What a Christmas treat in July to see you dear friends and neighbors. We’ve a most interesting trail ride into Santa Clarita fact, lore and legend. Good to see you in all your Western duds’ splendor. What say we kick up some dust in small-town Santa Clarita? Several thousand of us on horseback will just have to be good for local small-town business.
Make sure you bring your bandanas — we’ll be riding through a much smoggier valley. There’s a passel of thieves to mosey past, early video games, and the Gertrude Johnson Chicken Bone Derby up Sand Canyon way.
C’mon. There’s that proverbial “Mystic” into which to ride…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
RAINY SCV — About 3,000 years ago, it was cooler here, lusher, and it rained more — like about 24 inches a year instead of 8. Of course, I guess you could say the same thing about six months ago, too.
EUREKA! — North of here, gold was discovered on the Kern River in 1854. How did that affect us? The area was overrun with prospectors and they had a problem. There was no easy way to get the thousands of panners supplies, tools, food and pretty much everything. That led to Los Angeles mucky mucks — including our own Don Ignacio del Valle — to come up with a plan to build an access road from L.A. to the San Joaquin Valley. That would end up being Beale’s Cut, Santa Clarita’s first, ahem, freeway.
IT ALL STARTED IN FRANCE — A strapping can-do 15-year-old, Jean Joseph Reynier, arrived in Sand Canyon all the way from France. He would start a ranching empire and become the patriarch of the famed Walker-Reynier family. Appreciate it, Jean. Couldn’t have my buddy today, Walt Fisher, without you…
JULY 23, 1922
LOUSY CROOKS — For a little valley of 500 people, we sure had a lot of auto thefts. There were three Fords, a Chevy and something called a Vim truck ripped off this week a century back.
THE ECONOMICS OF FIRE — I’ll bet the L.A. County Fire Department wished this figure applied to their 2002 books. In 1922, LACFD calculated it cost them about $2 an acre to fight a brush fire.
MORE LANTERN THEFTS — For the second time in a week, a motorist was caught stealing one of those old red metal lanterns that lined the Ridge Route. Charles Ely was caught in the act by the renowned local lawman, Jack Pilcher. Judge John Powell fined Ely $40. That was a heap of money back in ’22.
LANTERN THIEVES, PART II — Interestingly, that previous lantern theft would be one of Judge Powell’s last cases. He would retire in August 1922. Powell became judge of the Soledad Judicial District back in 1875. That spanned a career of nearly a half-century.
JULY 23, 1932
SO YOU BETTER READ FAST — The Great Depression hit the local library. The local branch was open just three hours a day.
A LANDMARK PASSES — The building at the northeast corner of Market and Railroad had a long and colorful past. It started as a grocery/supply store, across from the short-lived Southern Hotel. Josh Newhall built it in the 1880s. Ownership changed hands a few times. It became a butcher shop until Lloyd Houghton bought it in 1919 and did some serious remodeling, turning it into a community center and the famous Hap-a-Land Hall dance club. The place was THE meeting spot for SCV events. But, when the St. Francis Dam burst in 1928, the place was used as a makeshift morgue. Dozens of corpses were stacked in the main room. From that point on, not too many people wanted to even go in the place, let alone host an event. On this date, the place, down to the concrete foundations, was torn down. Interestingly, the oak dance floor was salvaged and put in the top floor of the new building. Alcoholics Anonymous attendees are still walking on that floor that’s more than a century old.
HISTORY IS CIRCULAR — The Signal ran a political cartoon 90 years ago, lamenting corruption in the courts and big business. The cartoon had a vigilante beckoning a common citizen to rise up against the rascals.
BUDDHISTS & BLOODHOUNDS — The Signal ran a — ahem — fiery piece about local fire season and arsonists. I’m guessing Signal Editor Dad Thatcher must have brushed up on his mysticism readings. He wrote that the Buddhists have several layers of hell for sinners. One was called “Tapana” and was reserved for arsonists. Thatcher also noted bloodhounds were used back east to track, and eat, fire starters.
JULY 23, 1942
SOME RATHER BIZARRE KARMA — Local Sheriff’s Capt. E.C. Marty lost his garage in Placerita Canyon to fire. He got kidded a bit by locals. They determined the fire was started by rats chewing on matches. Now how on earth, especially with 1942 forensics, they could figure out rats somehow ignited wooden matches by chewing on them is beyond me. Damages were a whopping $50 for the totaled structure.
MS. G & THE CHICKEN BONES — For several years, they used to host something up Sand Canyon called the Gertrude Johnson Chicken Bone Derby. It was a big summer party of Sand Canyon ranchers, the highlight of which was a fried chicken-eating contest. First person to fill a large bucket with bones — cleaned bones — was declared the winner. First place got some pie and bicarbonate.
WE KNEW IT ALL ALONG — On this date, Charles Rittenhouse was cleared of all bribery charges. The Newhall sheriff’s deputy had blown the whistle on a corrupt gang of downtown L.A. cops and politicians and they tried to discredit Rittenhouse by rigging some false charges against him.
JULY 23, 1952
MOVIE FIRE — Melody Ranch was also known as Placeritos Movie Ranch for many years. On this date, it nearly burned to the ground. A legal trash fire in the dry creekbed jumped into the grass and spread to the sets. A big storage building, valued at $10,000, burned to the ground, but the main Western street and the rest of the sets were saved.
EARTHQUAKES. COMES WITH THE SCENERY — A major quake centered in the Tehachapi area struck Southern California but there was little damage here. There was a big shale slide on old Highway 99, closing that major road, and a few broken windows. Other than that, not that much damage here.
IN COLLEGE LIT, IT’S CALLED, ‘IRONY’ — The Newhall Chamber of Commerce planned a business-boosting weekend event called Appreciation Days. It was canceled due to apathy.
JULY 23, 1962
THE GREAT GREY-GREEN MONSTER — Signal Publisher Fred Trueblood II was an excellent writer and, on this day, he penned a front-page column damning Los Angeles for its ever-spreading waistline. Without presuming to rewrite, let me just share with you three paragraphs from FT2 on smog: “Some years ago The Signal published a brochure for the Chamber of Commerce setting forth all the glories of the Upper Little Santa Clara Valley. One of the big points we crowed about was our ‘Smog Free Rural Beauty.’ It was true. There was not a wisp of LA’s stenchful vapors in these parts. The mornings would start crystal clear, and the skies would be marred only by the afternoon haze that seems characteristic of California.
“Then as the megalopolis over the hill exploded in all directions, a gradual change came about. Now and then along the Santa Susanna ridge to the south, an edging of greenish smog would appear. It never came over the ridge, but it was evident nonetheless.
“As more years passed, the poison gas began to ooze through the cuts and saddles in the hills. It invaded the valley mile by mile as time passed and now there are days when our own air seems two-thirds phosgene.
“Thank you, Los Angeles, for another of your abundant blessings.”
SMOG MONSTER, PART II — I’m going to have to toot the horn of Fred Trueblood and his writing ability again. In the very same issue of The Mighty Signal, Fred addressed the melancholy solitude of what he called “varmints.” He wrote of the thousands of rabbits who cautiously crept out at night, followed by the clever coyote and the lord of stealthy murder, the great mountain lion, who prowled the valley in great circles. Wrote Fred: “We will always have a spot reserved in our heart for these varmints. They are about the last creatures that know true freedom, and like their two-legged counterparts, are slowly losing it. We hope that somewhere in this land there will always be a place reserved for these wild ones — some place from which they will never again have to retreat.” Amen.
“DON’T MISS IT, DON’T EVEN, BE LATE…” — The movie, “State Fair,” with Pat Boone, was playing at The American Theatre. I remember that film and summer. It was so hot, my mom took me to see that every day for almost two weeks, just so we could sit in air-conditioned sanctuary. It’s funny that I can’t remember passages from Shakespeare or the Bible, but I can still remember many of those Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.
JULY 23, 1972
VALLEY WITH A ZILLION NAMES — Here’s some small trivia for you. We’ve always had a problem coming up with a long-term name for ourselves. This valley has had a dozen or so names, from Mission San Francisco to Andrews to the Little Upper Santa Clara River Valley to Valencia to the Soledad Township and on and on. When the county civic center was dedicated some 30 years back, a big sign with bright bronze letters proclaimed it: “The Newhall Sheriff’s Station.” A week later, a work crew showed up and quietly chiseled out the logo and patched over the hole. Eventually, a new sign was added. It wasn’t as romantic as the old. It read: “County of Los Angeles Regional Sheriff’s Station.” The supervisors thought locals might get confused.
TWO KINGS TOO MANY — The county Board of Supervisors — dubbed “the five little kings” by former Editor & Publisher Scott Newhall — voted on a measure to increase the board from five members to seven. Seems staff felt there were so many things to deal with in a county larger than many countries, and five executives weren’t enough to run it. The measure was defeated. Guess the five supes didn’t want to share the power with two more.
JULY 23, 1982
ADIOS, DRIVERS’ ED — Four decades back, a small item on the William S. Hart Union High School District board agenda garnered little attention. For years, first Hart then Canyon and Saugus used special district cars, donated by local car dealerships, for drivers’ education classes. The district subcontracted the program to an outside company.
MOVING, AND NOISY, MIRROR OF THE FUTURE — On this date, Jim Jarocki uttered one of the most prophetic sentences in history. The marketing executive worked for Bally Midway, which owned Six Flags Corp., which owned Magic Mountain. Jarocki was hosting something called the Miss Pac-Man competition. His company also owned the now prehistoric computer game, Pac-Man. Jarocki noted video games were no passing fad. “Video games are here to stay,” he said. Yup.
Darn that was fun, with most of that coming from the company. You saddlepals are good medicine. I vote that we meet back here at The Signal hitching post a week hence and do it all over again. 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.