I must confess. This is one of the most interesting, strange and exciting Time Ranger adventures up ahead. I’m guessing many of you will attempt to sneak back into the time vortex and give it another perusal. Don’t lose your bearings. You don’t want some velociraptor or 10 to sneak back in present-day Santa Clarita and violate some HOA code.
We also have the ABSOLUTE BEST quote ever to appear in print, so don’t fall asleep in the saddle when we reach 1973…
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
NOT ACCIDENT-PRONE, BUT HENRY HAD SOME HUM-DINGERS — Before he would own the entire Santa Clarita Valley and five epic cattle ranches, Henry Mayo Newhall was a cabin boy on a freighter bound for the Philippines. During the voyage, young Hank fell from a rigging and broke both of his legs. Years later, on March 13, 1882, Mr. Newhall fell from his horse while riding into the town that had been named after him just six years earlier. The most influential man in SCV history died a few days later from the accident.
ADIOS, TIBBY — At 1:35 p.m., March 19, 1875, the trap door opened and legendary outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez fell through. He was hanged for a murder in the small town of Tres Niños, where, years earlier, he and his gang took over the entire community, raping, looting and murdering. Tibby’s last words? “Pronto.”
MARCH 18, 1923
THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: 110, NOT 100 — Just a few months after forming — again — the Newhall Chamber of Commerce swelled to 56 members and a treasury of $346.
MARCH 12, 1928
THE GREAT WATERY DISASTER REMEMBERED — Historian Charles Outland wrote a book about the St. Francis Dam Disaster, which occurred on this date. In “Man-Made Disasters,” Outland noted that while the city of Los Angeles did settle all the claims of the epic disaster, there were severe irregularities in the settlements, depending on your race. There was one simple thing that inspired him to write this authoritative account of the third-worst man-made disaster in American history. Outland was a young man, living in Santa Paula, when the dam burst.
EARLY WARNINGS OF THE DAM COLLAPSE — Pierre Daries, a game warden and fire marshal in the Santa Clarita area, was one of the first rescuers into San Francisquito Canyon. He had driven across the road and atop the dam the weekend before it burst. A friend driving with him noted the vibrations from the dam and told Daries they should “…get out before the whole thing comes down.” Daries, by the way, was one of the pioneers of developing fire protection in the SCV.
A LIFESAVING PREMONITION — Tony Raggio was another who knew the dam was unsafe. He would later inherit his family’s homestead ranch in San Francisquito Canyon. He was 13 at the time and remembered his family talking about how unsafe it was. Frank Raggio, the patriarch, moved his family into Los Angeles prior to the break, claiming it would burst at any moment. Tony, his mother, and his six brothers were spared from their father’s premonition.
A MIRACLE OF MUD — Another bit of happenstance helped save the life of Dr. Thomas Clements on the night the St. Francis burst. Clements, a geology consultant, was studying the dam at the time. He usually camped out under a huge oak tree by the base of the dam. But because the dam had been leaking, he couldn’t get through the mud in his Model T. So, he motored over to higher ground in Charlie Canyon to camp out. That mud spared Dr. Clements’ life.
A HORRIFIC FAMILY LOSS — Of course, with nearly 500 souls dying that night, not all the stories ended happily. SF Canyon resident Henry Ruiz would later grow to manhood and ironically work for the Department of Water and Power. But he lost eight members of his family in the flood and never could talk about that night.
THE SANTA CLARITA’S NEW BODY OF WATER — For a while, we had a small lake caused by the dam break. At the mouth of the Santa Clara at Castaic, a good-sized body of water formed from the dam’s floodwaters. When it broke, a 187-foot wall of water came roaring down the canyon. It was reported to be as high as 60 feet when it reached Castaic Junction.
MARCH 18, 1933
KILLER QUAKE — The second-largest natural disaster in Southern California history struck in the form of a massive earthquake. There were 125 people initially reported killed by the quake, which was felt the hardest in the Long Beach area. The shaking was severe in Newhall, but was confined to goods and dishes falling off shelves and a few cracks in foundations. Signal Editor A.B. Thatcher was in downtown L.A. during the quake and reported that all eyes were constantly on the tops of the buildings for fear they would come down. Another local, Vinetta Sloan, recalled being in Long Beach when the quake hit. She said that she was hopping from one foot to the other, trying to keep her balance and fearing that the earth would open and swallow her up. She recalled driving home, through mobs of crying, screaming, hysterically laughing people. Thousands of people ended up living in open spaces and parks.
A BOLD EDITORIAL STANCE — The Signal ran a short editorial on the earthquake. We were against it.
SNOW DAY. QUAKE DAY. WHATEVER WORKS. — Another effect of the L.A./Long Beach/Compton earthquake was a school holiday for local kids attending San Fernando High. The school was closed for a week to check for quake damage.
MARCH 18, 1943
FALSE ALARM — We were at war with the Axis powers and nerves were skittish even here in Newhall. Two unidentified planes flying off the coast of Ventura caused our air raid sirens to scream bloody murder for 21 minutes in the middle of the day. All traffic was halted on the highways. Emergency workers rushed to their defense posts. Bermite, one of the country’s big ordnance suppliers, was evacuated.
THE MEN (AND THE WOMEN) IN THE CANVAS MASKS — Surely is interesting how history repeats. In the here-&-now, several of us are still wearing COVID masks. Eighty years back, local air wardens received 123 gas masks to protect us from a chemical attack by the Japanese, should they ever make it over here to attack.
WITH EVERYTHING BEING RATIONED, PLEASE DON’T TELL US WE CAN’T DRINK! — The state Board of Equalization closed the bars early, starting this date 80 years ago. The last drink had to be either consumed or tossed down the drain by midnight. Guess the hard-core drinkers just had to start earlier.
THE DUDE DIDN’T KNOW HIS SHROOMS — R.E. Galbraith changed his unofficial title of “Local Naturalist” to “Alleged Local Naturalist.” Seems the Newhallian prided himself on being an expert on identifying mushrooms. He picked some of the wild fungi, cooked them, ate them and suffered a near-fatal belly ache.
NOT EVEN REMOTELY PLEASANT — This is one of the weirdest industrial accidents I’ve ever come across. Alvin Buelke was working at A.B. Perkins’ ranch up Wildwood Canyon. While welding a gate, he bent his head to the side and a piece of white-hot metal no bigger than the head of a pin shot up in the air, landed in his ear, and burned its way all the way down to his eardrum. Yee AND ouch.
ELEANOR’S A SWELL GAL — Walter Westcott enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in, of all landlocked places, Illinois. He had a surprise visitor. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stopped by the base for an inspection and had a short chat with the Newhall sailor. Westcott noted: “She was a swell lady.”
MARCH 18, 1953
HEY, JOE, WHERE YA GOIN’ WITH THAT TEDDY BEAR IN YOUR HAND? — My fellow classmate, Joe Barkley, passed away a little bit ago. On this date, however, Joe was the subject of the largest baby hunt in the history of the Santa Clarita Valley. His parents made a bed check and discovered their 2-year-old son Joe was missing. Frantic, they searched the house, then the yard in Placerita Canyon, then dragged neighbors out of bed to help in the search. The sheriff was called and soon, a 500-person search party, including the local mounted posse, was combing the hills for little Joe. Even county Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, whose family lived in Newhall, personally joined the search. It seems Joe just climbed out of bed and went for a middle-of-the-night hike. Avoiding the random bear, coyote, bobcat and mountain lion, he baby-stepped it all the way to an oil well atop of Confusion Hill and fell asleep. A couple of neighbors found him 9 a.m. the next morning. The Signal the next week carried a photo of Joe and his happy father. The tongue-in-cheek headline read: “Joey Barkley Unhurt, Unscared Though Millions Anxious.”
JOE, PART II — I’m going to be in such big trouble because I can’t remember which of my saddlepals shared this years-later follow-up. Joe had escaped with the family dog, a rather formidable pooch. The loyal canine would not let anyone get near his little guy. A neighbor knew that his dog and Joe’s dog were best friends. The neighbor brought over his hound and Joe was safely retrieved without anyone getting bit.
A MOST HORRIBLE AND FOOLISH WAY TO GO — Just a few addresses away, the same week, the ending for a Placerita family wasn’t so happy. A teenage boy who was rebuilding a jalopy brought home gasoline in two large wax paper bottles to clean the engine. He and a friend brought the “bottles” into the small cabin where the mother was fixing dinner. The bottom fell out of one of the gas containers and the gasoline ignited from the flames of the stove. A neighbor, Chuck Hays, manager of Melody Ranch nearby, happened to be driving by when he saw two of the boys, both human torches, running out of the house, screaming and flailing away. The mother’s body was found in the charred remains of the cabin, along with a tiny dog under the sink. The two boys later died from their burns. The father, Charles Bickham, was seriously burned, trying to extinguish his family.
MARCH 18, 1963
A DARN, LONG, SLOW RIDE TO THE ANTELOPE VALLEY — It looked like a giant, metal teacup and it gave motorists, especially the California Highway Patrol, monumental headaches. On this date, an ungainly monster-size rocket fuel tank was transported from Los Angeles through Newhall up to Edwards Air Force Base. It took a special 16-wheel trailer to cart the 20-ton tank. When it crossed the old Honor Rancho Bridge on old Highway 99, at 32 feet it was so wide, it snuck through with only inches to spare. When the tractor-truck got up to speed, it could only top out at 16 mph. Imagine getting stuck behind that beast.
BLESS YOU, DEAR HECTOR — Normally, the flag is lowered to half-mast to honor the passing of some larger-than-life American personality. On this date, Saugus Elementary lowered the Stars and Stripes to honor the passing of Hector Lezama. The Lezama family had just arrived from Mexico and were pursuing the American Dream. Young Hector quickly learned English and became one of Saugus’ best students. His life was filled with promise. The little fellow was suddenly and mysteriously stricken with a high fever and passed away. The vision of America was never more honored than in the lowering of that Saugus school flag.
EARLY MOVE TO FORM THE CITY OF NEWHALL — The movement intensified to form a city here. A local committee studied the formation of Newhall City. It was to be essentially not the entire SCV, but about 16 square miles surrounding present-day Newhall and have a population of around 10,000. It would have 2,762 dwelling units and 3,286 registered voters. The estimated assessed property valuation was about $13 million. This new Newhall City would be able to float a 1% property tax (on top of the county taxes) on that figure. Estimated yearly revenue for the city was a whopping $427,000. Interestingly, with all the long hours and hard work put in by generations of local community leaders, it would take almost 25 years before we became a city — longer, even, when you consider some of the movements started even decades earlier.
MARCH 18, 1973
WRECK A CAR. SAVE THE PLANET — Dan Hannigan, resplendent with long hair, mutton chops and Ray Orbison thick glasses, startled a few passers-by on this date. He was standing on top of an old car in front of Sierra Vista, bashing the thing to pieces with a sledgehammer. The principal wasn’t clamping down on illegal parking. It was a fund-raising event, of all the things, to raise ecology awareness.
NOT KNOWING HIS HISTORY — It’s funny — again — how history is circular. One of the lead stories in The Mighty Signal was — again — how locals were meeting to talk about building a city. I guess the reporter didn’t know the history of the long and lingering process, dating back to the 1890s. There was even a movement to have the SCV jump L.A. County and into the boundaries of Ventura County. The Signal reporter’s lead: “The first step toward possibly incorporating into a city in this valley will be taken tomorrow night…”
THOSE LIFE-ALTERING, CAN’T-TURN-BACK EVENTS — Over the years, this story has oft repeated, this time with terrible consequences. Terry Lambert was accidentally shot in the back by an alleged friend while they were hunting in Pico Canyon. Terry was paralyzed from the waist down. He was just 13.
BEST DARN QUOTE EVER TO APPEAR IN THIS PAPER ABOUT A METHODIST — On this date, the infamous “Wildcat Reverend” David Taylor jumped bail. An associate of the United Methodist minister was asked if Taylor would ever go straight. His friend replied, “Not if Christ had him by one arm and a gorilla had him by the other.” Interesting picture…
EPIC EXPLOSION FROM THE HEAVENS — Lightning hit a flagpole at Camp Nine above Placerita Canyon. The stone base was shattered, sending chunks of rocks flying hundreds of feet. No one was hurt.
MARCH 18, 1983
WASH OUR WASH — On this date, the W.O.W. movement was created by Saugus High. The initials stand for Wash Our Wash and was a request to clean up the huge amount of graffiti kids were spray painting on the concrete in front of the school.
USELESS BUREAUCRATS BUSY AT WORK — A state study group honored us by picking Towsley Canyon and Val Verde as one of five possible sites for a toxic waste dump. Lucky for us, they put a park in there instead.
SHERIFFS 16, URENDA 0 — There are such things as fatal mistakes and Antonio Urenda made one. Responding to reports of a man trying to break into an Arch Street home carrying a rifle, four sheriff’s deputies ordered Urenda to put down his weapon. Instead, he took a shot at the officers. They fired back, hitting him 16 out of 16. Urenda was dead and then some. It was the second time in three weeks that local sheriff’s deputies fatally shot someone trying to shoot them. I’ve said it before. Whatever they pay lawmen, it ain’t enough…
THE DEMISE OF THE SCV MOVIE SCREEN — Here’s some odd and rather sad juxtapositioning. The Mighty Signal’s movie section had three theaters: The Plaza; The Mustang Drive-In; and, The Mann 6 Valencia (it later added another other four screens before turning into a church). Forty years later, all three are out of business. The Mann, by the way, sold adult tickets for just $2.50 back then, with a $1 all-day Tuesday offer. During the weeknights, admission was $1 at the old Mustang on Soledad.
THERE NEVER WAS A RANSOM NOTE — After being kidnapped for four trying days, Bob returned home. The Bob in question was the Bob’s Big Boy statue that had been taken from the former burgertorium on Calgrove Boulevard over on the west side of town.
• • •
Thanks for the company, dear friends and saddlepals. Be back next week with another exciting Time Ranger adventure, and, 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…