Well saddlepals. It’s Saturday morn and I’m standing out here amidst a string of 10,000-plus snorting, saddled horses. I certainly could, but wouldn’t want to ride each one myself, so — what say you mosey on over, pick your soul horse mate, hop aboard, and join me on a trail ride through Santa Clarita Valley history?
We’ll be inspecting some beautiful vistas. There’s treasure both commercial and buried to find. We’ll look into detail one of my favorite phrases in all of journalism: “…half-naked flapper.”
There’s prison riots, flying saucers, movie stars galore and we’ll even be saying howdy to a pal, Fred Trueblood III, back when he was surviving Hell Week.
C’mon. Saddle up. The cinches should be tight, no matter how much your pony says to the contrary…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
WE AIN’T LYON — On Sept. 24, 1855, twin brothers hailing from Maine — Cyrus and Sanford Lyon — bought a stage depot from Henry Clay Wiley. It was near present-day Eternal Valley and was pretty much the population center of the east end of the Santa Clarita Valley. Despite being twins, the brothers had different temperaments. Sanford was the methodical storekeeper and businessman. Cyrus was a legendary lawman and pistol fighter. They would rename part of Pico Canyon and part of 10th Street after the boys. It was a left-handed tribute. The street should have been called “Lyon Avenue,” not “Lyons.”
SO, WIPE YOUR BOOTS BEFORE GOING IN THE HOUSE — Today, Lyons and Railroad Avenue is one of our major and busiest intersections in the valley. Back in the 1880s, it was a cattle feed lot.
AND IT’S NOT THERE ANYMORE — In the 1880s, next to the Saugus Speedway, was the site of the original Newhall Ranch blacksmith shop.
‘GAGING’ A MAN’S SUCCESS — We’ve all motored up Highway 14, toward the Mojave Desert to the northeast. Just coming out of Canyon Country, there are still a string of mines along Soledad Canyon with names like Red Rover, Union, Puritan, Emma and Governor. Many of them were owned by one man — former part-time Santa Claritan, Henry T. Gage. He was born in 1852 back east and transplanted to L.A. where he was elected city attorney of Los Angeles. One historian noted that Hank collected mines like some men collected pocket watches.
Gage was the owner of the most profitable gold mine in L.A. County — for a very short time. Prior to his purchase of what he would rename “The New York” mine after his home state, that pit had been the richest gold mine in L.A. County. From 1895 to 1897, the owner pulled out a fortune from a fabulously wide vein. Gage bought the land for $1.5 million. A short while later, the gold dried up. Gage was a rich man and used some of the profits from other holdings to finance his successful campaign for governor of California. (He served 1899-1903.)
Gage pretty much alienated everyone in politics during his term, battling bureaucracy, newspapers, lobbyists and deficit spending. While he was good friends with Teddy Roosevelt and spent many days with the president at the Acton Hotel, he alienated himself from higher office. Roosevelt appointed him ambassador to Portugal, but Gage resigned when the health of his wife, Emma, declined. He came back to L.A. and died in 1924.
His son reopened the old New York Mine in 1932 and renamed it, “Governor,” after his dad. Digging a bit more, they rediscovered the rich lost vein at 400 feet down. The ore assayed out at $40 a ton — big money in the Depression. The vein was lost again and the mine was closed forever in 1942.
SEPTEMBER 24, 1922
HAPPY VALLEYITES? YOU’RE LIVING IN AN OIL FIELD!! — Back a century ago, oil wells shared the landscape with the few small and scattered farms throughout Happy Valley. On this date, a huge fire erupted at the Howard Petroleum wooden derrick, threatening the home of historian A. B. Perkins. Judge Port C. Miller (who was also the town volunteer fire captain) put together a gang and doused the blaze quickly. The bucket brigade battled the blaze well into the next day.
BOOOOOOO!!! — Ever sat in the movies and have the film go out? It’s nothing new. Locals were grumbling when the one (1) weekly moving picture at the old Hap-a-Land Hall fizzled. Seemed the fuse box couldn’t hold the electrical strain. Monies were refunded and later in the week, some huskier fuses were added to the dance hall/movie theater on old Market Street. Just in time for the locals to see Norma Talmadge in the silent flick, “Smilin’ Through…”
BEATS RUNNING 10 MILES & DRINKING CABBAGE JUICE — Now I might be prejudiced, but I think EVERY meeting would go better if they started it the way the Newhall Women’s Club began theirs 10 decades back. The 43-woman organization started out with a reading of current events from The Mighty Signal.
THE REVENUE MAKER — Jack Pilcher would eventually make a national name for himself as a crime-fighting lawman. In his early days as a constable, Pilcher helped turn the sleepy little Newhall court into a profitable enterprise. During his first three months on duty, he collected more money in moonshine fines than in the previous five years. Pilcher didn’t have to do much detective work to crack his latest case. In a wrecked car, he found C.W. King, a half-naked flapper a jug of illegal moonshine whiskey. Value of said hooch in 1922 money: about $2.50.
SEPTEMBER 24, 1932
EDMUND GAVE A HOOT — Local movie star and Wild West show impresario Hoot Gibson (who owned the Hoot Gibson Rodeo Arena in Saugus, where today, the Saugus Speedway rests) was in Texas. Hoot took Newhall cowboy “Skeeter” Bill Robbins and cowgirl Patsy Smith to the Lone Star State to put on his annual rodeo at their state fair. They took with them an entire train of trick ponies and snorting broncos. Hoot left his pops, H.J. Gibson, in charge of the ranch while he was gone. Hoot’s real name was Edmund Richard Gibson. Two stories on his nickname. The first was he earned the nickname of Hoot as a young man when he worked for the Owl Drug Store. The second possibility (from Hoot’s own lips) was that he used to hunt owls in caves as a boy in Nebraska.
THE HAUNTED GREEN GHOST OF SAN FRANCISQUITO CANYON — The week before, superstar actor and Saugus rancher Harry Carey’s ranch burned to the ground. So did Carey’s ONLY manuscripts for a novel and a screenplay Carey was under contract to finish. (Don’t forget. A good chunk of the ranch was also destroyed during the St. Francis Dam Disaster four years earlier.) As if it couldn’t get any worse, canyon residents and neighbors thought the Carey Ranch was now haunted. They kept hearing eerie and hostile cries and a voice shrieking, “What the HELL’S going on here!!!!” A crowd gathered at the Carey spread to ghost hunt when Mrs. Olive Carey, Harry’s wife, told everyone, “Relax. It’s just the parrot. He was living in the wild until a proper domain could be built for him.”
SEPTEMBER 24, 1942
IT’S A SMALL WORLD — World War II was in full swing and Drew Park enlisted in the Navy to fight in WWII. The Castaic boy was sent to Illinois (a strange place for a Navy training academy). A few weeks passed and the lad was naturally homesick. One day, he spotted an older sailor and there was something hauntingly familiar about the guy. Drew worked up his courage. He walked over to the older Naval fellow, pardoned himself for intruding, but said that the guy was a dead ringer for Drew’s best friend back in Castaic — Ted Sloan. The sailor made a small face and nodded. Turns out he was Ted’s older brother.
SEPTEMBER 24, 1952
FARMING. THE DEADLIEST PROFESSION. — He had a great name for a farm hand but that didn’t save him from the grim reaper, no pun intended. Louis Countryman, of Saugus, died when his tractor flipped and he was pinned under it. He was cleaning out a barranca.
SCV UFO SIGHTING — On this date, Mr. and Mrs. Von Fortenberry reported seeing a “bright, saucer-like disc” moving slowly beneath the clouds shortly before sunrise. At first, they thought it was a morning star, but it was much too large and it moved erratically. The couple noted that the disc would stop and go, sometimes leaving a trail of vapor. Oh. If you’re wondering if perhaps the Fortenberrys were imbibing, don’t. Fortenberry was the local Methodist minister…
SPEAKING OF OUTER SPACE — The referees at the Hart-Harvard game weren’t exactly welcome in town for coffee and cake. While the Mighty Indians scored seven touchdowns, the refs only let them keep three. Gary Yurosek intercepted a pass for an 80-yard TD. After Hart, young Mr. Yurosek would play football at UCLA, then go to Hollywood, change his name and become the famous actor, Gary Lockwood. Yurosek/Lockwood would star in several movies, including as astronaut Frank Poole in Stanley Kubrick’s classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He’d also star in the second episode of the hit TV series, “Star Trek” as Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
LOOK OUT! HERE’S ANOTHER ONE OF OUR SIGNAL EDITORIALS — On this date, we noted Charlie Chaplin wasn’t very subversive or wasn’t a “serious Politburo spy,” but that if he were deported from America, we, The Mighty Signal, could give a “tinker’s damn.”
“Probably no more than a few Hollywood highbrows of pinko tinge will shed any tears about the departure and possible non-return of Charley Chaplin,” wrote Signal owner Fred Trueblood. Hmm… Wonder if Fred remembered that Charlie donated several thousand dollars to rebuild the Presbyterian Church in Newhall when he was filming out here?
SEPTEMBER 24, 1962
AN ODE TO HELL WEEK — I always love to share some particularly great writing from yesteryear’s Signal. What makes this most wickedly delicious is that I know who Signal Editor Fred Trueblood II was talking about. In his front-page column, the “Signal Tower,” the adept wordsmith lamented the coming of Hart High’s “Hell Week” football conditioning and what it did to his son, Fred Trueblood III. Here’s an excerpt:
“That new generation that is forever telling us how stupid we are is engaged in the fall football shakeout. There are push-ups and sit-ups and other forms of struggle and toil. They come home all pooped out, drag in the front door and flop in our favorite chair. We are in full favor of this vigorous program. However, the fall training effort does not leave our offspring enough energy to mow the lawn, chop a few weeds and otherwise keep the premises in good order.
“Let it be known to the school physical fitness and football training authorities that we spent endless hours in midnight baby comforting, washed tons of grubby clothes, put up with varmints galore, lost tools and suffered aches and pains without end, just to grow our offspring up big enough to mow the lawn and carry out the trash. Please leave them enough energy to carry out these small tasks. We are growing tired.” Editor Trueblood didn’t need to worry. Fred III turned out to be pretty OK.
SEPTEMBER 24, 1972
COOL, CLEAR WATER — Work continued on the übermassive California water project here. Here’s a neat tidbit. Water from Pyramid Lake tumbles down through a giant tunnel to Castaic Lake during the day, generating electricity. In the wee small hours of the morning, when electric need is less, the water is pumped back to Pyramid where it will then be pumped back to Castaic. The lake levels rise and fall, over and over and over again as this process continues. Wonder how the fish like it?
JUST SOME FUN AT GLADIATOR SCHOOL — Some things don’t change. Today we frequently hear of epic prison riots at Pitchess maximum-security jail in Castaic. Thirty years ago, the scale was a bit smaller when the place was called Wayside Honor Rancho, but they still had the gang fights. Several inmates were hospitalized after a small riot at the place insiders call “Gladiator School.”
THE SCV POPULATION BOMB — Some things don’t change. Didn’t I just say that? Anyway. Our two local high schools, Hart and newly built Canyon, were severely overcrowded, with an average of about 50 students per class. Hart had increased its population by 25% from four years previous. Seems like somebody was building homes faster than schools.
SEPTEMBER 24, 1982
THE POPULATION BOMB, A DECADE LATER — The rubber stamp of the Board of Supervisors struck paper again. On this date, 1,390 more homes were OK’d in four separate projects. That’s a far cry from a 13-year period in the 1920s and 30s when just 25 permits — count them, 25 buildings built in 13 years — were issued for the SCV.
THE LOST TREASURE OF TIBURCIO VASQUEZ — The Mighty Signal started another one of their famed publicity stunts. This one was their buried treasure contest. Based on the old story that bandito Tiburcio Vasquez had buried a fabulous treasure of gold somewhere in the SCV, TMS likewise noted that they had buried a strong box somewhere in the valley. Each week, we printed clues. While we had run this same contest years earlier, this time we cautioned readers NOT to look on private property. (The first time, we had people digging up neighbors’ back yards and one hapless treasure hunter took a crowbar to the Ford dealership’s used car lot.) You’ve got to hand it to us. We were pretty tricky. Whoever found the strong box earned $500. But, if you were a Signal subscriber, you got another $500. What can I say. We’re generous that way…
• • •
Well. From the particular hue of those vaporish lights, it looks like we’re just about back to our here-&-now time vortex of Santa Clarita. Thanks so much for the company and until seven days hence, you keep being most excellent to one another. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
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