Sure has been a nippy winter this 2022-2023. I just noticed. This is the first winter in the last several years where we haven’t been visited by even one of those unseasonably hot stretches of temps flirting with the century mark. Also? First winter in a while where not only have I brought out my warm buffalo coat, but I’ve been wearing it quite a bit. Temps in the canyon have been hitting the 20s some mornings.
Anywho. Speaking of, get out your best Sunday winter wardrobe of Indian robes and range-riding jackets. Pull up the collars. Tug on the gloves. Take along your latte thermoses (thermi?). We’re going to duck into the SCV time portal and, as my dopey-sister-like-substance’s snarky kids used to say: “Show us where the dirt used to be…”
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
I LIVE AT 1, THIS ROAD — In the early 1920s, a new phenomenon was sweeping the country, the SCV included. It was called, “street addresses.”
THE ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME AND THEN SOME — While visiting family in Seattle in 1903, young Newhall man Al Playman and a friend were slipped sleeping potions in their drinks, then shanghaied onto a merchant ship bound for South America. Playman figured there wasn’t much he could do and made the best of the four-year-long voyage, which took him to China, Japan, South Africa and the Hawaiian Islands. While visiting London, Playman jumped ship and became a stowaway on a ship bound for Boston, then, hitchhiked all the way back to Newhall.
WHEN 47 WAS THE NEW DEAD — The average life expectancy in the United States, and, the Santa Clarita, was 47. I remember a dear Newhall pal of mine years ago, in his 90s, used to say: “I won’t call myself old, but I no longer buy unripened fruit…”
FEBRUARY 25, 1923
SHANGRI LA IS RIGHT IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD — Hard to believe, but the SCV was a major tourist attraction in the 1920s. Forest Ranger and Signal columnist, Thornton Doelle, reported hundreds of campers spending the weekend in tents and sleeping bags in the various local canyons. It was such a spectacularly beautiful week, nothing in the valley was broken, stolen or bumped into.
FEBRUARY 25, 1933
MAY WE PURCHASE THE MINERAL RIGHTS TO YOUR CONDO? — Oil was a booming business in the Depression-era Santa Clarita. One of the byproducts of so much petroleum underground here was it attracted lease hunters. Dozens of front men for oil companies were knocking on doors, trying to obtain mineral rights from property owners.
HEY!! THAT’S A MONTH’S WORTH OF HISTORY COLUMNS! — Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal brought work to the SCV. At the sheriff’s substation No. 6, some 171 people registered for 101 general laborer jobs on federal work projects in the valley. The wages? Forty cents an hour back then.
GIMME A COUPLA YARDS OF RATTLERS, PLEASE … — Lewis Fisher earned his way through college through a rather unusual job. He caught rattlesnakes and sold them by the foot. I know. Some of you are thinking: “Wait a second. Rattlesnakes don’t have feet.” You’re correct. But, we’re talking about the measurement, not the tootsie. Fisher, armed with his German shepherd and a first aid kit, went out into the local foothills to capture the vipers, then sold the live snakes to a collector at 25 cents a — er, per 12 inches. The longest snake he captured was a 6-footer. Well. A 72-incher.
THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS — The Baldwin Gold Mine in Vasquez Canyon was sold for $50,000 on this date. That’s a ton of cash in 1930s money. Between Bouquet and Mint Canyon was one of the big gold-producing areas in SoCal for many years.
I’LL TAKE TWO, PLEASE… — Speaking of Depression-era prices, you could rent a three-bedroom house plus garage on a tree-lined acre in Newhall for just $21.50 a month. Today, you couldn’t do that for $21.50 a day.
FEBRUARY 25, 1943
BETTING HOOT’S TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE — Newhall has been home to many famous cowboy stars. One of them was Hoot Gibson, who owned the Saugus Speedway before it carried that handle. On this date, Gibson formed a partnership with his friend, Ken Maynard (another cowboy movie star who filmed numerous oaters in this valley). The two noted that they were tired of the recent slate of cowboy actors “…with lavender pants” and agreed to make eight Westerns in 1943 out here in the SCV. Quoth Gibson: “And all of a sudden, somebody seemed to have decided that maybe cowboys ought to ride horses.” Maynard added: “Instead of just braying about love.” Gibson and Maynard reportedly started making Westerns in the SCV back in 1915. Today’s big headline is that the speedway is going to end up as yet another condo community.
THE RAINS OF ’43 CONTINUE TO UNLEASH THEIR FURY — We were hit by another big storm that dumped 4 inches of rain this week.
A TERRIBLE AND BACKWARDS TRAGEDY — While her husband was entrenched in horrific hand-to-hand combat in the Pacific during World War II, Mrs. Barbara Paralta was killed in a traffic accident near Castaic when an unknown driver forced her off the road. Absolute insanity. Can you imagine? Getting a letter in combat with that kind of news?
FEBRUARY 25, 1953
EDITORS vs. RURAL PR FLAKS — OK. I’m just going to let you read this verbatim. It comes from Fred Trueblood’s Signal Tower column, which appeared every week on the front page of The Mighty Signal: “The sassiety editress of The Signal was trying to reason with a contrib. recently on her writing style and finally got a little bit impatient. ‘We just love to get our reports about the Clambake and Gin Rummy Society, but it does seem as though you really ought to check the Queen’s English.’ ‘Well, of course. I know the Queen’s English,’ came the reply. ‘If she wasn’t English, how could she be the Queen?’”
CHP COUNTS THEIR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY HATCHED — Seems there was a commotion from an old Chevy abandoned on Highway 99. Upon closer inspection, two CHP officers found several fighting gamecocks had been left in cages inside the trunk. The car was traced to a 22-year-old Taft man and he was arrested for animal cruelty, among a few other charges.
FEBRUARY 25, 1963
ANOTHER ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME — Two San Fernando Valley boys, 11 and 13, hopped a flatbed freight car out of Burbank. With 50 cents between them, no jackets and some matches, they were headed for “Chattanooga.” In February. The lads were spotted at the Castaic Junction and the train was stopped by the Ventura County line. The boys were shivering, sooty and rather glad to have been captured. Their parents? They didn’t even know the boys were missing.
SURE WAS AN INTERESTING WEEK FOR OUR CHP — They gave chase to Marty Ravelette for doing 80 barreling down the Ridge Route. To their surprise, Marty had no arms. He managed to kick his wallet out onto the floorboard, produce his license with his toes, then sign his ticket with his feet. Marty’s occupation? Sign painter. I’m not making that up.
FEBRUARY 25, 1973
“GOVERNMENT” & “HURRY,” TWO WORDS RARELY SEEN IN THE SAME SENTENCE — A half-century back, local business groups petitioned the state to hurry up on their proposed construction of lengthening Highway 126 to connect it to the eventual Highway 14. State officials noted the prospect of that happening was slim and none.
AND SOME FELT THE CHAMBER WAS OFFENSIVE TO THE REST OF THE VALLEY — On this date, the Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Chamber of Commerce removed the Newhall Pass sign from Sierra Highway. They felt it added to sign blight and that the Newhall was offensive to the rest of the valley’s residents.
SPEAKING OF A BAD WAY TO WELCOME VISITORS TO THE SCV — Yet another corpse was found in a desolate Santa Clarita canyon. An unidentified man had been shot 10 times and his body left along Sierra Highway. With the new freeways and still sparsely populated, the SCV was a favored dumping ground for murder victims. The last unidentified body was dubbed “The Headless Handless Corpse.” That poor fellow was left at Newhall Pass (back when they had the sign).
MUST’VE HAD A ZUMBA CLASS TO VISIT — While the show must go on, the protest didn’t. Actress Jane Fonda was scheduled to speak at CalArts. She was a no-show.
FEBRUARY 25, 1983
HOTEL NOWHERE — On this date, a local real estate company petitioned the Regional Planning Commission. They wanted to build a 100-room, three-story hotel on Lyons Avenue, behind Burger King. Last I checked, it still isn’t there.
CAN’T EVEN BEGIN TO THINK OF AN APPROPRIATE HEADLINE FOR THIS — The inexperience of a 14-year-old mother was blamed for her infant losing a finger. The mother kept her baby’s hands wrapped in tight mittens. The gloves cut off circulation and gangrene started in one of her digits. It was removed at Henry Mayo Hospital.
PETTY AMBULANCE MANAGEMENT? — The price of being a hero was both a high and silly one for ambulance medical tech Ron Walker. Walker and his partner rushed to an accident where several men went over a ravine in the dark. Walker and his partner found one man in the car, but heard screams from the dark. Walker then rushed to the rescue, finding two injured men in the brush, administered first aid, guided in a helicopter and probably saved their lives. When Walker got back to base, he was called on the carpet for leaving the ambulance. Despite saving the guys’ lives, Walker was fired. He pointed out that prior to this, he had given his two weeks’ notice…
• • •
Well. Drat if we don’t have to return to the rather taciturn present, with all its humdrummia. Thanks so much for the company and good adventures, dear friends and neighbors. See you next week back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post with another exciting Santa Clarita history adventure. Until then, you be good to one another and vayan con Dios, amigos…!
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