A happy first weekend in June to you, saddlepals. Boy. This time thing just seems to run away with us. It’s a good thing we can magically avoid it by just slipping into the back trails of local history.
On this morning’s trailride, amigos and amigo-ettes, we’ve a Hall of Fame baseball player turned janitor to whom we offer a warm and Western, “Howdy!” There’s brush fires and cannibals. (Yes. Cannibals.) We’ve got rattlesnakes, teenage hobo assassins, questionable and plain blind Signal film critics and obtuse Canyon High student protests.
Heels down in the stirrups, shoulders back all cowboy proud as if we know what we’re doing and into the mystic go we …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
AND TODAY? WE HARDLY HEAR A PEEP FROM THEM — Easily the most influential company in the history of this valley, The Newhall Land and Farming Co. was founded on June 1, 1883. Margaret Jane Newhall, widow of Henry Mayo Newhall, and their five sons (kinda, it’s a complicated family) founded NL&F Co. with the offering of 10,000 shares of stock. The boys took 1,250 each and Margaret kept 2,500. The original company included 143,000 acres — or 225 square miles — of prime California real estate. At the time, the five boys ranged from 21 to 30 years old. Not a bad inheritance for being so young. Happy birthday today, all you remaining Newhall Landers and to the tens of thousands today who live in the homes you provided.
MUST’VE WORKED. THEY NEVER BUILT A SECOND OR THIRD PRESBYTERIAN. — Back on May 31, 1891, the Rev. F.D. Seward formed the First Presbyterian Church on Newhall Avenue. It’s still going strong today. First Prez would be the community spiritual beacon for years. Prior to the construction of the church, the Presbyterians and Methodists held their services at the Newhall Elementary School house. They sometimes joined together for joint services. I’m guessing they didn’t ask the Catholics because of the Latin Mass Thing …
JUNE 3, 1923
BACK THEN, NO HELICOPTERS, SUPER SCOOPERS OR GIANT TRUCKS. THEY JUST USED MUSCLE. — Someone left a campfire burning in lower Placerita Canyon and it started a huge brushfire. Around 100 men fought the flames all day and into the night. About 1,000 acres burned, but, except for a few barns and outbuildings, no homes were touched.
CHAPEL ON THE MOVE — I had mentioned earlier that on May 31, 1891, the Presbyterian Church was started. On June 1, 1923, the original little chapel was literally lifted off its foundations and moved back about 100 feet to provide room for the new and modern worship hall.
WHAT GOOD’S A RAISE? — On this date, Court Constable Jack Pilcher was awarded a $30-a-week raise by the county supervisors. He would become one of the country’s most famous lawmen and met an untimely and bizarre accidental death in the late 1920s when a fallen pistol hit the floor, discharged and sent a bullet between his eyes.
TALK ABOUT A BUDGET VACATION — I know. I know. Times change. Many of us are millionaires. But, in May 1923, Newhall’s J.F. Shaffer made an automobile vacation to Pennsylvania. It was quite the adventure. Shaffer noted much of the trip was over paved roads, but not always. Gasoline was highest in Arizona at 40 cents a gallon and cheapest in Pennsylvania at 14 cents. Shaffer kept a log. The entire month-long round trip? Including meals and lodging, it cost just under $120.
JUNE 3, 1933
AND, YOU STARTED WORKING AT 16. OR YOUNGER. — Graduation had a different meaning in the SCV 90 years ago. With no local high school, most kids finished with an eighth-grade diploma. There were less than 50 graduates — TOTAL — from Newhall Elementary, Saugus, Honby, New Era, Sulphur Springs, Bee and Acton schools.
JUNE 3, 1943
COBB AND THE CANNIBALS — The Rev. Ralph C. Cobb was fresh back from his mission on The Dark Continent. Cobb lectured to a wide-eyed audience at the Four Square Church. His sermon: “How Congo Cannibals Live.” While previous topics of forgiving one’s neighbor and turning other cheeks were greeted by tepid audiences, they packed the church for that one. Of course, 80 years later, we’ve improved. Santa Clarita is on the map, at least entertainment-wise, for being the home of the “Santa Clarita Diet,” a dark comedy about cannibals …
JUNE 3, 1953
KILLER KIDS — A trio of 16-year-old boys, passing time in a campground above Lang, grew tired of shooting at tin cans. So, one of them took aim at a passing freight train and shot a transient on a flatbed car. Daniel T. McMarcia, of Montana, felt a sharp pain in the shoulder and stumbled off the train. He made his way to the campground where some vacationers treated his wounds until help could arrive. The teen who had admitted to the assassination attempt was arrested for attempted murder.
BE IT JOGGING ON PASEOS, CHECKING THE FENCE LINE ON YOUR RANCH OR HIKING IN ONE OF OUR PARKS, IT’S BLANKETY-BLANK RATTLESNAKE SEASON!!!! — I’ll warn you yuppies and grizzled saddlepals alike, just as Signal Editor Fred Trueblood did 70 years back. BE CAREFUL when you wander about in the brush. It’s rattlesnake season. There were lots of the poisonous snakes crawling about in 1953. There’s lots crawling about in 2023. Watch your trail!
FUTURE “STAR TREK” STAR — Gary Yurosek was one of four Hart High Key Club members to attend the big international meeting, conveniently held in Los Angeles in 1953. Gary would graduate, go to Hollywood, change his name to Gary Lockwood and become a big-time movie star. In 1966, he starred in the second-ever episode of “Star Trek” entitled, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” as Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell. He starred in the Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic, “2001, A Space Odyssey” as astronaut Frank Poole. Gary Lockwood/Gary Yurosek’s family? They were the famed giant ag farmers who started the worldwide brand of Bunny Luv Carrots.
ONE MORE HART HIGH/YUROSEK BIT OF TRIVIA — Newhall was such a small town in the mid-1950s. Gary Yurosek was a popular and talented football player for The Mighty Indians. Yurosek would later play on the offensive line at UCLA, but at Hart, he was a running back. The gruff albeit charismatic underclassman sharing the backfield with Yurosek? None other than Joe Kapp, the only man in football history to play in a Rose Bowl, Canada’s Grey Cup, and, the Super Bowl (for the Minnesota Vikings). Alas, dear Joe earlier this month entered the Big Football Stadium In The Sky. He was 85.
JUNE 3, 1963
NEARLY A HALF-CENTURY AND SEVERAL MILLION BUCKS MORE — An $18 million freeway connecting Castaic Junction to Sierra Highway was proposed by the California Highway Commission on this date. The 9.4-mile route was to be called Highway 79. Decades later, Highway 79 was built, but they called it “Newhall Ranch Road.”
JUNE 3, 1973
EVERYBODY WANTS THEIR OWN COUNTY — While our own barrister Dan Hon was passionately speaking before the state Assembly, pleading they allow us to split from the elephantine L.A. County, a similar wish was being heard. Residents of Antelope Valley were simultaneously trying to flee Los Angeles AND Kern to start their own Antelope County.
THE BEGINNING OF TERRIBLY DEFORMED AND OVERWEIGHT SHOPPERS IN SHORT-SHORTS, WIFE-BEATERS & TUBE TOPS — Here’s a little business history. On this date, the first major discount chain department store in the SCV opened its doors. (We had drug stores and even a Sprouse-Reitz, but nothing like this new offering.) The place was called, Kmart, and it wowed the rubes with an inventory that included everything from ping pong balls to refrigerators.
THE BEGINNING OF MERGING WOKE WITH CORPORATE AMERICA — Here’s another quiet landmark passed. On this date, Newhall School District banned “Dick and Jane” from their curriculum. Also gone was “Good Morning Dear Teacher” from the song list and replaced with modern rock ‘n’ roll and Peanuts, the cartoon characters.
A GIANT OF A MAN QUIETLY WALKED AMONGST US — Few folks realized that the quiet, stately janitor at Castaic Elementary had such an amazing past. On this date, Vic Harris was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for his play in the old Negro Baseball Leagues. That wasn’t much of a surprise. Harris’ picture hung in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame a year earlier. Harris played for many teams, but primarily for the Homestead Grays from 1931 to 1948. He made about $1,000 a month — great darn money during those tough years. Of course, the Castaic man earned his paycheck. A typical season was, yikes, 200 games. Harris played not only against the greats of the NBL (like Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and even a young Jackie Robinson). He also faced the great white players in off-season exhibition games. Harris played against Babe Ruth, the Connie Mack All-Stars and once tripled off Dizzy Dean.
COWBOYS UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT — There was a big student protest at Canyon High on this date. Nearly 600 kids ditched class. Most of them couldn’t tell what or why they were protesting, but, they did have the lingo down. One girl stepped to center stage in the open student courtyard on campus and shouted: “WE GOTTA STAY TOGETHER!” She was cheered, but, again, not too many were certain why they were staying together. A few students had passed out leaflets because they thought Superintendent Dave Baker was transferring some popular teachers out of malice. A couple of teachers stepped to the podium to point out they had requested transfers. The kids kinda went, “Oh…” and went back to class.
GEEZ, PHILLY!!! — I can’t believe this lousy guy is still my best friend. On this date, curmudgeon and film critic, Phil Lanier, panned one of my all-time favorite movies: “Jeremiah Johnson.” That bum Lanier said it was tedious and “painfully overcut.” Cripes, Phil. “Jeremiah Johnson?” Really?
JUNE 3, 1983
WITH KAZOOS AND XYLOPHONES, LET US ALL REVERENTLY HUM THE THEME TO ‘STAR WARS’ — One of the oddest show business tales in local history occurred on this date. One of the biggest box office hits of all time, “Star Wars, Return of the Jedi” opened up at the little Plaza Theater on Lyons. Most folks thought it was a typo and that the Plaza was just showing the first two “Star Wars” films. Kids and adults were lined up around the block to buy tickets.
STILL MISS THAT DARN GUY — My good bud, Mike Gillespie, and his Cougar stalwarts won COC’s second state baseball championship on this date, beating Harbor 5-3. The Cougs won the state title in 1981 and took second in ’82. Mike would go on to win the College World Series at USC as head coach. Interestingly, he won the CWS as a player at USC in 1961. Mike died in 2020 and was one of the best souls to ever grace our SCV. Had a role in the Brad Pitt baseball film, “Moneyball.”
THE EARLY DAYS OF LIBERAL CALIFORNIA — We’re famous for many things and there are some we wish we weren’t so famous. On this date, a case that began in Newhall’s municipal court in 1979 finally made it to the state Supreme Court. It seems a chap had been arrested for lewd conduct in a Newhall public restroom. In a 5-2 decision on this date, the state’s highest law group ruled that people of his persuasion didn’t have to register as sex offenders.
SPEAKING OF LEWD — Here’s something spooky. In its first five years in existence, the Dodgers lost Every Single Game during SCV Dodger Night.
• • •
By the lights ahead, it looks like we’ve ridden back to the here-and-now. This is where we part trails, dear saddlepals. Those of you willing, do come back next Sunday for a fresh new trail ride through the back canyons of SCV history. Until then, and, as always — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!
If you enjoy the Time Ranger, you’re going to love his local history volumes. Visit johnbostonbooks.com. Order John Boston’s terribly exciting Volumes I & II on “SCV Monsters, Ghouls, Ghosts, Bigfoot” & all our local paranormal stories. Great summer reads. Leave a kindly review…