Whelp. I have to ask. This fine, July Saturday morn, how the canned peach- eating heck are you, dear saddlepals?
Right on schedule, ahead we’ve a mighty fine trail ride through the back roads of Santa Clarita history.
Ahead of us are lost Boy Scouts, waiting to be rescued, and a gooey old Castaic Lake to avoid. There’s — heavens. What are we waiting for under the unrelenting rays of Old Sol? It’s getting hotter every 15 seconds, so let’s just point our noble steeds toward our secret SCV Time Portal and chew the fat on the other side.
Where it’s always a pleasant 68 degrees, no matter what time of year…
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
AND IT’S BEEN WORKING JUST FINE, EVER SINCE — Here’s a landmark tidbit for you saddlepals. It was one of the modern engineering wonders of the world and it still sits in our backyard today. On July 14, 1876, construction was completed on one of the planet’s longest tunnels. That would be the 6,940-foot-long Newhall train tunnel, which is still in use today. Originally, we had 11 tunnels in the SCV. Correct me if my counting’s off, I think we still have three.
The railroad was a big business boom to small Newhall. There was a payroll of around 350 white workers (or, as we say in the better neighborhoods today — Irish) and 500 Chinese at the start of construction. Eventually, that payroll would grow to 1,500. It was extremely dangerous work. The ground was saturated with oil and water and it kept caving in and killing folks. Hauling out the muck was more difficult than boring through granite. A good day was 4 feet of progress.
On July 14, 1876, a Chinese laborer in a rubber suit stuck his pick through a wall. What did he see? Another Chinese laborer. They shook hands and the first air was exchanged between the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys — underground. By the way. Working from both sides of the mountain, the tunnel was only off by a half-inch. How’s that for old-time math?
CUZ IT LOOKED LIKE A SPARK PLUG? — Sterling, the mining community up in the Acton/Agua Dulce area, was one of the biggest producers of borax in the country. They had a special small-gauge railroad to transport the white powdery mineral with three miniature locomotives. One, lovingly dubbed “Spark Plug,” was sent to the Southern Pacific garage for a complete checkup and makeover. It came back running 110% with a new paint job.
OUR MULTI-TALENTED EDITOR — Thornton Doelle wore many hats. He was the local forest ranger, part-time posse rider, on-again, off-again editor and columnist of The Mighty Signal. He started the SCV’s first community theater, was a poet, cowboy, and even played in a dance band. Doelle apologized that his cowboy band, “The Guzzard Bulch Orchestree,” would be playing at a social the upcoming weekend, at the Honby Hall. For you newbies, Honby was a semi-thriving community until the early 1970s, when Canyon Country just up and swallowed it up. Not a shot was fired. The Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce conquered the sleepy little hollow just by the simple act of moving the “Welcome to Canyon Country” a mile-plus west down the road. The Honby town limits would be centered where Home Depot is today, on Soledad.
JULY 15, 1923
CHAMBER OF WEED BURNERS — On this date, with half of the members out of town, the Chamber of Commerce met. They noted they had $280.30 in the bank and that the sub-committee that had been appointed to burn weeds from the empty lots had done just swell, thank you.
THAT AIN’T HAY. WELL. ACTUALLY, IT IS — Here’s something locals don’t pay much attention to in the 21st century — this time of year used to mark the end of haying season. (You know — oats, alfalfa, barley, the stuff you feed to horseys and moo-cows?) Hay from the field went for $23 a ton, $25 a ton for oat and $20 a ton for barley. Write that down. It’s going to be on the final. Oh. For extra credit? Hay runs about $360 a ton in California as we ride, and, of course, there’s a lot of leg-room in that “about.” Oats today are valued by the bushel and don’t ask me to convert because it hurts my head. Let’s just say oats have been fluctuating between $350-$420 a ton this year, same thing with barley — roughly. Barley, by the by, was a regular part of the Roman gladiator diet.
JULY 15, 1933
AHHHH, GOVERNMENT — A joint federal and state commission earlier put pressure on local farmers to limit crops so as to raise prices. A couple months later, the same government commission urged farmers to increase crops so as to lower prices.
MEN AT WORK — Many of the fire trails you see today in the mountains around the valley were built in the Depression by the California Conservation Corps. We had several of these state and federally funded work programs. In the program’s heyday, we had several thousand young men, ages 18-25, living in tent cities around the SCV. They helped build everything from drainage run-offs to highways. Actually, there were so many male workers (at the height of the CCC, about 3,000) here in Santa Clarita, they outnumbered the local population. A decade later in 1943, there were still camps (FIVE) but they housed 1,000 youth workers.
SIMPLER, CHEAPER TIMES — On this date, little Newhall School District released its 1933-34 fiscal budget. The biggest part of the budget went for salaries and amounted to an even $10,000. That’s $10,000 — for ALL the teachers. The total expenditures for the year amounted to $22,450. I know you can’t compare, but it would take a lifetime or more for a 1933 teacher to make what a modern-day SCV teacher makes — in a year.
JULY 15, 1943
MOST ARE STILL HERE TODAY — On this date, a special dispensation was granted by the federal government to build 50 houses in the Chestnut and Walnut Street portion of Newhall. There had been a restriction on private home building during World War II. But, because of the acute housing shortage in town and the fact that the Bermite Powder Co. employed a few thousand people making munitions, the go-ahead was given. Bermite financed the project to build 50 homes. Cost? Just $250,000. That’d be for ALL of them.
BANKER COWBOYS UP — Avery Smith took over as the new assistant manager of Bank of America. The former city slicker immediately took to the laid-back Western lifestyle. He bought himself a horse and started wearing low-slung boots to work.
JULY 15, 1953
CRIPES BOY HOWDY NOW THAT’S AN ALL-AMERICAN BLUE-COLLAR WORK ETHIC — Funny how some items seem to run in cycles. Last week, a guy rolled backwards into a ravine in his giant water truck. This week, a Newhall firefighter rolled off a mountain in his giant bulldozer while fighting a fire. Ralph Brown, of Race Street, plunged over a cliff. His dozer flipped several times before hitting bottom, 400 feet below. Brown had bailed out at about 50 feet and suffered minor injuries and cuts. Brown was pretty tough and dedicated. Instead of going to the hospital, he drove all the way back to Newhall, got another bulldozer, loaded it on a flatbed, and drove it back to fight the fire. If that had been 2023, one wonders if Ralph would be flown out to undergo psychological counseling …
ATSA TOO HOT — A belated parade note from July 5, 1953: When the lineup finished its route around noon, it was 105 degrees — in the shade. Woof.
THE PERSONAL TOUCH — Signal Editor Fred Trueblood ran his Signal Tower column weekly on the front page. He signed off, 70 years back, thusly — “That’s all for this week from that fiend in human form, that public menace, that dirty, low-down monster…”
FROM THE DEPT. OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES — Homeowners on and around DeWolfe Road in Happy Valley passed the hat and raised money to build an all-weather road partly through their Newhall neighborhood. Weeks after the asphalt dried, neighbors began posting signs on telephone poles, begging drivers to stop speeding as they had nearly hit several people on DeWolfe Road … And 70 years later, the road STILL isn’t completely paved!
JULY 15, 1963
SHEARING SHEEP TO WEED ABATEMENT — How times change. Sixty years ago, we had a rather large special section in The Mighty Signal. The magazine was devoted to farm and livestock ads. Interestingly, up until the early 1970s, much of our advertising section was devoted to the buying and selling of ag goods and services. ’Tain’t so now.
THE ANCIENT DUCHY OF GRAND PALMDALE — Interestingly, Palmdale has been a city much longer than Santa Clarita. On this date, Mayor Bob Maris of the newly formed city of Palmdale visited the SCV to speak at a panel investigating the possibility of Newhall becoming its own city. That would be Newhall and not the entire valley.
STANDING WATCH IN HEAVEN — At the previous Fourth of July parade, a group we shall never see again won the Theme Award for the third consecutive year. The Newhall Barracks of The Veterans of World War I took home the bling. My good pal, Tom Frew, won, for the second straight year, the grand sweepstakes award for his blacksmith shop’s entry, “Freedom, 1963 — B.C.”
JULY 15, 1973
THOSE LIFESAVERS WERE A LIFE-SAVER — Ken Davidson surely put his Boy Scout experience to good use. The 13-year-old Saugus youth was cut off from his troop deep in Kings Canyon and spent two days living in the wilds. Davidson and his pals were on a 50-mile hike and the Placerita student was wearing new boots. His feet blistered and he fell further and further behind. He took the wrong fork, then tried to catch up by cutting cross-country. He had a sleeping bag and warm jacket and the evenings weren’t too cold. For food, all the boy had was a pack of Lifesavers. A posse of 30 rescuers looked for two days and couldn’t find Davidson. The plucky Scout finally climbed over a ridge and spotted his troop, camped out by a lake. Davidson noted his experience didn’t sour him on camping. Next weekend, he was out for another trek. I’m guessing by this time, his boots were broken in …
JULY 15, 1983
GOLF SHOES, GOLF CLUBS, GOLF BAG, AND GOLF EVERYTHING EXCEPT HIS PANTS — Arnold Hoffman lost — literally — his shirt at Valencia Golf Course. The duffer had $300 worth of gear stolen from his cart, parked outside the clubhouse.
STILL. IT’S A BEE-UTIFUL JOB — Harold McDaniel had a right to complain. Every single day at work, for the past 30 years, the beekeeper had been stung, at least once, if not several times. He hardly noticed it. McDaniel had started as a boy, in Montana, raising the honey makers. He wandered the West, from Canada to Mexico, working as a freelance beekeeper. Said he loved a life of no one telling him what to do. He made his money from honey sales and renting his little buzzing friends to local farmers to pollinate their crops. Honey prices had just gone through the roof, with a 6-pound can nearly tripling in price, from $2 to almost $6. Despite the scary headlines, bee health is good in 2023. A pound of honey? Today, it runs about $3 — triple what it was 40 years ago …
YOU CAN SING. BUT, YOU CAN’T DANCE — If memory serves me well, a hearty Happy Birthday needs to sing out to our friends at Grace Baptist Church. I believe it’s their 70th birthday.
WHAT’S GREEN AND GLOWS IN THE DARK? — You, if you went swimming in Castaic Lake. The big lagoon was closed for weeks because of excess bacteria in the water. The county installed a giant aerator to bring down the dangerous limits of little critters.
WHAT’S BLACK AND RED AND GREEN ALL OVER? — Your lungs, possibly if you attended either Newhall Elementary or Hart. On this date, asbestos was found in several classrooms of the elementary school and in the auditorium at Hart.
• • •
Thanks again for the company. Stay cool and content. We’ll get together for another exciting Time Ranger adventure pert near soon, I predict. See you when I see you, dear saddlepals. 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…