I must apologize up front. Certainly, I don’t plan these adventures. But do be warned. There’s are more than a few vistas facing us not for pearl clutchers or the squeamish. Indeed. They almost border on the supernatural in both timing and depravity.
We also have Prohibitionists, women being sawed in half, the fiery deaths of a legendary cowboy star (and two of my uncles, Al and Art), chicken thieves, a child murderer and kidnappers.
We’ll also celebrate one of my all-time favorite dates on the calendar.
You know the drill. Your nose and the horse’s should be pretty much pointed in the same direction…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
INVASION OF THE TEETOTALERS — Back on Dec. 3, 1887, we were invaded by a passel of Prohibitionists. Kansas governor John St. John and a contingent of fellow alcohol abstainers bought 10,000 acres in Newhall. Their dream was to start a completely “dry” community — an ambitious mission for a valley where there were more saloons than schools and churches combined. A young Henry Clay Needham was sent to oversee the project. Real estate sales were slim to none. Even the most devout Prohibitionist didn’t want to buy land in this St. John tract. You had to sign a note that if anyone was caught imbibing on your property, your land could be forfeited back to the seller. Today, Kansas and Arcadia streets are named after St. John’s home state and town.
OHHHhhhhhhhhh… YOU SAY ESTANCIA, I SAY ASISTENCIA — In some older history books, it’s called the “Missing California Mission.” Technically, our alleged “Mission San Francisco” at Castaic Junction was an addendum to the San Fernando Mission. Think of an “estancia” as a cattle ranch outpost for the San Fernando Mission. It was first called the “Estancia de San Francisco Xaviar” and officially dedicated on Dec. 3, 1804. Supposedly, there are records that the “Estancia” in 1810 was upgraded to an “Asistencia.” The difference? The former is roughly a supply outpost. The latter is like a rancho, or completely self-reliant. Potato/Poe-TAH-tow. Thank learned anthropologist John Johnson up Santa Barbara way for his tireless studies.
DECEMBER 3, 1922
BEING A WOMAN, HALFWAY… — To show you what a small town we were, the lead story in The Mighty Signal 100 years ago was a promo on the double silent movie feature at the Hap-a-Land Hall. The opening movie was entitled: “Sawing a Lady in Half.” The documentary was described by film critic and Signal Editor Blanche Brown: “Showing both the deed and how it is done so you can do it in your own home.” As for a punch line, I don’t even want to go there.
GREAT TO DANCE TO — The hot-selling record (those round black things folks used to listen to music on?) in town was Al Jolson’s “Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Good bye!”
LINKING THE WORLD TO CANYON COUNTRY — The folks in the greater Canyon Country area (it was referred to then as Soledad and Mint) were urged to attend a meeting hosted by Pacific Telephone and Southern California Edison. The two utilities wanted to know if there was any interest in hooking up the hostiles for phones and electricity. And yes. There was plenty of interest. I believe a good portion of Canyon Country, except for Ginny Brown’s place, has indoor plumbing today, too.
GEBHART THE COWPOKE — Cowboy star Charles Jones filmed many a Western here in Santa Clarita. He was starring in an oater titled, “Western Speed,” down at the Cody Theater in San Fernando. Mr. Jones appeared on the marquee for several years as “Charles” and later adopted his nickname of “Buck.” Buck, or Charles, was born Charles Frederick Gebhart. He had an interesting life — World War I vet, biplane fighter pilot, stuntman, cowboy, rodeo star, stuntman, then movie star as Buck Jones. He started out in Hollywood at $5 a day and upped that to $150 a week — as a double for our own Tom Mix. He eventually became one of the top cowboy movie stars of his day. Interestingly, at least to me, Buck died with two of my uncles, Art and Al, in the famous Coconut Grove fire right around this date (Nov. 28) in 1942. Jones was president of the Newhall Rodeo Association and was back in Massachusetts as the honored guest at a dinner hosted by Monogram Pictures.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, POPS — This is one of the most significant dates in Santa Clarita, California, United States and world history. On Dec. 2, 1922, a handsome devil of a farm boy came into this parenthesis. His name? Walt Cieplik. My father Walt made his transition almost a decade ago and rides up front with me every weekend on our Time Ranger treks.
DECEMBER 3, 1932
DAM! — Around 400 men were laboring on the Bouquet Canyon Dam. The wall was 175 feet high — nearly the same height as the St. Francis Dam next canyon over that burst just four years earlier in one of America’s worst manmade disasters. They had to reroute Bouquet Canyon Road to accommodate construction of the big project.
WONDER HOW MANY YEARS WE LOSE WATCHING TELEVISION COMMERCIALS — Signal editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher had some fun with numbers 90 years ago. Let me just step aside and let Dad tell it: “A statistician has figured that every motorist loses nine minutes every day by being delayed by traffic signals. I concluded to do a little statisting (sic) myself, and found that the 30 million motorists in the United States use 517 years ever day, by those darn signals, and my conclusion is that they are the cause of The Depression. You see, in 30 days, we motorists lose 15,510 years. No wonder we’re broke.”
THAT’S 2.4 HOURS IN THE POKEY PER CHICKEN — Winston Smith and Wilbur Higgins stole Herb Ball’s chickens. Ten of ’em. The pair was caught and got a day in jail for each.
DECEMBER 3, 1942
STAND UP ON YOUR COMMUTE — Because of the war, there was a shortage, of all things, train seats. Southern Pacific ran huge ads warning folks: “DON’T TRY THE TRAIN BETWEEN DEC. 15th and JAN 5th.” All the servicemen on furlough, trying to get home for the holidays, had first dibs. Not only that, the rails were used to transport more military materiel and less passengers.
DECEMBER 3, 1952
LOUTS AND COWARDS — An intense manhunt was called for Fillmore lads Carl Bragg and Don Henderson. They would face the death penalty for kidnapping a Ventura bank executive, J.L. Upham of the Ventura branch of Security First National. The pair had stayed at the Soledad Hotel (where the Way Station is today) prior to kidnapping Upham and holding him for several days at an abandoned oil lease in Castaic. After repeatedly beating him and getting away with just $25, they let Upham go and hightailed it for parts unknown.
THAT ONE, LAST BENDER — Well. If the train hadn’t killed him, the cheap wine would have. On this date, Wallace Saunders, an inebriated hobo from Talkeeka, Alaska, was hitching a ride on a northbound freight. According to a fellow rail rider, the pair had consumed between the two of them 2 gallons of Muscatel. Saunders tried to jump between cars of the moving train near Lang Station, slipped, fell and was cut into several pieces under the huge steel wheels. The remains were stretched out for half a mile. Talk about leaving your heart in Canyon Country…
DECEMBER 2, 1962
ANOTHER HALF-A-HOBO — In all my years of leading these time-riding trails, I have never seen such a strange juxtapositioning of events. Ever. Saddlepals. You’re not going to believe this. Ten years to the day after our poor friend Wallace Saunders fell off a moving train and was shredded underneath, another hobo met a similar fate. Myles Hanes, 50, of Portland, Oregon, was riding the rails, drunker than a skunk. He fell off a freight train — NEAR LANG STATION!!!!! — and was cut in half by the train wheels. The two portions of his torso were found about 10 feet apart.
A LIFE NOT TO BE LIVED — Two Bakersfield high school co-eds made a fatal choice. Instead of going to a movie as planned, the lovely two girls decided to take a ride up along the Ridge Route to Newhall. They missed a curve and their Corvair plunged 200 feet. One of the girls had just celebrated her 17th birthday three days earlier. She died in the crash. Her friend survived somehow with minor scratches.
NINE’S FOR NEWHALL — Canyon Country kept growing. The new phone books came out with 842 new “252” prefixes. Back then, it was pretty simple to figure out where someone lived by their phone number. If you had a “259,” you lived in Newhall. Everyone who had a “252” did NOT live in Newhall. I miss that kind of simplicity.
DECEMBER 2, 1972
HOW ABOUT THAT DIRT CLOD OVER YONDER? — From the Har-dee-har-har Department, the Regional Planning Commission held a public forum at the Hart Auditorium on this date. Subject matter? What land in the valley should be set aside for open space.
MAYBE THAT’S WHY NEIL YOUNG SINGS CASTRATO — On this date, Neil Young released his “Journey Through the Past” album. Backing him up on instrumentals and vocals was the Tony & Susan Alamo Christian Youth Band and Choir. Later, the foundation would be under the spotlight of almost constant controversy, from being a cult and brainwashing its converts to income tax evasion.
WHEN TEENS TURN INTO MONSTERS — This was one of the darkest days in Santa Clarita Valley history. We drew national media attention for a gruesome homicide in which a 17-year-old boy, I shall not mention his name, brutally murdered a mother and two toddler boys in a Valencia home behind Placerita Junior High. The trio was stabbed more than 100 times and the young boys’ throats were slit. The teen stayed in the home after the crimes, washing his clothes of blood. The new Hart student also stabbed the mother of one of the boys in the stomach. She survived. Just two months earlier, this disturbed teen had nearly beaten a girl to death. He is still in jail for the crimes but comes up for parole from time to time, latest was February of this year. It was denied. One of the little boys’ sister circulated a petition locally and on Facebook to keep the now 67-year-old behind bars.
ANOTHER WRETCHED MURDERER — The same day, Michael Wren Rennpage, in jail for life for the heinous and cold-blooded 1971 murder of a local and popular young Canyon Country man, Bill Warmuth, sought permission to be married in prison. He had been the subject of a multi-state manhunt, for not just the Warmuth murder, but for several other homicides, including two Idaho lawmen and six Nevada farm workers. Rennpage went by the nickname of “Evil” and had a large tattoo on his chest, spelling the word out. His girlfriend/fiancée and co-murderer, Joyce Turner, had a tattoo on her chest saying “Property of Evil.”
DECEMBER 2, 1982
BRRR DARN BRRRRRR!!! — An unforgiving storm from the Arctic Circle roared into Santa Clarita on this date. The icy winds knocked over trees, blew off roofs and toppled power lines. Around 14,000 residents were without electricity.
DE-NICE, BE-NICE — On this date, vandals swiped the “Denice Place” sign in Kelton Estates. The homeowners’ association quickly replaced the road marker, this time spelling it correctly as: “Denise Place.”
THERE’S NEVER BEEN ANYONE LIKE JOE — On this date, former Hart quarterback, class of 1955, Joe Kapp was named head football coach at Cal Berkeley. Joe is the answer to a famous trivia question: “Who is the only player to be in a Super Bowl, Grey Cup and Rose Bowl?” Joe is also the answer to another famous sports trivia question. While Kapp was famous for his life as a football legend, he was more a basketball star at Hart in the mid-1950s. He was also head coach of Cal Berkeley during that infamous “Band Bowl” in late November 1982, where the Stanford band prematurely rushed onto the field, giving the Berkeley school the freak 25-20 come-from-behind win after time ran out. Years ago, The Mighty Signal did a special series on the 50 Greatest Athletes in SCV History. Joe was Numero Uno…
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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!