Top of the November Sunday morn to you, saddlepals. Hope all’s well. We’ve got a beautiful autumn day ahead, perfect weather to do a little time traveling through Santa Clarita history.
This morning, we’ll be moseying back to investigate my pal, Ariel Stein.
There’re overcrowded schools in our past (present and future?), self-perforating fast-draw artists, a heartfelt war loss and the origin of the word, “OK.”
We’ll also look at how Newhall Land almost lost one of their CEOs to the Great Hereafter.
Take a jacket. We’ll be riding through blizzards, too…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
AUDUBON AT CASTAIC — Back on Nov. 18, 1848, the world’s most famous bird expert, John Woodhouse Audubon, camped out at Castaic Junction. Back then, Castaic was one of the biggest waterfowl migratory stopovers in California and ol’ J.W. was here to study and make drawings of our local and migrating flying feathered friends. J.W. was the second son of the famed ornithologist, John James Audubon. Poor J.W. He lost many of his paintings when they were shipped from California to New York. Insult to injury? John Woodhouse had to tear up many of his canvases and uses them as musket wadding for hunting and to fend off bandits. A world traveler, J.W. died young, at 49. Somehow, with all his travels, he managed to sire nine children through two wives. Separately.
NOVEMBER 19, 1922
HART & THE OL’ SMITH PLACE — George Babcock Smith died on Nov. 17, 1922. He was the fellow who sold his Horseshoe Ranch to a retiring silent movie star, William S. Hart, just a year earlier. And of course, the Horseshoe would eventually become Hart Park on Newhall Avenue. Hart first came to Newhall in 1918 and began leasing land from Smith and other locals, then outright started buying good-sized chunks of land. Small but hot trivia? Before there was the Hart Mansion atop the hill today, a huge wooden fire lookout tower run by the Forest Service overlooked the valley. Early on in construction, they had to make a custom gate up the stairs because bears were attracted to the cooking. Hart would end up buying lots of parcels to add to his Horseshoe Ranch.
NOVEMBER 19, 1932
A SOUND HORSE — Cactus Kate died on this date. She was one of Bill Hart’s mares and had starred in a few of his films. Must have been something in the water at the old Horseshoe/Hart ranch. The old mare lived to be 24. Many of Hart’s string lived well past the average life span of horses.
HOOT REALLY GAVE A HOOT — It’s rather staggering when you think about it. For a valley of a few thousand souls, several world-famous movie stars called the place home. And they frequently showed up at their own movies. We had a huge movie bill at the Newhall Elementary Auditorium on this date. The main feature was “The Long, Long Trail,” starring Hoot Gibson. He owned the Saugus Speedway. It was called the Hoot Gibson Rodeo Grounds back then.
REALLY, WHEN YOU COME TO THINK ABOUT IT, IT’S ALL OK. OR, OKAY… — The Mighty Signal ran an impressive historical feature on this date on the origins of the word or phrase, “okay.” Or, “OK.” The favored theory is that the word was popularized by President Andrew Jackson. Andy had a Choctaw friend named Keokuk. Keokuk had a speech mannerism in which he added the phrase, “si HoKay” to end his statements. Translated, it means, “That’s me” or “That’s what I said.” Jackson picked up the idiom, it became popular and we’re still using it nearly 200 years later. “si HoKay?”
NEWHALL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — Today, Newhall Avenue ends right after 16th Street. But for years, the little road stretched out a couple of miles and went all the way to the old Newhall International Airport (near where Granary Square is today). On this date, they started construction of the big wooden bridge that would span Wiley Creek. Locals noted that the thing was being built with large bolts instead of big nails to help it during floods. NIA earned the affectionate nickname because we made a mail run into Mexico a couple of times a month. Oh. And also? In 1938, the state passed a bond measure to build the future Los Angeles International Airport right where Granary Square is today.
HARD TO IMAGINE MARKET STREET BEING ANY SKINNIER — And speaking of road improvements, they widened Market Street, again, going into Happy Valley. They also filled in part of the bottom end at Cross Street so the hill wouldn’t be so steep. Trivia? The very first car that crossed over Market in the 1920s got into an accident. Back then, they used to oil dirt roads to keep down the dust. They applied too much petroleum and the Model T slid right through the stop sign at the bottom of Happy Valley and hit an oak.
WHAT MAIN STREET NEEDS MORE OF TODAY: MORE FEATS OF STRENGTH — We hosted an old-fashioned carnival in Downtown Newhall. The three-day event included a wrestling match between local professional Louis Rivera and the carnival strongman, Young Hackenschmidt. Hackenschmidt won. Hackenschmidt made it look like a contest, but Hackenschmidt won going away. I write “Hackenschmidt” frequently because it sends The Mighty Signal copy desk’s spell check into DEFCON 1 meltdown…
RE: THE ABOVE — Most folks mistakenly believe DEFCON 5 is the highest military state of alert. It ain’t. DEFCON 5 is All’s Hunky Dorey and DEFCON 1 is Take Your Last Selfie…
CARNEY THANKSGIVING? — Either the thieves were really hungry or they were starting their own poultry farm. On this date, chicken and turkey rustlers made off with nearly 100 birds from ranches in the Happy Valley area. Hm… The carny was in town that week. I wonder…
BONUS? NO STUPID ANNOYING QUADRUPLE BODY CAVITY SEARCHES — It cost $145 to travel round trip from Saugus to New York City by train. Bonus, you got to leave from the Saugus Train Depot. The station telephone number back then was 103, by the way. Yup. Just 103…
NOVEMBER 19, 1942
RARE. A COLUMNIST AT A LOSS FOR WORDS — On this date, Signal Editor Fred Trueblood didn’t run his regular front-page column on the left-hand side of the paper. In the space instead, he ran, in huge 48-point type: “From Now On In Folks We Gotta Have Help Or There Ain’t Gonna Be Any More Colyum Phone Write A Post-card Or Shove It Under The Signal Door.”
WHERE’S THE BEEF? — It was odd. Surrounded by thousands of head of cattle, we were in the midst of a meat shortage. Because of rationing for World War II, you had to have coupons to purchase meat. Coupled with a West Coast shortage, it caused exactly half — that’d be two — of our butchers to close up their shops. Art Brown and The Peoples Market folded shop, leaving just Safeway and a butcher’s shop in business.
NEARLY A CENTURY AGO AND IT’S STILL HEARTBREAKING — Heroism comes in the simple act. On this date, Mrs. Margaret Fose got the telegram no parent wants. She was notified that her son, Bob, was killed in the Pacific. Mrs. Fose showed up to work at Bermite the next morning, choking back tears while continuing to work on the assembly line of the local munitions plant.
MUNITIONS MUSINGS — Speaking of Bermite, there were about 5,000 people living in the SCV in 1942 while Bermite employed around 2,000 (from outside the area, too, of course). The Signal ran a regular column dedicated just to Bermite workers. It was called “The Rambling Bermite Reporter.” And yes. It surely did ramble.
NOVEMBER 19, 1952
HERE’S A SIGNAL HEADLINE WITH A DOUBLE ENTENDRE — “Ground is broken for Funeral Home.” I guess you’d have to be in that line of work, wouldn’t you?
LUCKY GEORGE — George Bushell was almost killed on this date. It was after a big rainstorm. His car had stalled in Castaic and he had climbed out to try and repair it. A motorist sped around the corner, lost control, and slammed into Bushell. He was shaken, but lucky to be alive. Mr. Bushell was president of Newhall Land and Farming then.
NOVEMBER 19, 1962
FAST GUN McNUTS — Here we go again. Some wannabe Wild West shootists were practicing being hombres up San Francisquito Canyon. They were working on their quick draw. In the two separate incidents, one blew a hole in his left leg, and, a couple of days later and further up the canyon, a different pistol fighter aerated his right leg.
GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE — One of my worst-ever jobs was working on a turkey ranch. It’s enough to turn a cowboy, or, in my case then, a turkeyboy, into a vegetarian. It’s one of the reasons why you never hear any cowpokes writing poems about turkeys at the SCV Cowboy Music Fest. There ain’t a thing romantic about it. Anyway. Let me straighten from leaning on my saddle horn and pontificating on hard times. On this date, several thousand gobblers from the Huntsinger Ranch up Bouquet Canyon, one of the country’s biggest producers, were rounded up and herded into trucks, bound for the slaughterhouse and America’s Thanksgiving dinner tables. It’s important that you follow the order precisely from that last sentence or else it tends to confuse the houseguests.
THAT RONNIE’S GOING SOMEWHERE — Chitwood’s Furniture was having a sale on G.E. television sets. The “BIG!” 19-inch screens were selling for $170. Chitwood’s ran a big ad with The Mighty Signal, showing one of the models. On the screen of the TV set, they used a famous “B” actor — future president, Ronald Reagan.
THE NEVER-CHANGING EDITORIAL — It’s oped pieces like this that can just crush you. On this date, 60 long, long, long years ago, The Signal offered an op-ed piece. It was about how we not only had a local school shortage, but that we didn’t get enough schools for our tax buck and the ones we did build were shabby. Wonder if a half-century from now, a Signal editorialist will be lamenting the state of the overcrowded SCV schools in the year 2052. Or, flipside, there won’t be the need any more for schools…
NOVEMBER 19, 1972
THE SCLARITA BLIZZARD — Here’s a phrase you don’t hear much in the valley — Snow Day! We had a lot of people cut class and work. A rare blizzard hit and about a half-foot of snow fell in the mountains surrounding the Santa Clarita Valley floor.
GOING TO THE DOGS — Government hunters were called in to trap three very large wild dogs, living in the hills above Hasley Canyon. The big mutts would come down at night to hunt garbage, house pets, and sub-100-pound joggers.
NOVEMBER 19, 1982
STILL A BABE! — This last item especially warms my heart. On this date 40 years ago, my dear pal Ariel Stein, won the Signal’s Junior Art Champion contest. She drew a very lovely picture of a smiling girl holding a flower. And that’s pretty much Ariel. Later, as a high school student at the only high school in town that counts, she wrote a weekly film review for The Mighty Signal’s Escape entertainment section entitled, “Babe on Film.” Never missed a deadline and wrote like a house on fire. Today, she’s Ariel Stein Palmieri and a Realtor in the Ventura area. She was just 4 years old when she won the Jr. Art Contest and as cute as a button. Still is. Hmmmm, Ariel. Help me out here. I’m bad with math. If you were 4 years old 40 years ago, what age would that make you today? Wait. Let me get out some scratch paper and figure that out. Four carry your ought, divide by ought, then another one. What do you know? That ciphers out to Ariel being 23 — don’t it?
• • •
As always, thanks for the company on these weekend treks to our heritage and history. See you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post seven days hence with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Don’t forget to 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!