Warm & Western howdy, saddlepals. Come on you green SCV yuppies and grizzled old Santa Claritianonites. Out of them warm, toasty bunks. Grab your lattes and saddles. We’ve some serious moseying into long-forgotten dimensions.
First, we’ll sing a rousing Happy Birthday to — ourselves. It’s The Mighty Signal’s 104th anniversary!
We’ll also sing a birthday tune to the Sylmar Earthquake and say howdy to a married couple who moseyed across America in a covered wagon to Newhall — in 1983.
We’ll also investigate yet another name for the SCV and take a look at snowstorms, a bronc rider’s delicate condition and the long-forgotten cross-valley artery — Route 79.
You limber folks, hop up into the saddles. Those of us a bit more creaky in the limb at this hour, there’s enough stumps and tall rocks to give us that initial boost into the saddle…
FEBRUARY 7, 1919
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US. WE WERE BORN WEARING A TRUSS — Of all the dates in American history, THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. That’s when The Mighty Signal’s very first edition hit the streets. Best as we know, there is just one copy left of that original run. It’s crinkled and torn. The upper right-hand corner is completely missing. I’ve taped the darn thing together more times than I can remember over the years.
That first issue carried stories about Gen. Pershing in France and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in Newhall, along with 200 cast and crew members. They were filming his new movie, which had the working title of “Douglas at the County Fair.” Downtown Newhall was transformed into a happy, festive place, complete with dancing horses.
Signal Editor Ed Brown (no relation to the local sheriff of the same name), who died about a year later after starting this paper, ran a wish list of what the small community of 500 souls needed. Here’s the whole request: “Bank; Moving Picture; General Merchandise Store; General Machine and Implements; Chop and Feed Mill; Pool Hall; Millinery Store: Steam Laundry; Cobbler Shop; Harness Shop; Furniture Store; Cheese Factory; Skinning Station; Sugar Factory.” Well. Except for the cheese factory and skinning station, we’re just about there.
The very first classified ad cost just a quarter and read: “For your cigars, cigarettes and tobacco go to L.G. Pullen, the Barber.”
For some of you grammarian sticklers, the very first typographical error in the paper was, appropriately, leaving the “J” off the word, “jackass.” That STILL makes me smile.
FEBRUARY 11, 1923
THE LOVABLE COWBOY ACTOR — Harry Carey owned a giant ranch up San Francisquito Canyon, stretching into the thousands of acres. HC was one of the very few movie stars who successfully transitioned from the silents to the talkies. A century back, Harry was filming his non-verbal oater: “Man from The Desert.”
WE ARE ACTUALLY ARGUABLY A SMIDGE MORE INTERESTING A CENTURY HENCE — No jokes about this reminding you of the present-day Mighty Signal, but on this date, one of the front-page lead stories was about the Newhall Women’s Club’s Cooked Food Sale. Seems the gals raked in $12.71 for the day, part of which was tallied from the sale of one (1) roasted chicken. Stop the darn presses…
THE WORST KIND OF YELLOW JOURNALISM — The old Los Angeles Express newspaper offered this rather dismal description of upper Canyon Country: “Situated in the wilds and desolation of the Mojave Desert. Made up of a few small houses confronting one another from opposite sides of a gully, the gully being a dry desert river bed. It lies about half way between Mint and Bouquet Canyons. Dreariness and desolation may hang like everlasting clouds all around and about the distant desert Lang.” Excuse me? “Mojave…?” And then, sticking Lang between Bouquet and Mint? No wonder The Express ran out of business…
DAT’S A LOT OF PENCILS — An engineer’s report declared that Saugus was home to America’s largest graphite deposit. An exposed vein, a mile long and 50 feet deep, was discovered about 20 miles north of the Saugus Cafe. It was estimated to be 17 to 45% pure and that more than a million tons were in sight. That’s nice numbers, considering that the market rate was about $100 a ton for the stuff. The California Graphite Co. leased the site.
A STERLING REPUTATION — Speaking of mining, the old and historic Sterling Mine had reopened earlier and along with it, the Sterling School. In its heyday, there were around 35 kids attending. The school’s bell and piano had been quiet for years.
FEBRUARY 11, 1933
JUST A COUPLE OF QUICK STEAKS. WE’RE IN A HURRY… — Times were tough. Some hungry thieves shot a calf at old man Donohue’s place west of Saugus. They cut themselves a couple of steaks, cooked them over a campfire and left the carcass.
DO THE MATH — The year before, Southern Pacific shocked locals by announcing they would be closing the old Newhall Train Depot (where the Jan Heidt Metrolink station sits today). SoPac came to town on this date to hold community input meetings. During the Great Depression, the railroad company’s math pretty much said it all. On average, the Newhall Depot cost $142 to run every month and took in $87. Sounds like today’s federal government…
WAIT A FEW YEARS AND CALL IT CONDOLANDIA — I’ve oft pointed out how many different names this area has had. We’ve been called everything from Rancho San Francisco to Valencia Valley. Signal Editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher noted on this date that we were called the Little Santa Clara River Valley, but commented that as a handle, it was a might long. Thatcher called for the citizens to unite under a new area name: Sunshine Valley. It didn’t stick.
FEBRUARY 11, 1943
DRAT. ADOLPH’S FEELING GREAT — The buzz 80 years ago involved a dictator half a world away. A rumor had been circulating that German dictator Adolph Hitler was dead. A Signal editorial urged all residents to calm down and that even if the rumor were true, it wouldn’t stop our war effort. Der Führer, by the way, was still rather healthy in 1943.
FEBRUARY 11, 1953
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, HE’D SAVE $$$$$ ON SHOES — On this date, a local oil worker put his foot where it didn’t belong. A huge pipe was dropped into the well casing, taking three of the man’s toes with it. And, I’m guessing, a good part of his sock, too.
ROUGH DARN WEATHER — The valley was hit by a low humidity of 14 (normal is 35 to 50) along with hurricane-force winds. The old famous flagpole at Castaic School bent all the way to the ground and had to be sawed off at the base. Trees to TV antennas were knocked down and many roofs were lifted.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM — Local mucky-mucks were polled as to what Newhall needed in the upcoming years. Many businessmen wanted curbs. Big thinkers. Hugh Sherman had the best idea: “We’ve got too much talk and not enough work. Let’s quit talking and go to work.” I would have asked for sidewalks to go behind the curbs while they were out there…
FEBRUARY 11, 1963
YET ANOTHER CROSS-VALLEY CONNECTOR — Ever heard of State Route 79? The $18 million lane freeway was slated to connect Castaic Junction at Highway 99 to the intersection of Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road. The 10-mile link was slated to begin on this date and be completed by 1972. My guess is this eight-lane highway never got built. Either that or Caltrans is a smidgen behind schedule.
MEMO TO CITY COUNCIL — Hey. How about setting aside a little money and muscle to install some snappy-looking antique-looking “Route 79” signs on Newhall Ranch Road?
MORE HIGHWAY 79 TRIVIA —The original Route 79 today is called Magic Mountain Parkway.
THE HAUNTINGLY ACCURATE SIGNAL PARAGRAPHIST — On this date, Fred Trueblood II penned one of the darn best editorials ever to run in this newspaper. Mr. T’s diatribe was pointed against the federal income tax. Trueblood railed against the system, which he noted was skewed against the wage earner and small businessman. “It is a hodgepodge mess of laws and counter laws, layer upon layer of conflicting regulations, and generally speaking, one helluva mess. It betrayed the very theory it tried to establish. While it rocked the business concerns, they had the reluctant alternative to add the tax increase to their prices. This had to be done or they went under.”
Then, FT2 went on to describe an ever-growing, invasive monstrosity that attacked all and benefited few, making the ordinary businessman a de facto tax collector. As for the working stiff, Fred concluded: “One of these days, if the present trend continues, the old weekly paycheck will more or less be a non-negotiable certificate of merit.” I’m sure Mr. Trueblood will rest easy in Heaven, knowing that 60 years later, our tax system is much, much, much better…
FEBRUARY 9, 1971
EVERYONE WHO WAS HERE REMEMBERS WHERE THEY WERE — I remember where I was. In bed. On this date, at 5:59 a.m., a 6.6 earthquake centered in Sylmar rocked and rolled our valley. We had a rather famous photo of a car sticking nose-down in a sinkhole in downtown Newhall. The quake caused $5.3 million in local damage to 1,540 of the valley’s 15,000 permanent buildings. (At today’s real estate prices, that would have only been five houses…) Mobile homes suffered the worse. About 70% of the SCV’s 2,200 mobile homes were destroyed. One car, parked near Hart Park, was partially swallowed up by the earth. Signal Editor Scott Newhall came up with chilling prose in his editorial: “The Earth for a moment played us false. We are suddenly a baby who has been dropped by its mother, and we resent it.” On the bright side, while the quake caused $1 billion in Southern California damage, it was just 1/100th the strength of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Care to guess who was hurt the most by the 1971 earthquake? Thatcher Glass. About $3 million cleanup bill.
FEBRUARY 11, 1973
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TODAY, GEORGE!! — Gossip columnist Mimi, aka Ruth Newhall, had some most excellent presidential trivia in her column 50 years back. She noted that Congress monkeyed with George Washington’s birthday, moving it to the nearest Monday, which was Feb. 19 in 1973. Mimi pointed out this wasn’t the first time government messed with the father of our country’s birthday. George was actually born Feb. 11, 1732. But in 1752, the British government switched from the Old Style to Gregorian calendar and just sort of erased 12 days. Britain decreed that folks affected would just have to live with it. Now, we don’t even have Washington’s or Lincoln’s birthday anymore. It’s been sanitized for years to Presidents’ Day.
ROXIE HAD THE MOXIE — Roxie McIntosh took medical leave for a bit from her job. The Newhall resident was one of the world’s top-ranked bronc riders. Roxie took off some time from the rigors of the pro circuit because she was pregnant. What a gal!
FEBRUARY 11, 1983
SO WHEN WILL THE NEXT EPIC BLIZZARD HIT THE SCV? — Some folks were stunned and some folks stranded. We got hit by a surprise blitzkrieg winter storm, which left a foot of snow in Agua Dulce and 2 feet above Castaic. Hundreds of motorists were stranded in both spots and the roads were parking lots. A Signal photographer snapped a picture of a sign in Acton covered in snow. The sign read: “Cold Beer.” I guess so…
THE MIAMI VICE LOOK HITS NEWHALL — Remember what the fashion of the day was back in 1983 for women? Legwarmers and headbands.
WAGONS… HO!!!! — Beverly and Joe Bowley moseyed through the valley on this date, 40 years back. The couple was living their lifelong dream — to cross America in a covered wagon. Joe bought a century-old iron undercarriage and, without a blueprint, built his very own Conestoga. Beverly sold her van to buy two draft horses. The couple began their journey in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, in June 1982, with just two dogs, some supplies and $100 in their pockets. It took them eight months to reach Newhall. “We didn’t meet a bad person the entire way,” Joe recalled. Indeed, a couple from upstate New York put the Bowleys up for four days at their farm during a fierce late-spring storm. The couple were given keys to various cities, free meals, supplies, and, of course, directions. Interestingly, Joe said he and Beverly wanted to settle somewhere on the West Coast — in either Canoga Park or Yosemite. Me? I’d opt for Yosemite…
• • •
Well look at that, dear saddlepals. The always throbbing ambient noise of present day, that familiar spinning interdimensional time vortex — we’re back to the here-&-now of modern Santa Clarita. Guess we all have our chores and tasks to get to (and hopefully, a peaceful nap!). Sure appreciate the company on all these trail rides over the decades, dear amigos and amigo-ettes. See you back here seven days hence at The Mighty Signal hitching post with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos…
Visit johnbostonbooks.com. Like SCV history? Order John Boston’s terribly exciting Volumes I & II on “SCV Monsters, Ghouls, Ghosts, Bigfoot” & all our local paranormal stories. Great as gifts. Leave a kindly review…
In the Feb. 4 and Dec. 10 editions of “The Time Ranger,” it was written that the California Conservation Corps had several camps here in the SCV during the Depression. It should have read that the camps were for the federal Civilian Conservation Corps, which operated during the 1930s and 1940s.