A happy and belated 247th birthday to — well. Whom else? Us. Great darn country and then some. Let’s do our part to keep this wonderful American civilization growing in the right direction.
Before the sun soars too high, best we sneak out of town for our Saturday ride into yesteryear.
We’ve an entire passel of Fourth of July anecdotes. Hold onto those reins and be ready to put down some instant distance — we’ll be getting pretty close to an alleged 1-ton-plus Canyon Country grizzly bear.
There’s rattlesnake bite remedies, show biz advice from Will Rogers, more on the closing of the Saugus Café, and some pretty nifty background on Pierre Davies, perhaps the valley’s most famous fireman.
Shall we rein our horses into the mystic?
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
THE MIRACLE WHITE OIL OF PLACERITA CANYON — Back on July 4, 1876, people were oohing and aahing at the Philadelphia World’s Fair. They couldn’t believe that the pure white oil from our very own Placerita Canyon in faraway Newhall was real. This amazing substance burned 100 times brighter and longer than conventional lamp oil. Frank Walker, the owner of the Placerita property, used to use the stuff to power his Model T car, pouring the oil right into the gas tank. The car ran like a charm.
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, CASTAICONITES — The town of Castaic was founded on July 1, 1915.
OUR LONG-FORGOTTEN PRESBYTERIAN SAINT — On July 5, 1914, the “Shepherd of the Hills,” the Rev. Wolcott Evans, started his long tenure at the Presbyterian Church on Newhall Avenue. The good minister would spend decades tending to his own denomination and anyone who needed it throughout the SCV. Just about brings a tear to my eye.
After nearly working himself to death (especially after the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928), first, everyone in town chipped in and bought him a car in his final years of ministry. Then, when Wolcott retired, they surprised him with a house. Even named a street after him in Happy Valley.
BEARS REPEATING — On July 7, 1873, John Lang put the Santa Clarita Valley on the map forever. He shot what was, up until recently, believed to be, a 2,350-pound man-eating grizzly bear in Canyon Country. In death, the bear was stuffed and ended up in a Sacramento museum where it was used as a model for a new, and short-lived, California flag.
Fairly recently, an old newspaper article — a letter written by Lang himself — surfaced. Lang pointed out his bruin was almost, but not quite, a ton. A series of magazine and newspaper articles, followed by books, kept the 2,350-pound bear story alive for more than a century. Still. There are records of 1-ton bears, some still on display in California museums.
JULY 8, 1923
BACK WHEN WE WERE A TOURIST HOTSPOT — There wasn’t much of a celebration here by locals for the Fourth. But, lots of people from Los Angeles and various points of the compass drove up to celebrate Independence Day. Tourists came up to picnic in the various canyons and by the creeks. “The beauties of Newhall and vicinity are gaining in renown with the outside world,” wrote Signal Editor Blanche Brown. That isn’t to say we did nothing. Local businessmen got together and came up with prizes for various events. Our summer Olympics weren’t very imaginative. They were all either foot races or sack races.
RUNNING OUT OF ICE CREAM!?!?!?!?! THERE IS A TYPE SIZE HUGE ENOUGH TO DEPICT THIS DISASTER!!!! — With all the out-of-towners here, there was a run on supplies. We ran out of ice cream long before noon on the Fourth of July 1923. Also, every vehicle — and I mean pretty much EVERY vehicle — was stopped and searched for fireworks coming into the valley. Despite all the campers here, there was only one tiny brush fire caused by errant visitors.
NEITHER SET THE WORLD ON FIRE NOR SET A FLAME IN YOUR HEART — Later in the week, sparks from an Espee (Southern Pacific) locomotive caused a 250-acre brush fire in the fields between Newhall and Saugus. The local volunteer fire department and the Forest Service battled the blaze. And, a century later, we’re still battling blazes.
SNAKES & STRYCHNINE — Thornton Doelle, Signal editor, manly lawman and forest ranger, reminded everyone that whiskey is the worst thing you can take after being bitten by a rattlesnake. (Whiskey would be the absolute last thing I’d think of taking if I ever got so unlucky to be nipped.) Interestingly, the preferred treatment of the day was a carefully measured syringe of strychnine. There was also the method of stopping circulation, lancing the wound above the bite and cauterizing the bite with nitrate of silver.
JULY 8, 1933
OUR SECOND, AND QUITE BACKWARDS, PARADE — The second annual Newhall Parade (there had been a few earlier, but we’ve pretty much had consecutive parades since 1932) took off without a hitch. It had a completely different route 90 years back. Compared to where we launch in 2023, it was completely backwards, starting on Kansas Street, marching toward what is today Lyons Avenue to Main Street, then winding back to Newhall Avenue and ending up on 11th Street. You’d need a map and a guide dog to not get lost.
PATRIOTIC PUNCH IN THE NOSE? — Besides the parade, there were a host of other events going on in the valley. At the start of the Depression, we were home to several California Conservation Corps camps. The CCC boys took time off from rebuilding and building our infrastructure to indulge in a little athletics. Hundreds of young men participated in camp boxing and wrestling matches, races, feats of strength, and good old-fashioned baseball games. Boxing? I can think of about 816,090 better ways to relax on Independence Day.
SEEING MORE THAN A FEW THOUSAND QUESTIONABLE PERFORMANCES, NOT ENTIRELY A DARN BAD IDEA — Will Rogers, who had filmed many a movie here in the Santa Clarita, had some advice for actors trying to break into show biz: “Buy a good 12-foot rope, practice with it, and then if you don’t succeed, why, you can always stretch it over a nearby tree with one end around your neck.” I’ve got a good friend who runs an acting school in La-La-Land. Have to ask him if he’s selling rope on the school’s back merchandising table…
JULY 8, 1943
SHOULDA BUILT SUBMARINES THERE INSTEAD — It always cracks me up that they build homes and businesses essentially in the Santa Clara River today. Going back, on this date, the Bermite Powder Co. partially sat in the Santa Clara River. A big supplier of munitions during World War II, Bermite grew bigger, buying the 25-acre Neeler Ranch just to the north. They used it for flood control. It didn’t work. Bermite continued to be flooded over the years in the bigger winter storms until the Army Corps of Engineers came through in the 1960s and ’70s and put in some flood control. I will be the optimist and not be snarky and insert, “allegedly…”
EVERYONE WHO WANTS THE SAUGUS CAFÉ TO BE OPEN 24 HOURS, RAISE YOUR HAND. — You saddlepals will recall last week when I mentioned that because of supply and manpower shortages, the Saugus Café had to close its doors for the first time in 45 years. The café was originally called The Saugus Eating House and was located inside the Saugus train station across the street. Since 1900, it had been open 24 hours a day. When owner Laura Wood had to shut the place down at 10 p.m., June 30, 1943, she made a curious discovery. They had never locked the place in nearly a half-century. When it moved to its new brick edifice in 1916, it didn’t have a padlock or a place to hang one. Ms. Wood had to go out, buy one and have it installed.
THANK YOU, DEAR BRAVE ALBERT, FOR YOUR SERVICE . . . — There’s never a good way to deliver this kind of information and there’s never a good time, especially the Fourth of July. On this date, the Moore family received a telegram and learned their young son, Albert, was killed in World War II combat in the Pacific. His family were farmers in the Saugus area. His mother worked at Bermite during the swing shift.
JULY 8, 1953
AT LEAST HIS PARENTS DIDN’T CALL HIM ‘MUTED ORANGE’ — Our Fourth of July parade grand marshal was famed movie star and former local resident, Harry Carey Jr. His nickname was Dobe. He got it because his hair matched the color of the adobe roof of the Saugus ranch that still sits there at the mouth of San Francisquito Canyon. Today, that’s the SCV’s Tesoro del Valle Park.
HE EVEN FOUGHT FIRES USING BLANKETS — Pierre Daries retired on this date after a 30-year career in one command, Division 6. The battalion chief started with the county Fire Department in 1923. He and one other man made up the entire fire department for Newhall and their state-of-the-art gear consisted of his friend’s Model T Ford, some shovels, axes, rakes and wet sacks. Headquarters was at the bottom of Bill Hart’s mansion.
In 1924, the crew was expanded to six men, but four of them only worked during fire season. It was 1926 when Pierre, or Pete as he was called, received his first fire truck — an old four-cylinder White model with a 600-gallon water tank. The beast had a top speed of 15 mph — empty. Back in the mid-1920s, the fire station was next to near where the Newhall Library parking lot is today at Lyons and Railroad. The firehouse moved to its present location on Railroad Avenue in 1930 and added to the brand-new building Pete had two new trucks and a few extra full-time men. Daries was there to help after the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 and the derailment and subsequent Great Saugus Train Robbery of 1929. When he fought brush fires in difficult terrain, food and water were packed in by mules. Pete surely knew the backcountry of the SCV. His parents homesteaded, starting the 2,200-acre Pine Tree Ranch in Castaic Canyon in 1886.
LEON WEARS THE STETSON, .00000005X GABBY HAYES MODEL — They had a sale on cowboy hats at Bud Losier’s store — prices starting at $1.59. I think my pal Leon Worden is currently wearing one of those toppers.
JULY 8, 1963
FROM THE ‘YOU’RE NOT GOING TO PULL THAT OUT OF THERE WITH A MULE’ DEPT. — On this date, Norman Rednock broke his ankle when his giant water truck’s parking brake broke and the vehicle rolled backward into a deep ditch. Yup. And that was all that was happening in the entire world on July 8, 1963 …
JULY 8, 1973
THAT JUST TICKS ME OFF — Tick Canyon is an historic road, made famous as the shortcut used by legendary bandito Tiburcio Vasquez. As civilization advanced, the road was losing some of its rustic charm. Murderers were using it to dump bodies and lowlifes were abandoning cars. It got so bad, residents couldn’t get to their cabins because of the pile of autos. An interesting sidenote comes from my old saddlepal and school chum, Pat Comey. Pat sez there used to be a Tick Canyon offramp off the 14 Freeway, but the builder, Kaufmann and Broad, didn’t think “Tick Canyon,” was classy enough. So, today, we have Shadow Pines Boulevard. Not too many shadows. Not too many pines.
OUR BRITISH FOURTH OF JULY HEROINE — Bobbie Trueblood, wife of former Signal publisher Fred Trueblood II and later, Mrs. Ed Davis (former L.A. police chief and our state senator), had her own parade. The Chamber of Commerce (boo, hiss) decided that the parade should be on the weekend of July 7 and 8. Bobbie, who was born in England, thought this was completely unpatriotic. She got her own county permit and staged a parade with 150 friends, dogs, horses and actual Fourth of July aficionados down today’s Main Street — ON the actual Fourth of July. She was the toast of the town, being carried down the street in a sedan chair by six manly bearers. Way to go, Bobbie…
JULY 8, 1983
UNDER MY BREATH, I SAY ‘WALK OF FAME’ AND THERE’S NOTHING NOBODY CAN DO ABOUT IT — On this date, 40 years back, the Newhall Western Walk of Fame sign in front of Hart Park was dedicated. It’s still there today, but because of a threatened lawsuit by the Hollywood Walk of Fame, ours changed its name to the Western Walk of Stars.
SOUR NOTE — History sometimes doesn’t change. Two decades back, the lament of the community was that yet again, there weren’t any bands in California’s biggest Fourth of July parade.
DEATH BEFORE DISCO? — Here’s something we’ll probably never see again. We had a Fourth of July Disco Contest on this date. Jackie Houston and Rick Thorne won first place.
• • •
Hope you saddlepals had yourselves a wonderful Fourth of July weekend. At the risk of attracting snide letters, this sure is a wonderful nation we share. See you in seven with another exciting Time Ranger trail ride into our valley’s treasured past. Until then, ¡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…