Top of The Mighty Signal weekend morning to you, amigos and amigo-ettes.
You’re just not going to believe the adventures ahead of us this fine winter’s day.
We’ve got mule-eating earthquakes and a historic first trial. Explosions, a character called “The Tender-Hearted Bandit” and a trucker who put out a blaze — with beer. You veterinarian majors might even help out with a bovine birth — smack dab in the middle of Valencia Boulevard. We also have the Time Ranger’s favorite tidbit in ALL of recorded local history.
C’mon. Check the cinches, tighten down the hat and let’s mosey into the mystic…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
JUDICIAL CLARIFICATION — I’d like to start out this morning’s trail ride with a bit of a clarification. There’ve been stories passed on how Judge Powell served for 40 years as local magistrate. Actually, the figure is 26 years. Powell was elected judge in 1875. That was about a year before Newhall was founded.
If my math’s right, Powell quit after about six years to take a job managing a store in Running Springs. That’s at the gateway of Death Valley. Jiminy Christmas. To think Death Valley is a step up from Newhall. Anyway. Powell came back around 1903 and served another 20 years as a judge.
Here’s some extreme trivia for you about one of our most influential citizens — ever.
When Powell first took up the robes, he had never set foot in a courtroom before.
Prior to 1900, there were two justices in the SCV. That was because lawyers were so scarce, while one was acting as judge, the other would be the public defender or prosecutor. Judge Trafford was actually the justice who hired Powell. Powell, a Civil War hero and big game hunter, spent three months learning the law while being a spectator in Trafford’s court.
Powell’s very first case was A.J. Krazynski vs. Sam Harper. Krazynski was a pioneer out here and owned the old Lyons Station near what is now Eternal Valley. Krazynski sued Sam for $10, claiming Sam Harper’s cows damaged his barley crop.
To show you what a small town we were, people came from all over the valley to see this little trial. Talk about being starved for entertainment. The court was held under an old cottonwood tree in Castaic. “Doc” Benjamin was counsel for Harper and happened to be sitting by a large hole in the tree. Across from him was Powell, who kept absent-mindedly kicking at the base with his foot.
It’s still up for debate whether Powell was in collusion with the plaintiff, but his kicking woke a large swarm of bees, which drove the entire audience sprinting away from the outdoors courtroom.
After two more trials, Powell found in favor of Krazynski. Reports were that the 10 cents Powell awarded was due to prejudice over Krazynski being a Polish Jew. Krazynski appealed for a third time in a higher court, this time earning $140 in damages.
While the history books painted Powell as a fair man, there was this matter of prejudice. Also, the local history books note that Powell was never overturned by a higher court. However, his first case was.
GRAB THE BABY AND THE FINE CHINA!! — It was one of the most severe earthquakes in modern world history. The huge tremblor on Jan. 9, 1857, was centered at Fort Tejon and was later measured to be so big as to be off the future modern Richter Scale and was 150 times more powerful than the Northridge quake of 1994. There was a story about how a 10-foot-wide gash in the earth opened, nearly swallowing a sleeping prospector. This epic earthquake supposedly ate his mule, though.
OIL BE SEEING YOU . . . — Back on Jan. 8, 1869, pioneers/gunfighters/businessmen Sanford Lyon, Henry Wiley and Bill Jenkins began a primitive drilling operation in Pico Canyon. It was the first known oil well dug in this valley and the beginning of the first commercial oil well in California and west of oil-rich Pennsylvania.
OUR FAMOUS CAMPER — Depending to whom you spoke, Col. John C. Fremont was either an epic scalawag or a colorful patriot and adventurer. Either way, he camped out at Castaic Junction 154 years ago on Jan. 10.
SURE SEEMS LIKE WAY, WAY BACK WHEN —
MY PERSONAL MOST IMPORTANT DATE IN HISTORY — It seems like just 20 minutes ago — not 20 years — when I scribbled the following in this very column. Here goes: “On Jan. 8, 2003, Indiana Rubino Boston, daughter of Chris and John, entered this particular reality to stay at Scared O’ Bears Ranch with a couple of people who couldn’t be more tickled pink.
“I’d like to introduce a brand-new rider who will be accompanying us for eternity. She’s too little to find a proper-fitting Stetson, but that little bundle peeking out from my jacket is my daughter, Indiana Boston. Indy isn’t quite ready to straddle a saddle yet. She’s not quite 4 days old. We thought we’d wait a week for proper equestrienne training.”
So hard to believe. My baby girl turns 20 on Sunday. Twenty. Eesh…
JANUARY 14, 1923
HERE COMES THE JUDGE — Local businessman Port C. Miller had some pretty big shoes to fill. On this date 100 years back, he took over for the legendary Judge J.F. Powell.
EXTREME SPORTS DISASTER TRIVIA — Thank Mr. J.H. Furgeson of Southern California Edison for coming up with the valley’s first semi-pro baseball team. Furgeson came up with the idea to build a league of teams from Burbank, Lankershim (later called North Hollywood), Van Nuys, Chatsworth, Owensmouth (Canoga Park), San Fernando and one comprised of a Newhall-Saugus squad. (Newhall and Saugus would each have their own teams. Much of Saugus’ ball club, alas, was wiped out in the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928.)
JANUARY 14, 1933
ANYONE FROM KAISERSCHLAUEN, CLAP, AND WHISTLE —Richard Lauer, who hailed from Kaiserschlauen, Germany, found a new way to hitchhike through the Little Santa Clara River Valley. When motorists passed, he pretended to be writhing in pain. They stopped and gave him a ride. After a few miles, he would make a miraculous recovery. The law arrested him. On what charge, I am not certain. Perhaps for acting poorly.
ROBBER WITH A HEART OF GOLD — He was never captured, at least around here. Still. He was given the handle of “The Tender-Hearted Hold-Up Man.” A bandit pulled a pistol on a man north of Castaic and ordered him to come up with everything he had. This being the Great Depression, it wasn’t much — 28 cents. The man’s poverty so moved the bandit that he broke into tears and handed back the victim his 28 cents. “Here, you poor fellow,” the crook said, crying. “You go and get yourself something to eat.” The robber walked away, lamenting the state of the country with so many close to starvation.
JANUARY 14, 1943
KNIVES OUT — Maj. Earl Hatton of Saugus started a local campaign entitled: “Save A Life with Your Knife.” Hatton was collecting hunting knives longer than 4 inches for the war effort. Locals were urged to turn their blades in to The Signal office. Rest assured. The practice has been abandoned for months…
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, WE DIDN’T BLOW UP OUR HIGHWAYS — Originally, we had seven train tunnels dating back to 1876. Over the years, most of them were taken out, replaced by simple cuts. On this date, the Southern Pacific removed the tunnel just north of Saugus. The reason? SP was worried about terrorism and someone blowing up the tunnel and blocking the tracks.
HEY TWO-GUN! CAN YOU LEND ME A COUPLA BUCKS? — Bill Hart was back at the mansion, recuperating from eye surgery. After he had made his announcement that he would leave his fortune to the community, the silent film star was besieged by “beggars’ mail.” Hundreds of letters flooded in, asking Hart for money for a variety of causes, some noble, some not.
GOOD THING HE WASN’T TRANSPORTING 200-PROOF VODKA — This nearly pains me to share. On this date, an Acme beer truck descending the Ridge Route caught on fire. The exhaust manifold ignited the wood FLOORBOARD in the cab. The quick-thinking driver pulled over, ran to the back of the truck, pulled out a case of Acme, and poured a half-dozen quart beer bottles, successfully dousing the fire.
JANUARY 14, 1953
BOARD OF WATER, NOT BORED OF WATER — On this date, the Newhall Water District was elected into reality by a vote of 347 to 167. Thematically, on election day, it rained.
STOP THE CAR. THEN GET OUT… — If Gene Curtis is still with us, he might attest to the value of seat belts. At 5, he decided to open the door of his mom’s moving Studebaker and tumbled out. He was treated at Newhall Hospital for cuts, bruises and contusions. Crazy thing? I did the same thing at age 7, in a 1956 Studebaker president, driven by my mom. Scraped the holy heck out of my knee…
JANUARY 14, 1963
REMEMBER COUNTRY COUSINS? — Paul Palmer, the guy who built the original Country Cousins Market (in which the Lyons Post Office and a couple of businesses reside today), announced plans he would expand. Palmer would eventually add a new shopping center at the corner of Lyons and Peachland where Santa Clarita National Bank would eventually rest. Back then, Lyons was a two-lane road and where Valencia Boulevard is was nothing but carrot, onion or potato fields.
KA AND BLOOEY — No offense, but I wouldn’t recommend Petronilo Delaluz Divillar as a handyman. On this date, he attached some new flex hose to a gas heater in the bedroom, went outside to turn on the main valve and blew his Haskell Canyon cabin into the ionosphere. He sustained minor injuries. The cabin had a more minimalist appearance after that.
BUILDING BOOM — Some building stats were released and they are rather humorous in retrospect. The year 1962 was a bit slower — 30% — than 1961 as far as building in Newhall and Saugus. Of course, 1961 was a record year with $13.7 million in construction. (That’s just a few houses in 2023.) There were 503 housing starts in the valley in 1962. Another 308 permits went for things like barns and swimming pools.
JANUARY 14, 1973
VAL VERDE’S SOULFUL SECRET — It was highly touted in magazines and in a book called “Secret Eating Places of Southern California.” Still. Even most locals had never heard of Marable’s. Charles Marable, owner of the Val Verde café, was creator of some of the best soul food on the planet.
HOLLAND. DENMARK. WHATEVER IT TAKES. — Signal crackerjack crime journalist Richard Varenchik was the lead investigative reporter on a grisly murder case in which a Hart High student brutally stabbed to death a mother, her toddler son, and an infant neighbor. Varenchik was trying to get the attention of the D.A. handling the case and kept asking, “Mr. Holland? Mr. Holland? Mr. Holland?” Finally, the D.A. turned around and said: “Denmark. My name is Denmark.” Without a beat, Varenchik replied, “At least I was close.”
QUESTION: “HOW DO YOU LIKE SCHOOL?” PUNCHLINE: “CLOSED…” — On this date, the William S. Hart Union High School District voted 3-2 to switch to a four-year school system.
WHAT IF THEY RAN A BUS LINE AND NOBODY RODE? — We had a six-month experiment going with the Rapid Transit District. The RTD ran a bus service through the valley for half a year. At the time, hardly anyone rode them.
SANTA CLARITA. HOME OF THE WINTER SISSIES. — We broke a record for cold. December of 1972 was the coldest 12th month in Newhall on record. Get this. The AVERAGE nightly temperature in Newhall was 29.5 degrees. That’s a heat wave in North Dakota, but we cowboys and cowgirls here in Santa Clarita are a bit thin-blooded.
I’D START ON EBAY AND THEN FOLLOW THE MONEY — Heard about losing your shirt? Camp Scudder lost all of them. Someone swiped a few boxes containing 600 county T-shirts. Lots of suspects. Camp Scudder was a minimum-security facility.
JANUARY 14, 1983
THE AMAZING RANDY — Four decades back, our amazing and nationally renowned artist, Randy Wicks, penned a political cartoon featuring Ayatollah Khomeini reading a copy of the Koran. Inside was a copy of Mein Kampf. Fascinating how four decades later, one can replace the Iranian mullah with a series of scoundrels.
I DOUBT TODAY IF MANY PEOPLE WOULD EVEN SLOW DOWN — Here’s a story you don’t see much in these yuppiefied parts. On this date, a passing trucker and a teenager on a bike helped a cow deliver a calf — on Valencia Boulevard. The birth was successful, but the distracted mother wandered off. Animal Control took the calf in and tried to find the owner of the bovine.
• • •
Well that was a positively refreshing trail ride for this early January of 2023, dear saddlepals. Thanks again for the company. See you next Sunday, same time, same Mighty Signal hitching post. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
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