Happy darn mid-November, dear friends, neighbors, saddlepals, amoebas and amoeba-ettes (Spanish, for little friends?). Drat we’ve a fun time trek just around the bend.
We’ll be moseying into the back historic trails of Santa Clarita lore and legend. There’s everything from epic tragedy to high comedy, some gee-whiz stuff on Winifred Westover and too many goodies to list. C’mon. The temperature’s going to dip so get out your best full-length buffalo duster and winter boots. You heartier souls take a sweater…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
NO GOOD DEED… — Land ownership was often a murky question and after the Mexican-American War, many people just eeked out a living without much thought to filing claims. Vasquez Rocks wouldn’t get its unofficial name until the 1880s and it wasn’t until the United States Homestead Act of during the Civil War in 1862 before the first claim was placed on the future historic area with the otherwordly rock structures. It wasn’t until Nov. 11, 1898, when Bertha Wilkens laid official claim to 160 acres.
THE OSCAR-NOMINATED WINNIE? — Nov. 9, 1899, is one of the most uncomfortable birthdays in local history. Actress Winifred Westover would marry William S. Hart and give birth to their son, Bill Hart Jr. They’d divorce during her pregnancy. Story is Hart was in New York City to wed ANOTHER woman, his longtime soulmate, Jane Novak. While Novak and Hart’s sister Mary were out shopping for wedding dresses, Hart arranged a Final Fling/Sexual Liaison/Can I Possibly Make It Any Clearer with Winifred back at his hotel. (As a dear gal pal once dryly noted: “She couldn’t have been much of a soul mate if the guy was boinking another woman while his fiancée is trying on wedding gowns…” And somehow, by virtue of being a man, I was in hot water the rest of the afternoon over a silent actor’s dubious mating choices nearly a century earlier…) Story from Hart docents years earlier was that Hart had to tell Jane what happened and call off the wedding so he could H.T.M. (Have To Marry) Winifred, whom he couldn’t stand. After the 5-3, blonde, blue-eyed Winnie and Hart wed, Winnie told Bill, ha-ha, she WASN’T pregnant. They fought. Somehow found their way back to the boudoir. Winifred DID find herself having a puppy. Pregnant, they divorced. When Hart died in 1946, Winifred, though given a handsome settlement, sued Hart’s estate. It ended up being the most spectacular series of court cases in SCV history, lasting about a decade. A little trivia? The slight Westover went back to acting and gained 40 pounds to star in the drama, “Lummox,” about a put-upon servant girl. The director had Winifred wear special shoes filled with 10 pounds of lead and a dress with 35 pounds of weights. Westover was nominated as Best Actress for her roll.
LAST WINNIE — Westover starred in the forgotten silent Western, the 1919 “Marked Men,” starring Saugus rancher and famous actor, Harry Carey. It was a remake of the 1916 movie, “The Three Godfathers.” Yup. The same one John Wayne would remake as a tribute to his pal, Carey, in 1948.
C’MON!!! IT’S NOT THAT BAD HERE!!!! — The film, “Tom Mix in Arabia,” was released nationwide. It was filmed entirely in Newhall. The sandy part. I can’t seem to find the title, but I recall, no fooling, that Westover was featured in a movie with Mix. Girl gets around…
NOVEMBER 12, 1922
BETTER’N DR. PILLPOPPER — The sad thing is, the jokes would always follow him, no matter where he went. After several years of service, our resident physician left Santa Clarita for Ojai. His name was Dr. Crutcher. Ain’t making it up.
I KNOW. LET’S JUST NOT HEAT OUR HOMES OR DRIVE OUR CARS. — The Signal editorial by publisher/owner Ed Brown lambasted the public for their wishy-washy stance on the coal industry, noting they were against it when their coal reserves were stocked and passionately for it when the mercury dipped. A current shortage created a sneaky way for some to fill up their basements. The person would get a prescription saying they needed a warm house due to lung weakness and that would get them to the front of the line.
AIN’T MAKIN’ IT UP — The telephone number for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church? “Black 691.” I wonder if they knew somebody to get that number…
BIG TURN-OUT — It didn’t take long to count the votes in the local election. As for Superior Court judge, Ruben Schmidt won. Twenty-eight votes were cast. Rube pulled in 11. He won.
NOVEMBER 10, 1929
‘NOT-SO BUFFALO’ TOM & THE GREAT SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY — One of America’s most spectacular crimes exploded behind the Saugus Speedway (then, the Baker Ranch). “Buffalo” Tom Vernon, an unemployed Saugus trick rider and cowpoke, derailed the West Coast Limited at 7:45 p.m. on a windy Sunday night. Vernon had loosened several yards of track behind where Del Taco is today, watched the train flip over, calmly climbed aboard and robbed passengers of about $300. (Check out Friday’s Mr. SCV for a detailed report…)
NOVEMBER 12, 1932
HAVE WE JUST ALWAYS BEEN RUN BY EVIL? — A Signal editorial noticed that the simple old custom of a friendly game of cards was becoming a thing of the past, especially in cities. Seems organized crime gangs, in tune with their neighborhoods, were aware of the hosting of poker games. Thugs would break in, steal the money, and sometimes everything from food to furniture. Crime was soaring in the nation’s cities. Sound familiar, 90 years later?
SEEMS COUNTER-INTUITIVE — Another Mighty Signal editorial detailed how California farmers were being strangled by red tape, over-regulation and over-taxation. The SCV voted Democrat 3-1 over Republican and even threw in a few votes for “Socialist.”
MANMADE MUSCLE — The Sept. 30 freak rainstorm along the Tehachapi line of the Southern Pacific not only wiped out dozens of miles of tracks, but also the ground under it. A team of more than 1,000 men labored for a month, 24 hours a day, to clear away the Old Testament wreckage and to lay new track. It cost more than $500,000 to fix the flood damage, an absolute fortune in 1932 money.
NOVEMBER 12, 1942
THANK HEAVEN FOR TINY FAVORS — Right now, many of us are going through tough times, what with the almost instantaneous and egregious increase in prices. Eighty years ago in the midst of World War II, it was called, “rationing.” The country was united in the war effort against the Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy and we all helped by scrimping on home items from food to fashion. We all rationed gas. Citizens were given ticket booklets and could only buy a certain quantity of things, like gasoline. It was almost like Christmas when we found out that for November, that we were blessed by the government with an extra week of buying gas. Regular brew went for just 20 cents a gallon. Of course, adjusted for inflation, that was $3.60 a gallon in today’s prices — or, $2 MORE at most SCV pumps…
THE BIRTH OF BIG GOVERNMENT — With World War II as a justification, government increased drastically. There were all sorts of new government regulation boards, including for renters. Anyone who rented anything to another human — abandoned bus, car, apartment, room, garage, etc. — had to fill out quarterly forms on who was renting, why, how much they were paying and what the money was used for. Interestingly, commercial renters didn’t have to fill out these forms.
NO MORE GREYHOUND RACING — A brand-new Greyhound bus burst into flames at the Dixie Diner (a couple miles north of Castaic). The passenger carrier was totaled, at a cost of about $15,000. All 36 riders were evacuated safely. It was the second burned-out vehicle within three days. A tanker truck at the same Sierra Pelonas Creek Bridge blew up. No one was hurt then, either. Sure brought in extra business to the Dixie Diner, though…
NOVEMBER 12, 1952
THE NOT-SO MIGHTY INDIANS — Hart finished the Ventura League with a pretty unsuccessful showing. They tied Ventura 6-6, for a season-ending 1-3-1 in league. That closer was a poor excuse for flirting with success. Since joining the VL in 1948, that was only the fourth time the Indians hadn’t lost. Gary Yurosek was still pretty much the one-man team. The handsome halfback notched the only score. Oh. You might know Gary by his later stage name. After Hart, he played football at UCLA, then got into movies. He changed his named to Gary Lockwood, famed star of screen and TV. Very interestingly, Gary would be joined in the backfield by Joe Kapp, future Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl quarterback and movie star himself. Isn’t that funny? Just a few thousand in the entire SCV and the two backs in the only high school would be famous actors?
BRRR! — Just like this week, we had a soupy bludgeoning by the rain gods, dumping a quarter-inch of rain. Difference? The mercury dipped below freezing and we had frost warnings for most of the week. That may not mean much to SClarita Modern, but back 70 years ago, we were ag country and the poor farmers had put on an extra jacket and haul out the smudge pots.
RE: THE ABOVE — Some patient veteran explain to the newer yuppies what a smudge pot is…
THE BARNIVAL AT VAL VERDE — One of the most joyous places in the SCV was at the big annual Barn Dance at Val Verde. Hundreds attended, from all over Southern California and danced to live music. Val Verde was predominantly an African-American community then and one of SoCal’s hot social spots.
NOVEMBER 12, 1962
THE SAFE AIN’T SAFE — No one in town could remember where the Post Office got its original behemoth safe. It was from the mid-19th century and weighed well over a ton. When the PO moved, it auctioned off a lot of cool cabinetry, and, this monster safe. One local wag suggested they just tear down the building around it, plant flowers and turn it into a war memorial. Insurance agent Andy Martin ended up getting the “losing” bid and hired Ernie Chitwood’s (of Chitwood’s Furniture fame) industrial block-&-tackle to move it into his office. Small problem. When they got it off the truck, the safe was so heavy, it sank into the asphalt and was wedged there for weeks. I believe my old pal Andy Martin ended up selling it for scrap.
IF AT FIRST THEY WON’T PAY — The Hart school district trustees had been in negotiations with a private holding company for a couple years to acquire the land to build Sierra Vista Junior High. Pacific Coast Properties wanted a little north of $15,000 an acre for a 24-acre parcel to build Sierra Vista. Hart thought that steep and threatened eminent domain. And today? There’s a middle school on the spot.
NOVEMBER 12, 1972
WILD WEST KIDNAPPING — Armed with handguns and a shotgun, four brothers stormed into the controversial Tony & Susan Alamo Christian Foundation up Sierra Highway to “liberate” a 20-year-old friend from what had earned a reputation as a religious cult. The men claimed their childhood pal had been brainwashed by foundation members. It was the second at-gunpoint “rescue” or “kidnapping,” depending on whose viewpoint you used, in the past month. The men and victim were found across the valley by California Highway Patrol officers and taken in without incident. Tony Alamo would end up dying in federal prison after a litany of charges.
TRAINS & WHITE-COLLAR CROOKS — The Signal was investigating the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle up north called the Bay Area Rapid Transit. Darnedest thing. The Mighty Signal kept finding fortunes in mission expenditures. Sort of like today’s trillion-dollar train to nowhere that’s hemorrhaging money via Sacramento.
UHHHHHHH, NEITHER? — What do you say when your naked blue neighbor rings the doorbell and sings, “Trick or treat?” According to Signal gossip columnist Mimi, a busty Valencia housewife had dressed in nothing but blue body paint and tip-toed next door to her neighbor’s house late Halloween night. She was expecting the male owner of the house. Somehow, the woman’s mother-in-law and several neighbors answered the front door. Have a business card for a good divorce lawyer to put in the plastic pumpkin bucket?
NOVEMBER 12, 1982
GLUB GLUB BLUB — Just like earlier this week Tuesday, it rained all day Tuesday 40 years ago. Small difference? That earlier storm dumped 2 inches of rain in just a day. It was a cold and violent storm that left the SCV with a beautiful halo of snow at the 1,500-foot elevations and higher. Darn thing, too? A whole bunch of youth volunteers had spent the week planting thousands of seeds after the big Iron Canyon fire. Guess Fillmore down river ended up getting a lot of flora it really didn’t need…
THE COMEDY CAPER CONSERVATION DISTRICT — Even for California, this agency was a clown’s car of graft, stupidity and corruption. You couldn’t find five more bizarre government reps from central casting. The obscure local Northwest Los Angeles County Resource Conservation Agency, though not really ever doing anything, had a multi-million-dollar budget. One director was a confessed alcoholic and openly drank from a whiskey bottle during meetings. Another was a mental patient — literally — who had to sign himself out of a rehab center to attend board meetings. Another was on parole. Frequently, the NLACRC would get into violent fistfights during public board meetings. They looted their treasure in plain view of the public and some fine print made them invulnerable to firing or discipline. They treated themselves to new matching convertible sports cars, luxurious travel junkets, custom offices, fine dining, matching bicycles and untold “miscellaneous.” On this date, under great criticism, they spent a small fortune to print up 54,000 high-end information brochures, including 54,000 custom local mailing labels and, typical, didn’t have the stamps to mail them before election deadline.
• • •
Eeesh. The NLACRC. Who would have thought you could combine government with slapstick in one, leaky chimp cage bucket. We’ll have to come back some time to the 1970s and 1980s with some popcorn and blankets just to watch the board meetings. Sigh. Guess you can tell. I’m dragging my tail. We’re just back to our home of the Here-&-Now and I don’t want to come inside from playing. Treat spending times with you good people. Look forward to seeing you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching posting seven days hence. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Don’t forget to go buy, right jolly now, 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!