk or ride a horse over to a person’s house to tell them they had a long-distance call.
By 1959, there were only about 6,000 phones in the entire valley, including Castaic, Acton and Agua Dulce. Back then, we still had the old-fashioned operator-assisted phone system and telephone numbers like “1” and “2.”
The Mighty Signal? Our number was “8.”
JULY 9, 1922
TRY GETTING AWAY WITH HOSTING A ‘FAT LADIES RACE’ IN 2022 — Of course, regarding that opening, it’s not like they’d catch you. Anywho. While we didn’t have a parade, we did hold a couple of picnics and barbecues around town to celebrate the Fourth. They had all manner of games and contests, including sack races, a race where you pushed a stalled car, a cracker eating contest, and something called the Fat Ladies Race. Mrs. Robbins took first in that, winning a 25-pound sack of flour. We have no reports that she ate it on the spot. Many folks moseyed up to the Munz Ranch, at Elizabeth Lake. They hosted a huge festivity including a baseball game, dance and fireworks. About 2,000 attended.
WONDER IF ANYONE EVER CALLED HIM, ‘CHUCK?’ — Charlie Chaplin was in Newhall on this date, making a film comedy.
JULY 9, 1932
DEFUND THE POLICE — Here’s one for you local sheriff’s deputies riding with us. The Depression hit local law enforcement in the SCV. On this date, the county sheriff transferred deputies Carter, Thompson and Lockey to take the place of three men laid off downtown in a big budget cut. They didn’t replace the Newhall boys and, for quite some time, there was only one (1) sheriff’s deputy on the night shift, patrolling from Chatsworth to Frazier Park to the Antelope Valley — about 1,000 square miles. I wonder who he called to say he was taking a dinner break?
JULY 9, 1942
MY FAVORITE, FAVORITE, FAVORITE DOUBLE-FAVORITE SIGNAL WEATHER REPORT — Signal Editor Fred Trueblood had the perfect rural description of how bad our heat wave was this week 80 years back. “It was so hot that the coyotes chased the rabbits at a slow walk.”
WRETCHED, STUPID, YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME HOT — While we were bracing for attacks from Japan and Germany starting fires in our back yards with incendiary bombs, we met the enemy and the enemy was us. It was a wretchedly hot day of 120 degrees in the shade with near-zero humidity. Using tracer bullets, Army units at target practice started a brush fire that started at the old LaSalle Ranch near present-day Calgrove and raced at an unheard-of pace, eating up a mile of brush and trees every 20 minutes. The blaze roared for two days, destroyed the old Lockwood Fox Farm in Wildwood Canyon, and nearly burned Bill Hart’s mansion to the ground. Dozens of acres of trees and shrubbery were destroyed. It was the worst fire to hit this area in 20 years.
“SKID ROW LICE.” GOOD BAND NAME. — Newhall lad and able-bodied L.A. vice cop Charles Rittenhouse was put on trial for taking a bribe. Rittenhouse was a key witness in a wide-ranging bribery and extortion scandal in the downtown Los Angeles power circle and had been harassed by some high-ranking mucky-mucks, hoping to discredit his testimony. A Signal editorial stuck by Rittenhouse, calling the witnesses against him a “…bunch of skid row lice” who had been bribed to testify against him.
JULY 9, 1952
FROM LICE TO ‘SIT & SCRATCH’ — For the first time since it opened 12 years earlier, The American Theatre closed its doors on a Tuesday morning, July 5. The closing would be short-lived — just a couple of weeks. The theater had been suffering financial woes due to some new competition — television. The good old American, or, as we old-timers used to call it, “The Sit & Scratch” (due to lice infestation years later), would reopen on July 25, 1952. They had quite a picture to draw locals — Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in “The African Queen.” A little more trivia. The phone number for the American used to be 140.
JULY 9, 1962
AN EARLY CITIZEN — Firefighters working on a huge brush fire in Aliso Canyon by Acton found someone who had been resting a long, long time. The crew discovered the full skeleton of a Serrano Indian who had been dead for more than 250 years.
ONE CAR. TWO BOYS. ONE TINY BRAIN. — That fire in Acton, by the way? It was started by two boys roaring around the hills in a jalopy with blown-up tires. The vehicle stalled and when they push-started it, a huge backfire belched, igniting the dry grass. It ended up burning about 2,500 acres.
SOCIALIZED MEDICINE? FRAUD? NAAHHHHHH… — We had controversy about how to handle the government’s involvement in medical care even back in 1962. A Signal editorial decried a new program called, “Medicare,” saying it was a burden to most taxpayers and unnecessary. “The immediate hysterical ‘demand’ is in truth, minor, and the techniques employed to magnify and amplify it smack of the slick Madison Avenue technique, and smell highly of fraud,” wrote Fred Trueblood II.
JULY 9, 1972
A HALF-INCH OF RAIN. FOR THE YEAR. — The National Weather Service’s record books begin on July 1 every year and end the following year on June 30. We had one of the driest years on record in ’71-’72. For the season, we had about 11 inches of rain. But 10.5 inches of that fell in one storm over Christmas. For the entire other 51 weeks, the SCV had just a stingy half-inch of rain. Adding insult to injury? When the totals were released, our local mercury hit 105.
KIMBERLY, 20,000. OTHER GUYS, 0 — Kimberly Ann Conway, 7, of Saugus was pretty happy on this date. She entered a contest, submitting a drawing for the cover of a national magazine, Scholastic News Pilot. Kimberly beat out over 20,000 other entries.
GHOSTS INCLUDED FOR FREE — On this date, famed entertainment entrepreneur Bob Callahan put his Old West Frontier Village up for sale. Way up Sierra Highway, about 8 miles from Solemint Junction (Soledad/Sierra Highway for you newcomers) the 12-acre site sat. The tourist attraction and community center housed the Dead Shot Saloon, Klondike Kate’s Crib, Hangtown Hall, and a museum. The Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation looked into buying the place. It would eventually be the home of the Canyon Theatre Guild. Many old-timers swear Bob’s ghost still haunts the old Frontier Village to this day.
JULY 9, 1982
EERIE, HOW HISTORY REPEATS — Remember a few miles back on our time ride trail? In 1962? Two boys carousing around in a jalopy accidentally started a huge brush fire? Twenty years later, the same day in 1982, two young boys driving a pickup truck were carousing around the hills of Rockwell Canyon and Valencia Boulevard. THAT was back when there were cattle grazing there. Anyway. Their truck’s catalytic converter started a 30-acre brush fire. Ironically, the fire singed several oak trees but totaled the driver’s brand-new pickup. Quoth a fireman wryly, “I would like to hear a tape recording of the conversation that kid has with his daddy when he tells him about how his brand-new truck was burned to a crisp…”
MY PAL, FRED THRICE — One of my fondest memories of the Fourth of July was when Fred Trueblood III was parade chair. Some of my pals are still in the loosely organized club: The Worthless Sons of the Wealthy Landowners. Each year, we had a yearly parade entry, “Your Leaders in Action!” We posed as bogus politicians, like “Carl Sinatra” (mayor of Palm Springs), “Felix Food” (6th District supervisor — we still had just the five back then), and “Congressman Orlando Boné” (pronounced, boe-NAY). After our flatbed truck with the hay bales and red, white and blue decorations cruised through the route the first time, we’d race through the back streets and show up at the beginning again. We’d bribe Fred with a six-pack of, ahem — refreshments — safely stored in a brown paper bag and Fred would let us motor through the parade a second time. Somehow, we won an honorable mention trophy that year. Forty years back, the Fourth of July parade fell on a Sunday and many churches complained about the 11 a.m. startup time. After the parade, Fred was also awarded a trophy — a medal with the inscription: “Heathen of the Year.” Fits Fred to a tee…
Well. Here we are. Back in present-day Santa Clarita. Think I’ll head over to The Way Station for hash-&-12-eggs and a small soda pop. Maybe two small soda pops. See you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post next weekend with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
John Boston’s brand new book — “The 37 World’s Most Terribly Inappropriate Dog Breeds” is nearly out. Funniest dog book ever written. Check for status updates at johnbostonbooks.com.