Is it me? Or does January sure seem to disappear in a hurry? Again, be thankful we can travel through history so time just doesn’t seem so all-fired important.
This glorious Saturday morning, we’ll be headed off to inspect epic — and I mean, epic — local floods and a pair of local black bears who turned out to be homicide detectives.
There’s cattle grubs, lion tamers and, well, more rain stories. In fact, it’s rather odd how we got epic storms in these 10-year increments. And look at us now in 2023 — more big torrents our way.
Take your slickers. We’re heading into a wet yesteryear…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST INFLUENTIAL NOVELS — We have long had bestsellers in American culture. But, every once in a while, a book comes along that ignites the country. One such novel was “Ramona.” Back 143 years ago, on Jan. 23, author Helen Hunt Jackson stopped off at the Camulos Ranch off present-day Highway 126. There, she interviewed a young girl named Blanca Yndart. From those tales would be born the inspiration for the novel, “Ramona.” The book was so popular, there were literally tens of thousands “Ramona” reading clubs all across America. Interestingly, with the descriptions of languid climates, rich soil and open land, “Ramona” would help spur a migration and real estate boom to Southern California. It was also the vanguard of a social movement romanticizing Native Americans.
AND IT DIDN’T COST AN EYEBALL TO MAIL A LETTER — Rudolph Nickel was probably Acton’s most famous citizen. Besides starting The Acton Rooster, the posh resort of the Acton Hotel, a water district and several other enterprises, Rudy was also the town’s first postmaster. The Acton Post Office opened its doors on Jan. 24, 1888.
JANUARY 28, 1923
IMPROVEMENTS AT THE SAUGUS CAFE — On this date, Laura Wood sold all her Saugus holdings to W.W. Penhorwood. Ol’ W.W. was the owner of the Saugus Cafe and was in the process of renovating the historic eatery. He had just installed a brand-new marble counter top, too.
SAUGUS HEP CATS — Here’s an organization that’s not on the SCV books anymore. Too bad, too. Rural postman Bert Tysall was president of the Soledad branch of The Lion Tamers Club. It was primarily a social club, but they would meet regularly and even hire outside speakers. On this date, Felix Murphy spoke on Darwinism. He was against.
JANUARY 28, 1933
GET OUT THE SCUBA GEAR — We made the record books. On this date, Newhall had the most rain in the state. In a 24-hour period, the gauge at the fire station in Newhall recorded 7.24 inches. This was long before flood control and the roads and streets were pretty much turned into raging rivers. Back in the days of rickety cars and poor highways, one had to be more than careful navigating, especially at night and especially in some of the upper canyons. Many of the SCV’s arteries were washed out and the hapless motorist had to be careful not to drive into a 100-foot ditch. Several folks in Placerita Canyon were marooned for three days as the creek raged. I know how that feels…
STEALING MAMMOTH LAKE’S WEATHER — We sure had our spate of tough winter weather. A snow storm passed through, not just dusting the hills, but leaving serious drifts. Some cars up Bouquet and San Francisquito canyons had to be shoveled out.
JANUARY 28, 1943
MORE RAIN? REALLY? — OK. So you thought that little rain storm of 1933 was bad, check this out. We were battered by two back-to-back storms in a six-day period. The first storm dumped — get this — 14.34 inches of rain in 36 hours. Hills denuded from the previous summer’s fire collapsed, sending not just mud, but boulders onto our roads. Downtown Spruce Street (Main Street today) was a river, complete with sandbars on the sidewalks. Train tracks, bridges and major roads were washed away. Two huge hay barns from The Newhall Land & Farming Co. were washed to the Pacific Ocean. Except for short-wave radio, all communication into and out of the valley was stopped for three days and hundreds were marooned. One impatient motorist drove past a roadblock in Saugus, ignoring the pleas, shouts and swearing of some road workers and sheriff’s deputies. The man’s car fell off the weakened embankment and into the river, carrying the driver, his wife and three children. It took a while to fish them out. All five sustained small injuries. The car was a loss. A double rig tanker truck carrying wine plunged off a washout and into the Santa Clara River. That last tidbit always made me wonder just how cheap a wine you’d have to have to cart in a tanker truck.
JANUARY 28, 1953
YOU CAN’T PARK HERE. OR THERE. OR OVER THERE. — The guys and gals on today’s Main Street in Downtown Newhall will get a big kick out of this one. For previous years, merchants been fighting to get decent parking on San Fernando Road (Main Street). Seventy years ago, the Sheriff’s Department launched a controversial campaign to enforce two-hour parking on the main business drag. Seems folks couldn’t find a place to park. History’s circular…
BETCHA IT’S NOT IN ONE SINGLE, MODERN HOA CONTRACT — Most of you Yuppie saddlepals don’t have to worry about this chore. The Ag Department reminded local ranchers that it was time to get out the Rotenone and start spraying the backs of their cattle. End of January was usually the start of cattle grub season.
JANUARY 28, 1963
HMMMM. WONDER IF HE HELD COURT IN BLACK SWIM TRUNKS… — Arthur Miller — that’d be our judge, not the famous writer fella and Mr. Marilyn Monroe — was hurt in a car accident. Art broke some ribs and an arm. The good jurist actually had been judge here from 1943 to 1952. He sort of moved up on the scenery scale, taking a job as the judge of Malibu in 1959 while still living here in Newhall.
HERE’S SOMETHING THAT NEVER MAKES THE HEADLINES TODAY — Ray Smith from up Castaic way drove into town to file a formal complaint at the sheriff’s station. Seems cattle rustlers raided his ranch, slaughtered a beef, gutted it and dragged it about 100 yards to the nearby rural road. Value of the steer was about $150. Besides a stiff cash fine, the rustlers could face 10 years in jail. Oddly enough, cattle rustling is on the rise in California. I don’t have any recent figures, but from about 2000-2010, bovine thieves made off with 16,000 head of cattle, valued at about $9 million. Ranchers petitioned the state Legislature for stiffer fines, but their cries fell on deaf ears. There never were any laws in America legalizing lynching for cattle rustling. That didn’t mean it didn’t happen. Ranchers justified such vigilantism as protection of property, interestingly, with the caveat of “…at night.”
JANUARY 28, 1973
ALL HANDS OFF DECK — On this date, the park police at Castaic Lake discovered their patrol boat got loose in a wind storm and crashed into the face of the dam. Unlike the Titanic, it didn’t sink, but, it did have to be towed back for hull repair. (Personally, I’d like to start the unfounded rumor that the 26-foot boat didn’t float away from its moorings, rather, it was the victim of the predations of the giant squid living below the murky depths of Castaic Lake and that park authorities don’t want knowledge of the beast made public so the swimmers won’t panic.)
SAY IT WITH ME. WHEN TRUCK ACCIDENTS GIVE YOU LEMONS, YOU MAKE … — Back when Highway 126 wasn’t so wide open, motorists used to stop to liberate fruits and vegetables from the private orchards. Sometimes, folks would stop on the up-&-up to pick miner’s lettuce or wild mustard by the river. On this date, another treat was added. A double rig lemon truck flipped in a light drizzle, strewing tons of the yellow citrus along the highway.
THE BEAR DETECTIVES — A foraging mama bear and her cub became detectives. The pair had been seen rummaging around cabins and campgrounds in the Castaic/Lake Hughes area. Authorities believe it was the two bruins who unearthed the body of a missing woman — 57-year-old Evelyn Burling. Seems Ms. Burling’s boyfriend, Ken Morgan, was arrested on suspicion of her murder then released when authorities couldn’t find a body. Thanks to the bears, they had that body now.
JANUARY 28, 1983
DEATH OF ‘THE GRAND OLD MAN OF NEWHALL — William Lloyd Houghton, born in 1893, passed away on this date 40 years back. He was one of the most influential citizens in the history of the SCV.
After being discharged as a sergeant from the Army after World War I, he had made Newhall his home since 1919 — coincidentally the same year The Mighty Signal was founded. Lloyd was a commercial artist, carnival barker and real estate magnate. Lloyd’s father had bought the old Newhall Pharmacy (where The Junction is today at Market & Main) and Lloyd worked for his dad for a while. Lloyd married into one of Newhall’s oldest families, wedding Opal Mayhue. They brought into the world a girl who would later be known as Betty Houghton Pember. The couple moved into the old Masonic Lodge on Market, converting it into the Hap-a-Land Hall. The Hap-a-Land would be home to jazz concerts, silent movies, dances, bake sales and even was converted into a temporary morgue during the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928. The top floor today in 2023 is home to the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting hall and the original oak dance floor to the Hap-a-Land is still there today.
Lloyd, also known for his dapper appearance, bought and sold some land in Happy Valley and the street bearing his name is still here: Lloyd Houghton Place. Even in his final days, Lloyd was still an artist, painting scenery for the local community theater. A lifelong jazz fan, he died peacefully in his chair, listening to his favorite song. In 1983, most of the new people in the SCV had no idea what his personalized license plates — HAPALN — meant.
• • •
Before we say adios, I’ve a small apology to offer. I’d like to swear and stare at my boots and say it’s the old fatherhood thing distracting me, but really, I should have been more careful. Recently, I mentioned that Judge Powell left Newhall for a bit to work in Running Springs. While I actually know quite better, I placed Running Springs by Death Valley. Why? I couldn’t tell you. To set the record straight, Running Springs was, and still is, between Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. That’s hardly desert now, is it? Thanks to the various saddlepals who pointed out my poor trailblazing. That aside, please forgive and hope to see you all next Saturday again. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
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