Remember how I kept popping off in recent weeks about how it was going to rain this year in August? Dadgummit if I didn’t miss it by a few days. We had a few drops last Labor Day weekend, along with some spectacular thunder and lightning. It hadn’t rained in so long, it honestly took me a minute to remember where the windshield wiper controls were on my horse.
That’s my sad story and I’m sticking to it.
What say we put boot to stirrup and mosey into yesteryear? In this weekend’s trail ride through time, we’ll explore an ancient megafire, government cheese and those brave government heroes what disperse it, and, one of my favorite topics — monkeys.
There’s a prophetic Scott Newhall editorial ahead and we’ll visit how a local movie star’s home burned to the ground. We’ll also take a look at why you NEVER leave your kids in the car, especially when it’s parked on a boat ramp.
And, remember — Rule No. 1 of The West: Never place a squeaky toy between your fetching derriere and the saddle.
Tag along, little yuppies, tag along…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
THE FORGOTTEN EPIC BLAZE — In the midst of all these fires we’ve been suffering through lately, perhaps the worst in the last 150 years was in the early 1900s. We had a fire start in Sand Canyon at the turn of the early 20th century that burned all the way to the Pacific Coast. Some of our fires used to start here courtesy of the old steam engines that chugged through the valley. Sometimes, either coal embers or sparks from steel-on-steel of wheels-to-rails would start many a brush fire.
LINKING NORTH TO SOUTH — Back on a hot day on Sept. 5, 1876, tycoon Charles Crocker rolled up his sleeves and confessed he didn’t know much about railroads, but he knew how to drive a spike. Chuck hammered home a solid gold spike with a solid silver hammer at Lang Station, linking Southern and Northern California by rail, right here in the glorious SCV.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO NEWHALL!! — Next day, Sept. 6, 1876, the Newhall Train Station and the town of Newhall were dedicated. As I’ve apologized so many times before, the town of Newhall was first founded where the present-day Saugus Cafe sits. A couple of years later, because of several possibilities (water shortages, wind, dust storms) they moved the whole community about 3 miles south down the road to near present-day 6th Street and Main Street, where the Canyon Theatre Guild entrance sits today.
HEY, REY!! — Back on Sept. 8, 1787, just over the hill, Father Lasuen hosted the grand opening of the Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana.
HOW’S THE PIPES? ONE MORE “HAPPY BIRTHDAY?” — Sept. 9, 1850, California was officially admitted to the Union as the 31st state. Such an impossibly beautiful star in our American flag and how could it have turned into such a wicked and bureaucratic nightmare ever since, huh?
WISHED HE WOULD HAVE NAMED IT “TYPICAL” INSTEAD — Demetrius Scofield founded the Pacific Coast Oil Co. on Sept. 19, 1879. It would later become the foundation for Standard Oil of California.
SEPTEMBER 10, 1922
CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR — In a front-page editorial, The Mighty Signal wrote: “We extend a cordial invitation to any County speed cop to visit Newhall some day (sic) — any day — the quicker the better, and see some of the speeding on this highway.”
STARVED FOR ENTERTAINMENT — The Douglas Fairbanks flick, “American Aristocracy,” was playing at the old Hap-a-land Hall on Market. Imagine that. With all our diversions in the 21st century, back in 1922, folks looked forward to seeing one silent movie for the whole week.
HOW WE TAKE THINGS FOR GRANTED TODAY — We have so many creature comforts today in the SCV. A century ago, The San Fernando Hardware Co. was offering up “Iceless Refrigerators” for sale. Also in 1922? You just dialed the local operator and asked for “Main 25” to get info on the telephone. An actual human would give the information to you via something called “a conversation” back then…
SEPTEMBER 10, 1932
THE CAR AND HUMAN GRAVEYARD — The Ridge Route was our still-new main north-south highway. It was an engineering marvel, built in those impossibly steep and rugged canyons in the mountains between Castaic and Gorman. Had it lasted a century, I’d bet today, it would be filled up with wrecked cars. There were two more wrecks involving motorists plunging hundreds of feet to their death. One of the victims was John Blackburn, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times.
A RUN OF JUST TOUGH DAMN LUCK — Harry Carey was one of Hollywood’s top silent movie stars and was one of the few actors to successfully transition into the talkies as a big box office draw. While his home was spared during the great St. Francis Dam disaster, much of the grounds were wrecked by the epic wave. A scant four years later, the house was destroyed by fire. Carey’s home was leveled with a structure loss of $10,000 and interior home contents valued at $8,000. That’s a lot of bucks in Depression-era money, considering you could buy a whole house and lot in Newhall for less than $1,000.
The fire started when a worker, carrying a lit lantern, entered a shed where a huge gas tank was stored. There was a big explosion. The worker was seriously hurt and the flames quickly jumped to the main Carey home. Carey and his family were home and they quickly carried out what they could. I sure can more than appreciate one thing that couldn’t be replaced.
Carey had nearly finished writing a screenplay and that — the only copy — was burned. Worse, he had just taken years to finish a novel, under contract, that was due at the publisher’s. Carey’s ONLY COPY was incinerated.
Two years earlier, when Carey nearly died in South Africa in a typhoon filming “Trader Horn,” vandals broke into the ranch house and ransacked the place. He would rebuild — in adobe this time.
SEPTEMBER 10, 1942
AND NOTHING BURNED, BLEW UP OR WAS WRECKED — A decade later, Harry Carey returned to his somewhat new ranch house. He had been in Florida, filming the Howard Hawks/Warner Brothers flick, “Air Force.”
SUB KILLER JIMMY — Jimmy Clare of Newhall was serving as second-in-command on a U.S. mosquito boat. On this date, he sunk a Japanese submarine in the Aleutian Islands. For those of you not quite up on history, it was OK. We were at war with Japan.
SCHOOL STARTS. SLEEP IN!! — School started. There were 265 students enrolled at Newhall Elementary. We didn’t have a local high school back then and most Little Santa Clara River Valley (that’s us back then!) teens were bussed to San Fernando High. The local kids were rather happy in 1942. In years past, local high schoolers had to get up in the dark to catch a 7 a.m. bus. San Fernando switched their school hours and now, the first class started at 9:30 a.m. Of course, that didn’t help the kids on the deeper east side of the SCV. Most attended Antelope Valley High and stood along lonely dark dirt roads, waiting for a rickety school bus and the long drive.
MYSTERY PREDATOR — A mountain lion was blamed for the death of 18 sheep at the Kassabian ranch up Soledad Canyon. Captain Marty at the local sheriff’s station dragged out some old puma traps from his garage and baited them with a sheep carcass. (We just don’t do that much anymore in the yuppie suburbs, do we?) A couple of days later, Marty returned to find the traps had been sprung. The predator had dragged another sheep across them to spring them. Pretty darn smart. Captain Marty added a few more traps, this time being a bit cagier — no pun intended — in their placement. Next morning, he found three of the traps sprung and in the fourth, snarling furiously, was a giant Airedale dog. The rogue mutton-eating pooch was summarily executed on the spot without a trial.
FRED WOULD’VE POPPED TWO RETINAS IF HE KNEW ABOUT “WOKE” — Fred Trueblood wrote a scathing front-page column on the sad state of education in the Little Santa Clara River Valley ala 1942. The Signal editor complained kids were learning all manner of unnecessary “pedagogic refinements.” Trueblood further vented: “They can’t read — and tell you what they’ve just read. They can’t spell. They can’t cypher. They don’t know United States history. They do know the physiology of the human body. They do know all the frost and gingerbread, but they don’t know the meat and potatoes.” Think we should clip that out and run it as a Signal editorial for the 21st century or tell Fred how positive we feel about ourselves?
CAN’T MAKE A BOMB OUT OF TOFU — During World War II, the SCV had no shortage of homeland wardens. One local official was in charge of collecting kitchen grease. Housewives would take their bacon, lard and addendum animal fat drippings in coffee cans down to the Safeway and be paid 4 cents a pound, although folks were asked to contribute the money right back to Civilian Defense Council. Ten tons of grease would make a ton of glycerin, which was used to make nitro-glycerin and other explosives.
SEPTEMBER 8, 1946
A VITAL CONCEPT CALLED LEGACY — Happy birthday to both the Wm. S. Hart High Union School District and Hart High. On this date, both were dedicated. And to think. There are those scurrilous souls over the years who lurked within the administration that worked mightily to erase Hart’s name and legacy and his mascot from the high school…
SEPTEMBER 10, 1952
OUR GREAT COMMUNITY THEATER — Sept. 12 marked the dedication of not the Hart High Auditorium, but the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Auditorium (check out the brass plaque on the front). The original brick structure cost a staggering $540,000 to build (in today’s money, that wouldn’t get you a fairly decent condo). Walter Cook, president of the board of trustees, almost didn’t make it to give his speech. He and his family narrowly missed being killed a few days earlier in an epic car wreck near Madera.
SEPTEMBER 03, 1962
WATERSKIING TIP? CHART YOUR PATH FIRST — On this date, Hart High Vice Principal Al Grass nearly killed himself waterskiing. The popular veep’s ski hit a submerged stump, Mr. Grass went flying and landed head first on a rock. After lengthy hospitalized rest, he was OK.
GROWING AND GROWING AND GROWING — It was another record year for Hart High enrollment. Just 921 students were at Hart on opening day, 1961. That total jumped to 1,080 in 1962.
SEPTEMBER 10, 1972
SAY IT WITH ME UNTIL IT BECOMES YOURS — “Don’t Leave Your Kids Unattended In the Car;” “Don’t Leave Your Kids Unattended In the Car;” “Don’t Leave Your Kids Unattended In the Car.” An unidentified father left his three small children inside his Thunderbird while he was unhitching the family boat into the Castaic Lake afterbay. One of the kids knocked the transmission into neutral and the car followed the boat into the lake — with the kids still in the car. A nearby lifeguard quickly leaped into action, pulling the three children to safety AFTER the car was submerged. Except for a probable lifetime aversion to water sports, they were OK.
POOR DARN CHILD — On this date, an 8-year-old Agua Dulce boy and some pals created a homemade bomb out of gunpowder, a pipe and shotgun pellets in the boy’s garage. The lad held the pipe between his legs while he tamped the gunpowder with a stick. It exploded. The boy caught on fire and nearly died. Three months later, after also contracting hepatitis, he came back from the hospital — sadder, lighter, slower and hopefully wiser.
THE SICKENING AND CIRCULAR NATURE OF HISTORY — Hard to believe, but tomorrow is the 21st anniversary of 9/11 and the New York World Trade Center attack. Prophetically, on Sept. 6, 1972, Signal Publisher Scott Newhall penned one of his famous front-page editorials entitled: “The Breeding Pens of Death.” It was about the terrorists’ brutal attack and murder at the Munich Olympics. Again, remember. This was written 50 years ago: “The truth of the matter is that the Earth, or at least the people on it, are in deep, deep trouble. It has become a singularly unhappy, sweating, overcrowded place. And of all the unhappy, overcrowded people in the world (forgetting the Vietnamese for the moment) the unhappiest by far are a large, almost invisible group of Arabs.” Scotty went on to write: “The threat of international bloodshed that can be found in the scorched heart of the Arab world is almost incomprehensible.”
SEPTEMBER 10, 1982
SIMPLE IS OFTEN BEST — Gossip columnist Mimi, aka Ruth Newhall, lamented the hunt for a title for the new battered women’s shelter. Mimi noted those in charge would probably come up with some politically correct and “soggy euphemism.” The penwoman noted that some poor feminine soul with a cut lip and swollen eye sobbing in the middle of the night would be hard-pressed to try and interpret what generic term in the telephone book stood for what should simply be called “The Battered Women’s Shelter.” Excellent point.
SCVMRT (Santa Clarita Valley Monkey Rapid Transit) — One of the strangest sites in the valley was spotted on this date. During a heat wave, a Signal photographer snapped a picture of a guy in just shorts riding down Bouquet on his motorcycle. That’s not the weird part. Holding on behind was a monkey. Holding on behind the monkey was another monkey.
SAY CHEESE! — Here’s one of the most significant dates in modern SCV history. On this date, 20 years back, the federal government began its cheese giveaway program, launching a myriad of jokes. The SCV received its part of the 2-million-pound block designated for L.A. County. We got 5 tons of American processed cheese. That makes for a lot of intestinal-clogging cheap burritos…
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Thanks for the company again, dear saddlepals. It’s always a treat sharing The Mighty Signal’s weekend trail ride with you. I’ll be back here in seven with fresh horses and another exciting Time Ranger adventure, and, until then, — vayan con Dios, amigos!
John Boston’s brand-new book — “The 25 World’s Most Terribly Inappropriate Dog Breeds” was released earlier this week. Funniest darn book on dogs ever written. Check for status updates at johnbostonbooks.com.