The Time Ranger | Old Fire Towers & AV’s First Gas Delivery

The Time Ranger

Never been much of a hot-weather person and while these are the early days of summer, I surely wouldn’t mind seeing June gloom all the way up to October. Followed by snow. I’ve got the fashionable western jackets for it. 

So much for my seasonal carping. Let’s saddle up, amigos and amoebas, and head out on a brand-new trail ride through Santa Clarita Valley time. Which, as my dear childhood pal John Duarte always likes to say, is, like your uncle, relative. 

We’ve a rather frightening extinction timetable on our oaks to review. There’s also an entire passel of fire lore, some fun historic numbers, millionaires, quicksand, and a pre-Cemex fight up Sand Canyon way. 

Tug down those hats and don’t hold on to the saddlehorn. Those who ride more than a smidge might think you’re green and scoff-worthy … 


TALK ABOUT A HECK OF A PERK — Antonio del Valle was given one heck of a Sure Appreciate Ya by the governor of California — the Santa Clarita Valley. All. Of. It. Tony was given the massive land grant in lieu of back wages. The sad thing was he didn’t live very long to enjoy it. About two years after being given the biggest real estate deal in local history, the Tone-man died on June 21, 1841. Interestingly, another of the most famous in SCV history died around this time of year, too. Bill Hart kicked the feed bucket on June 23, 1946. Odd thing, both men left legacies where their wills were contested and the spoils of their lives were fought over for years. 

Be prepared to write on that in detail and in essay form on the final and none of this stuff that local education has yet to teach you ciphering, reading, and that other stuff … 

JUNE 24, 1923  

OL’ BLANCHE WOULD NOT RECOGNIZE THE PLACE — Seems like a century later, no one’s paid any mind to Signal Editor Blanche Brown’s editorial. The widow Brown penned a wonderful op/ed piece on how low the standard of business had sunk. Quoth Ms. Brown: “The world is getting pretty tired of hearing the expression, ‘Oh, That’s business.’ It is getting so that dishonesty, selfishness and inconsideration for anything decent, and humane, is swept away what is handed out as the all-conquering grandiloquent, all conclusive dictum: ‘That’s business …’” 

SECONDHAND SMOKE? — Newhall cowboy Tom Mix had a new movie out: “Catch my Smoke.” ’Tweren’t about cigarettes, either. Mix plays a World War I cowboy who returns to his beautiful ranch only to discover it’s been sold. The new owner, a beautiful cowgirl, just had her father killed under mysterious circumstances. Turns out the evil foreman found out there was an ocean of oil under the property and kidnaps the girl (his fiancée). I always hate when that happens. The movie ends with Tom getting the girl, and, bonus, Tom’s wonder horse, Tony, likes her … 

SPEAKING OF SMOKE — Work on the Oat Mountain fire lookout was nearing completion. A tall, wooden tower was built that would house around-the-clock lookouts during fire season. The famed wooden structure was rebuilt in 1937 and again in 1966 (this time using steel). The Oat Mountain lookout would close forever in 1972 when the Los Angeles Fire Department decided not to use the budget money to pay staff to man the outpost. The old fire tower had many interesting tales, most long-forgotten by now. Some included bears trying to climb the epic ladder. Then, there were the times the edifice was struck by lightning and the inhabitants had to hang on for dear life during wind gusts of over 100 mph. 

JUNE 24, 1933  

ANTELOPE VALLEY GETS ITS FIRST GAS, BY WAGON! — Ted Kornelissen was a long-time mover and shaker in the Santa Clarita Valley. Ted delivered the first-ever supply of gasoline into the Antelope Valley. He delivered the gas in 100-gallon wooden barrels on a wagon pulled by mules. Amen boy howdy. You’ve got to have muscles to unload those puppies. Teddy K. died in 1961. Few folks realized that, before he came to America, then Newhall, Ted had a pretty interesting job. He was on the royal guard for the king and queen of Holland. 

JUNE 24, 1943  

COMES A HORSEMAN — Charles Kingsburry and his famed local pony, Sonny, rode around in some unseasonable heat. Charles decided to cool off his horse’s heels by leading him into a shallow in the Wildwood area. Ol’ Mr. Kingsburry didn’t know his trails too well and rode his horse and himself into some quicksand. Took some serious swimming on both their parts to get free. You know, I’ve had more than a few friends locally who’ve been stuck in quicksand, mostly up in the Sand Canyon area. Perhaps we should take a moment on this trail ride to do a head count. 

WHEEZY ACRES — On this date, the old Wildwood Sanatorium closed its doors. The culprit? A shortage of manpower during World War II. Built in 1926, it was used as a recuperation facility for tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses. County ambulances took out 156 patients and redistributed them to other facilities. It was run by a Mr. Ed Hill. My good friend, Tom Frew, told me an interesting story from his youth. Tommy recalled being a boy and riding his bike with a friend past the sanatorium on Wildwood Canyon. He said he and his pal would ride real fast and hold their breath when they passed so they wouldn’t catch anything.  

NICE TO BE ALIVE AND NONINCINERATED — Frank Lieb lost his cabin but kept his life. The Sand Canyon resident was using an old-fashioned oil stove. It blew up, burning his three-room home to the ground. Here’s the amazing thing: total value for the house and all its furnishings? A whopping $650. Can you imagine what it would cost to replace a Sand Canyon house (even three rooms) today? 

JUNE 24, 1953  

ROCK OUT. LITERALLY. — Lions Club gathered en masse to remove the rocks from the Sulphur Springs playground. Not all of them. Just the ones sticking out of the ground. Seems an unusual amount of tykes were stubbing toes and getting cut and bruised falling on them. So, a small army of the men’s club took a weekend and scoured the field to make it softer. That’s true community service … 

FROM CHICKENS TO FLARES TO CEMENT — Today, the residents of Sand Canyon have banned together to fight the proposed blight of the Mexican cement übercompany, Cemex. The Sand Canyon residents banded together to fight another industrial neighbor — Flare Northern. The company had bought the old Hewitt Poultry Ranch and would turn it into a military and industrial flare-making factory in the middle of cattle and horse country. 

A TURN-AROUND FABLE — Oilman George Terry proved that America was still the land of opportunity. Terry had earned a reputation as a stand-up guy and hard worker. He fell on difficult times. He was hospitalized and lost all his leases, tools and money. Flat broke and on death’s door, he made a remarkable recovery. He went back to work, claimed an abandoned oil lease near Oat Mountain, and started pumping out oil by the lake-full. George sold his leases to a big company — for millions. Imagine. Went from being near death and all broke to fabulously wealthy in a matter of a year. 

FUN WITH NUMBERS — The entire year’s budget for the William S. Hart Union High School District in 1954 was $748,449. Today, 70 years later, the district’s yearly budget is around $323 million — triple what it was 40 years ago. Want to know something weird? That’s almost exactly what the city of Santa Clarita’s budget ($322 million) is for 2023-24. I can’t seem to recall, over the years, any of these budgets going down … 

JUNE 24, 1963  

WHAT’S WITH OP/ED WRITERS AND APOCALYPTIC DEADLINES? — New Signal owner Ray Brooks, in the grand old tradition of front-page editorials and community leadership, penned an opinion piece entitled, “It’s Now or Never.” It urged the community to continue working to break away from Los Angeles County. Brooks noted it was imperative to flee before the greedy politicians of the county megalopolis gobbled up the scenic hills of the Santa Clarita. I think we’ve kind of misplaced our scenic hills. Kind of prophetic.  

It’s interesting to see how slowly the wheels of local representation roll. There had been movements starting in the 1920s attempting to create a local city or county out of the valley. Despite all the work to break away, it would be 24 years later before the city of Santa Clarita was formed in 1987, and that was at half of its original boundaries.  

JUNE 24, 1973  

THE FORMER FAMILY COMPANY — On this date, Jim Dickason, company president, was named CEO of The Newhall Land & Farming Co. Chairman of the board was Tom Lowe. Back then, NL&F was a private company of just 150 stockholders. Of that number, about a third were direct descendants of Henry Mayo Newhall, founder of the SCV. While Hank didn’t start the company that bears his name, he did build the fortune that launched it. 

AS JONI MITCHELL ONCE SANG, ‘TOOK ALL THE TREES AND PUT ‘EM IN A TREE MUSEUM’ — A half-century back, biologist Dr. John Price issued a frightening report. He predicted that oak trees in the SCV were headed toward extinction. Because of flood control, drought and development, Dr. Price’s chilling forecast was that between the years 2023 and 2043, most of the oaks in the valley would be gone. On the hit list was the coast live oak, an evergreen and the most abundant of the species here. Two other evergreens, the canyon live oak and scrub oak, were headed for doom, according to the ecologist, along with the deciduous valley oak.  

Price used, in part, aerial photographs from 1929 and 1969 to base his conclusion. He noted that while there were still several great oaks in the valley, the younger trees just weren’t reproducing at a great enough rate to make it and that groundwater tables were falling drastically if it was to support a population of oaks. Tens of thousands of oaks dotted the valley at the turn of the 20th century. But, Newhall Land & Farming and other businesses and individuals cut them down to sell them as charcoal for the bakeries of Los Angeles.  

In the 1973 survey, there were an estimated 4,000 oaks in Placerita, Iron, and Sand canyons.  

Nick Anderson, chief naturalist at Placerita Canyon State Park then, disagreed with Price’s prediction, as far as the timeline went. But, later he commented that the diminishing groundwater might be a factor toward extinction.  

JUNE 24, 1983  

TODD’S TERRIFIC — On this date, The Mighty Signal named Hart High phenom Todd Zeile as co-MVP to its all-valley baseball team. Todd went on to have an amazingly successful major league career. His co-MVP was Randy Cina. While Todd had a lifetime career, setting a Major League Baseball record for hitting home runs for the most teams of any player in history, Randy played a couple of years in the minors with the Red Sox. 

•     •     • 

Thanks for the company once again, dear friends. Hope the rest of your weekend is restful and, if you’ve a mind to, let’s rendezvous back here next week with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos! 

If you enjoy the Time Ranger, you’re going to love his local history volumes. Visit 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… 

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