We’ve got a brand new time rider to add to the posse of immortals. Our dear friend and Kind Legend of The Way Station, Jose Sanchez, made his transition a few days ago. He’ll be riding up front this beautiful weekend and I don’t need to remind what wonderful good medicine Jose — not was, but eternally is. Miss you, Jose. Glad you’re here with us always and you’re going to bring joy and mirth to these treks, amigo.
October is just one of the best months. We have the potential for so much weather — from triple digits to snow. The air seems fresher. The leaves are turning. I like it even better than spring to be atop a fine steed.
We’ve a most interesting trail ride through Santa Clarita history ahead, saddlepals.
There’s gunfights in the streets of Canyon Country and killer lip-biting insects. We’ll stare sternly at a gang of kid robbers who terrorized Newhall during World War II. We’ll inspect bedroom fights, say howdy to Buster Keaton and say, “tsk-tsk” to some yellow journalism — theirs, not ours.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. Shall we saunter off toward our old home without care or time?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
BUGGED TO DEATH — One of our valley’s most famous citizens, Charles “Alex” Mentry, engineer, inventor, pioneer and oil man, died on Oct. 4, 1900. The poor Frenchman was the poster boy for the phrase: “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Seems Mr. Mentry kept retiring at night and kept getting bitten by a critter with four different names. The insect hails from the tratoma genus. But, it is also known as the Kissing Bug, the Assassin Bug, and the Bloodsucking Cone-Nosed bug. What a way to go — getting bit on the lips while you sleep and your head swells up like a watermelon. Well saddlepals. Make sure you check your bedrolls…
SETTING THE STANDARD — Interestingly, same day that Mr. Mentry died, only in 1906, Mentry’s fellow oil pal Demetrius Scofield founded Standard Oil of California.
EARLY AIR CONDITIONING — This isn’t local by a long shot, but we can blame it on a glitch in the time-warp continuum. Persian nobles in the 13th century used to cool their houses by having large caravans led by slaves haul snow down from the mountains.
OCTOBER 8, 1922
NERDLYESQUE — We take entertainment for granted back home in modern times. But, an entire century back, it was front-page news when a new movie was playing at the old Hap-a-Land Hall on Market. Folks were lining up to see Buster Keaton in the silent flick, “The Boat.” Signal Editor Blanche Brown also was the town librarian. She used the front page to boast that our Newhall library had three new books. One of them Blanche hailed as a terribly interesting tome on collecting China. The dishes. Not the country.
BROEN vs. BOOZE —Widow Brown. the Signal editor, was also a fervent Prohibitionist and in a front-page editorial vowed to fight the consumption of alcohol in this valley with every ounce of strength in her little tiny body. It worked, for a while.
BEFORE iPHONE CALENDARS — If you were a hunter, you really needed to write this information on your wrist. In the SCV, deer season was near closing with dove season right behind, but duck season was open, quail season opened soon and tree squirrel season was good to go until 1923.
ENEMY OF NATURE? — Thornton Doelle, local forest ranger (down the line, he’d serve as Signal editor) penned a weekly column called Soledad Snapshots. You wouldn’t call TD an environmentalist by modern standards. Mr. Doelle called for the eradication of every — that’s every — coyote, mountain lion, bear, bobcat and fox in the Santa Clarita Valley. He pert near got his wish and the result was a plague of rodents in the 1920s and ’30s here. The bounty on mountain lions was $250 and for the lesser predators, $50.
ENEMY OF HUMANITY? — At least Thornton was fair across the board. He asked that the state Legislature make it a mandatory manslaughter charge for any deer hunter who accidentally shot another deer hunter. On the bright side, Mr. Doelle didn’t suggest a bounty for bringing in a dead human.
OCTOBER 8, 1932
THE FAMOUS BANKER — A.P. Gianinni paid a visit to the newly opened branch of the Bank of America in Newhall and no one could stop him. Mr. Gianinni founded Bank of America, starting it up first as the Bank of Italy. He grew famous after the San Francisco earthquake when he set up a table in the ravaged city and made reconstruction loans to citizens — some with no collateral — when no other lending institution would go near them.
90 YEARS LATER, IT HASN’T CHANGED — The Mighty Signal took on The Los Angeles Times for its shoddy journalism. Seems the good gray behemoth printed a story about how gangsters broke into a local woman’s bedroom, had their way with her and then tried to burn her alive. Actually, the real story was Mrs. Jesse N. Sackrider’s real estate office in town caught fire. Mrs. Sackrider wasn’t inside. She wasn’t even in bed. She was in Bouquet Canyon, having dinner, at the time of the blaze. Quoth the irate Signal: “Papers sold on the strength of such slush are certainly sold on false pretenses, and one can hardly wonder, when the papers are held in such contempt by public opinion.”
WITCHES & EDITORS: ANSWERS A LOT OF QUESTIONS — Here’s a little trivia for you about Mrs. Sackrider: One of her great-great-etc.-etc.-grandmothers was pressed to death at the Salem Witch Trials. Mrs. Sackrider’s niece would turn out to be Jeanne Feeney, future editor of The Mighty Signal.
LAX IN NEWHALL — Little Newhall International Airport was the Southland’s major secondary landing strip. Before radar, planes sight-landed and the main airport in Glendale was frequently fog-bound. In the month of September, our little field had 207 planes stop for emergency landings. We averaged about 60 unscheduled flights a month due to poor weather conditions. Locals kiddingly called the Newhall Airport “Newhall International” because it had a bi-monthly mail run into Mexico. Actually, in 1938, a state bond was passed to build a new international airport — in Newhall. World War II came around and LAX was delayed, and moved to Inglewood.
THE DEADLY RAINSTORM — A lot of locals were asking: “Could this happen here?” Seems a freak cloudburst on this date in a ways over in Tehachapi ended in 50 people dead and two freight trains washing down a canyon as if they were leaves. A wall of water, reported to be over 30 feet high, roared down Tehachapi Creek, knocking out 19 bridges and 30 miles of track. A lake a mile-by-three formed in the San Joaquin from the unusual runoff.
OCTOBER 8, 1942
BUT THEY WERE SUCH GOOD BOYS — Next to World War II, this was one of the darkest days in the decade of the ’40s for Newhall. It’s a pretty amazing story. A housewife was at the old American Theatre one weeknight with her family. The film started and she had the awful premonition she had left her iron on at home. Living just a few blocks away, she jogged back to check and caught three boys burglarizing her home. It turns out the kids were all local honor students. They confessed to a string of 131 burglaries over a year’s time. The fact they were such good, likable kids from good families gave them access to homes and businesses. Local police had quite the hike as the boys led them to dozens of caches where everything from watches to canned goods to $500 cash were stored in hollowed-out trees and tall grass. The Newhall Elementary principal broke down in tears at a school assembly, sharing the news.
THE SIGNAL OPINION — A front-page Signal editorial called on the community to deliver compassion to the families. “For these stricken families there can be nothing but sympathy. It is the fathers and mothers who suffer the pangs of the damned when their own flesh and blood thus betray them,” wrote Editor Fred Trueblood.
THAT CAN’T BE GOOD FOR THE GROUNDWATER — On this date, Bermite carted a deposit of leftover ordnance across the street to the Santa Clara River. There, they blew up the charge, setting off an explosion that rattled the entire SCV. This was, of course, during WWII and before the formation of the Friends of the Santa Clara River or SCOPE.
SMALL TOWN WORLD SERIES — One of the changes in the SCV at war involved the World Series. Unlike in years past, hardly anyone was listening to it. Usually, folks would gather by the dozens over radios but on this date, only two radios in town — at both barber shops — carried the game with only a couple of men stopping by to listen. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in five games — their first victory since 1934.
WHEN LIVING WAS AFFORDABLE — Those old prices. You could rent a three-bedroom house in Newhall for between $16 and $20 a month. There are apartments in the SCV going for nearly three grand nowadays.
OCTOBER 8, 1952
RIPPED OFF BY THE COUNTY — Old farmer Dunn was probably kicking himself — again — after reading this report. The Wayside Honor Rancho (today, it’s Pitchess Detention Center) in Castaic had several producing oil wells on the property. Those wells brought in $65,000 a month to the county. Mr. Dunn had owned the dairy farm and had been forced to sell his spread in 1938 under eminent domain laws. The county forgot to tell Dunn that he had a fortune in oil in his property and never paid him a cent for it. Dunn would eventually try to sue — but it was long after the statute of limitations had evaporated.
GREAT DARN NAME — On this date, John Pistol nearly burned to death in his Castaic cabin. Mr. P had a busted leg and his wife, Lois, had to cart him out through the flames. I’m just throwing this out because you rarely hear of such a frontier name as John Pistol.
OCTOBER 8, 1962
NEEDS REPEATING — History repeats. It will probably continue to repeat. Sadly, on this date, the Newhall School District noted that its classrooms were overcrowded. That was 60 years ago.
THEY DON’T PAY COPS ENOUGH. PERIOD. — One of the all-time bloody brawls in local sheriff’s history occurred on this date. Deputies Bill Violette and Curby Wigham were hospitalized after a lengthy battle for their lives with laborer Fred Bethel. After responding to a domestic abuse call, the two cops went into the Race Street bedroom to arrest Bethel, who was feigning sleep. When he was tapped on the shoulder, Bethel lashed out, kicking one of the officers in the stomach then diving onto the other. There was much rolling around and the berserk laborer grabbed a thick broken furniture leg and began pummeling the two men about the bodies and heads. At one point, he screamed he was going to kill the officers and grabbed one of their guns. They managed to wrestle the idiot to the ground and cuff him before he could do even more damage to the blood-spattered officers and his wife.
OCTOBER 8, 1972
THAT LAST AND FATAL DECISION — Frontier Days was marred by a fatality. A teen jayrunning across Soledad Canyon Road to get to the fair was killed by a speeding car.
A REENACTMENT A LITTLE TOO CLOSE TO REAL LIFE — Memo to the Gunslingers at Frontier Days: Use Fake Bullets. Two quick-draw enthusiasts who were part of the entertainment accidentally loaded their pistols with live ammo. The pair was part of the Jayhawkers exhibition shooting group. Besides terrorizing children and horses with their explosives, the Jayhawkers delighted audiences with their re-enactments of old-time showdowns. Louis Auria and James West (no relation to the “Wild Wild West” character) plugged each other in the legs. Here’s the part I liked. The local sheriffs were investigating to see if using live ammo during a demonstration in a crowd was against any county ordinances. The gunslingers claim they were “horsing around” and shot each other with wadding and maybe a little extra gunpowder. Kids.
A REALLY OLD-TIME CALIFORNIO — Here’s some trivia for you. Robert Rockwell, president of CalArts, had California roots going way, way back. His father served in the California Volunteers, guarding the Arizona border during the Civil War. Later, at 102, granddad died in the San Francisco Earthquake. Bob’s dad died in another huge disaster — the Carpinteria Flood.
NERDLY — Sheriff’s deputies got an unusual call. Seems a man was distributing pornography in Canyon Country. The guy was driving around, throwing graphic photos of a recent bride in her home neighborhood. Turns out she jilted the guy to marry her new hubbie.
WASN’T NAMED AFTER HARRY WELCH YET — A most warm happy anniversary to our pals at Canyon High. On Oct. 6, 1972, their new football stadium was dedicated.
OCTOBER 8, 1982
SCARED O’ BEARS — Local state Fish & Game officers arrested a small gang of poachers. They were caught selling rugs made of bear pelts out of the back of their truck.
HART PARK TRAIN WRECK — It looked like someone attacked us from space. On this date, a long train pulling empty flatbed cars derailed by Hart Park. The landscape was littered with heavy train parts. No one was injured.
I STILL MISS THE PIES — Forty years ago, Marie Callender’s held their grand opening. They’re long gone, from the corner of Magic Mountain Parkway and The Old Road. Now I’ve gone and done it. I’ve a craving for lemon merengue.
• • •
Drat! I can see the glowing lights of our time portal up ahead. We’re about to ride back into the Santa Clarita of here and now. Sure want to thank you Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
Go buy Boston’s newest book, “The 25 Most Inappropriate Dog Breeds,” at johnbostonbooks.com. Sombrero in hand, we note a 5-star rating on Amazon would be grandly appreciated!