Tip of the O’Farrell and a Warm & Western “howdy” to you dear neighbors and saddlepals.
We’ve a most interesting trek ahead, into the colorful canyons of Santa Clarita history. Ahead are train wrecks, an epic CHP HQ burglary and we’ll visit the set of one of Hollywood’s worst tragedies.
C’mon. I’ve picked from each of the thousands of ponies the one that’s just right for you. Except for Ashley Schumow, who’s a picky rider… (Luvs ya, Hon…!)
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
THERE WAS A TUNNEL AND THEN THERE WASN’T — Back on July 27, 1876, the Soledad Canyon railroad tunnel was completed. The federal government and SoCal Pacific blew it up in the early days of World War II so as not to be a target temptation for Axis powers. For those with hepcat “How Do You FEEL About History?” backgrounds, that would be Nazi Socialist Germany, Italy and Japan.
READ, BUT DON’T TOUCH — The word, “tomahawk,” comes from the Sioux. It describes a weapon about 18 inches long with a very small blade on the end. It is not an ax. The literal translation means: “I touch.” That makes it dicey for the thousands of Hart alums who own their high school yearbook, “The Tomahawk…”
JULY 30, 1922
“TOP BI-PLANE” WAS THE HIT FEATURE — Here’s some cool trivia for you. From time to time, we had silent movies being shown on an irregular basis here. But the very first regular picture house in the SCV was at the old Hap-a-Land Hall (on Market Street, where the two-story Old Courthouse Building sits today). W.L. Houghton was manager of the Hap-a-Land and on Aug. 2, 1922, he started showing regular, first-run pictures. The first to be screened was D.W. Griffith’s “Way Down East.” It had people oohing and ahhing because it was an “11-reeler.” The second flick was Mary Pickford in “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” The Hap-a-Land showed the flicks every Wednesday night.
PUT ME DOWN FOR 400,000 ACRES — In 21st century Santa Clarita, real estate prices have reached nosebleed levels. But, back in 1922, you could buy 40 acres of prime, level land, right off the road, for just $2,400. That’s not $2,400 down. That’s for the whole shooting match. That’s a half-month’s mortgage payments for some today.
JULY 30, 1932
IT HURTS TO BE A FOREST RANGER — The Great Depression was being felt everywhere. The Forest Service employees were anxiously awaiting their first paycheck. The feds cut back their income by 9.1% and forest rangers didn’t get paid much to begin with.
LET’S BRING BACK THE NEWHALL POLO CLUB! — Cowboys Bill Hart, Andy Jauregui, Hoot Gibson, C.V. Bussey, Leo Logan and Bob Anderson (who was such a cowboy that his nickname was “Cowboy”) joined forces on this date to build a polo field on the west end of town at the Miller ranch. These who’s who of Western folk had grandiose plans to build the Newhall Polo Club and take on other groups from Santa Barbara to Hollywood.
JULY 28, 1938
TUNNEL VISION — It’s hard to believe that you had to drive through a really big long tunnel to get to Newhall from the San Fernando Valley side. But such was the case. (We’re talking highway/automobile tunnel, not train.) Old Sierra Highway used to have this regular highway tunnel that went right through the mountain. It’s next to where Beale’s Cut is today. That highway tunnel was built in 1910 and on this very date, that tunnel was replaced by a highway cut through the Newhall Pass that is the modern Sierra Highway.
JULY 30, 1942
ONE TOUGH CHOO-CHOO — All major northbound and southbound train traffic was stopped for a day. A huge, head-on train accident a few miles from downtown Saugus pretty much shut down the railroad. A passenger train and a freight train unintentionally rammed into each other, engine to engine. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt but many cars buckled and flew off the tracks. The Mallett engine, pulling the freight, was so heavy and powerful that it only suffered minor scratches. The cars behind weren’t so lucky.
GRAPES FOR FREE — This certainly was the week for spectacular wrecks. In three separate accidents — all involving fruits and vegetables — huge double rig trucks flipped over on Highway 99. One big rig lost its medley of nutritious food items and a bulldozer had to be called in to shovel the road free of cantaloupes, tomatoes and other summer fruits. Another truck, carrying $3,000 worth of grapes, lost all its cargo. Word got out pretty fast around the valley and dozens of locals were helping themselves to bushels of Thompson seedless.
NEWHALL’S VERSION OF A SUPER STORE — On this date, the Hawley Drug Store had its “re-grand” opening. Hawley’s took over the next storefront and doubled its square footage.
JULY 30, 1952
NEW ORLEANS IN NEWHALL — It was so foreign that some folks complained that the SCV felt like another planet. Besides the mercury hitting triple digits, we had soup-thick humidity and cloudy weather. Add to that, we were still getting earthquake aftershocks from the big trembler a week earlier.
NO RELATION TO YOURS TRULY — It wasn’t great for business. It surely wasn’t great for Harry Staples. He died of a heart attack in John Boston’s Hardware Store in Agua Dulce.
JULY 30, 1962
DOES WINE BURN? ONLY THE BAD STUFF! — In 1952, we lost grapes. A decade later, we lost wine. Lots of wine. Truck driver Lane Grinstead was forced to bail out of his double rig when an electrical short caught his cab on fire. He was trying to steer while standing on the running board, then jumped for his life when he felt the right wheels go over a cliff on old 99. On the bright side, it wasn’t a very good vintage. The truck was valued at $14,000 and all that wine was worth only about $16,000.
POOR JIMMY BARKSDALE — He ran the B&B Market in Val Verde and had to shut it down while serving 60 days in Wayside for a traffic violation. It must have been one heck of a traffic ticket. Adding insult to injury, while he was in the joint, thieves broke into his market and looted the place. Barksdale was out about $2,500 in goodies.
JULY 30, 1972
CITY PEOPLE. WHAT A CONCEPT. — On this date, an unidentified driver with a Los Angeles bumper sticker lost control of his car on Sand Canyon Road and took out 400 feet of barbed wire and fence posts. Rancher Harry Vartanian rode up to see if the guy was OK, then asked if the guy was going to either pay for the fence or help him put it back together. The driver wisecracked, “What do you want — blood?” then sped out of the pasture, dragging 400 feet of Vartanian’s barbed wire, which doesn’t grow on trees.
SPEAKING OF RURAL… — You just don’t see things like this anymore in the valley. Carmelo Zallo was running his herd of sheep across Bouquet Canyon, taking them from one side of the road to the other for grazing. It’s pretty much all cement now. No cattle. No sheep. No fields.
JULY 30, 1982
HERE’S SOMETHING YOU DON’T FIND IN THE WOODS EVERY DAY — Four decades back, Bob Maguire and his girlfriend were hiking through Atmore Meadows, about 10 miles north of Pyramid Lake, when they found a live Army grenade in the middle of the trail. It took a lot of communications and red tape to get rid of the thing. Maguire called the sheriffs. They called the bomb squad. They called the Army. And, the Army took it away.
YAY FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES — An 11-year-old girl turned up missing in the middle of the night and you can’t fault the local sheriffs for their extensive search. The cops cruised through the girl’s neighborhood at 2:30 a.m., bullhorns blaring, waking up everyone. Hundreds of people roamed the streets in their pajamas, looking for the girl. But, dozens (believed to be illegal aliens in East Newhall) slammed their doors or just jumped into their cars and sped away. The girl was eventually found, unharmed. A Signal columnist thanked the sheriff’s deputies for their excellent efforts but pointed out that if there were a next time, they could drive back through the neighborhoods and tell everyone the girl was found so the people could get back to sleep.
‘THE TWILIGHT ZONE’ MOVIE DEATHS — On Friday, July 23, 1982, actor Vic Morrow and two child stars were killed when a helicopter crashed. Morrow was finishing the very last scene of the film, “The Twilight Zone,” at Indian Dunes Motorcycle Park, just north of Magic Mountain.
Morrow was in an action scene where he picked up two child actors, ages 6 and 7, and ran through a series of explosions along the Santa Clara River. One of the huge gasoline charges knocked debris into the rotor of a hovering helicopter. The chopper lost control and landed on Morrow and his co-stars.
There were six crewmen on the helicopter. None were injured seriously. Morrow and little actress My-Ca Dinh Le, 7, were decapitated by the blades. The other child, Renee Shinn Chen, 6, died later at Henry Mayo of massive head wounds.
Director John Landis, one of the children’s MOTHERS, and around 100 people on the set watched in horror as the three were killed in horrific fashion. There was supposed to be a wrap party immediately after the shot. “The Twilight Zone” was originally a four-segment tribute made by Stephen Spielberg, based on Rod Serling’s famed TV series.
The shot was being filmed at 2:30 a.m., which was illegal by California child working standards. Morrow’s last ironic words were from his script: “Checkmate King 2 this is White Rook, over…”
THE GREAT CHP HQ ROBBERY OF 1982 — On this date, arsonists set fire to the CHP headquarters on The Old Road. They destroyed the officers’ briefing room and the evidence room. The crooks were really after drugs. An investigation found the fire bugs made off with two shopping bags of marijuana, PCP, LSD and other brain burners. Besides the drug theft, the fire wreaked havoc on dozens of pending criminal cases. There were two dozen handguns that had been logged as evidence that melted in the blaze.
Looks like we’re back home — at least, we’re back to the Here-&-Now. I thank you for the company, dear saddlepals and look forward to our next trail ride together through SCV history. You take good care of each other and what say I see you in seven? 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.