The Time Ranger | Fancy Corpses, Pterodactyls & 1-Cent Potatoes

The Time Ranger

A sultry Sunday morning to you, saddlepals. Make sure those canteens are filled. Best we keep hydrated in today’s trail ride through SCV time.  

There’s knuckleheaded crooks, a big potato chip lawsuit, and the discovery of a mysterious and well-dressed skeleton out Canyon Country way. 

We’ll even say howdy to a local student who would later become world famous — and then, nefarious. 

Shall we head our thousands of mounts (generously provided by Your Mighty Signal, 259-1000 for subscriptions) into yesteryear, dear amigos?  


FRANKLY, MISS THE WEATHER — We had a blessed Ice Age and it wasn’t so bloody hot. Wilma Flintstone wore furs and nobody said “boo” about it. 

WONDER IF HER FRIENDS CALLED HER SINNY? — And, was she skinny? On July 17, 1834, a woman we remember today as Sinforosa came into this world just over the hill at the San Fernando Mission. Her mother came from an Indian village near present-day Frazier Park and her dad lived in Piru. Sinforosa died in 1915. Along with Juan Jose Fustero, she was the last of the full-blooded Tataviam, our local and unique Native American peoples. They were also the last known speakers of the curious and difficult Tataviam language, one dotted with curious clicks and grunts. Neighboring Indian tribes would refer to them as “naked dirt-eating stutterers.”  

AN EARLY SAND CANYONITE — On July 24, 1864, in the midst of a raging Civil War, future Walker/Reynier family patriarch Jean Joseph Reynier first set foot in the Santa Clarita. Just fresh from his home country of France, Jean was 15 and would homestead 1,200 acres in Sand and Placerita canyons. Imagine what THAT would be worth today… 

JULY 22, 1923  

GREAT PLACE TO FIND A DATE? — A century ago, the Spiritualists Cult moved to Newhall. The group built a retreat on 4 acres and had plans to build a women’s home. Wouldn’t swear to it, but I think they became Presbyterians. 

WHAT!?!?! ARE YOU NUTS????!!!! — Sorry. Just thought it would be a great lead-in to remind you that 100 years ago, the Forest Service closed tree squirrel season for two years here. 

AN INTERESTING FAMILY TREE — You’d think with his family background, he wouldn’t have to work, especially as a fire warden. V.O. Lopez would spend his summers here, all by his lonesome, as the fire warden on faraway Oat Mountain. Mr. Lopez’s family traced back to the Spanish land grant days and still owned a major chunk of Montecito. The good smoke chaser was also a reporter at a few major daily newspapers and a vet of World War I. 

RE: THE ABOVE — Oh. A quick FYI, Oat Mountain is to the west of us. It’s a 16-mile hike from the SCV to Rocky Peak in Chatsworth. 

JULY 22, 1933  

THE WORDS, ‘MASTER’ AND ‘CRIMINAL’ JUST DON’T SEEM TO FIT — Walt Henderson was hitchhiking through Newhall at a late hour and couldn’t find a ride. Henderson decided he’d just borrow an auto no one was using to save wear and tear on his shoe leather. Spotting the first open garage on Spruce Street (Main Street today), Henderson found an unattended vehicle. He slid into the driver’s seat, cranked over the ignition, and was about to mosey out into the warm Newhall evening when into the garage strolled sheriff’s deputies Archie Carter and Freddie Fitzsimmons. Seems hitchhiker Henderson had the dumb luck to pick the sheriff’s station garage to steal a car. 

SANFORD THE DINOSAUR SPOTTER — On this date, Sanford Lyon Jr. died. He lived in the Mayhue home from time to time and was the son of one of the valley’s founders, Sanford Lyon Sr., the store owner and proprietor of the old Lyon Station near Eternal Valley today. Sanford Jr.  was survived by his brother, Addi. Addi, by the way, was quoted in The Los Angeles Times about 30 years earlier, having reported seeing a pterodactyl-like creature flying over Castaic and Lake Elizabeth.    

JULY 22, 1943  

A PONY WITH A FAMILIAR NAME — On this date, the local Gaffer family’s prize thoroughbred took top money at the Caliente Race Track in Tijuana (I used to practically live there as a kid with my dad, Walt Cieplik, before it burned down). Name of the local winning pony? Newhall. 

THE SKELETON IN BEAUTIFUL CLOTHES — A bulldozer operator near the old Tunnel No. 21 in upper Soledad Canyon made a bizarre discovery that today is still a mystery. Inside a redwood coffin was a skeleton decked out in fine silk clothes and a fancy woman’s hat. A coroner’s report later determined the bones belonged to a small man. There were several theories. One was that the occupant was a Chinese railroad worker. Another was that it was a long-forgotten lady of the Soledad. The third suggestion was that the body belonged to a crazy prospector who had disappeared in the 1920s. But who draped the body in fancy women’s clothes and plopped it into a custom redwood casket is still a mystery. 

CHINESE MYSTERY BURIAL, PART II — RE: the above? Even stranger? There was much local debate about the coffin. One side argued that redwood simply lasts maybe five years after being buried in the ground. Was the mystery corpse there for just five years or less? The other side argued that, if treated properly, redwood could last forever.  

FUNNY HOW TIMES CHANGE — On the front page of The Signal, 80 years back, was a photo of a local infantryman, stationed in China, fighting shoulder to shoulder with a Chinese infantryman — against the Japanese. 

NEW INVENTION — Folks around town were talking about a new-fangled machine for the war effort. There was a photo of it on the front page of this newspaper. It was called, “… a helicopter.” The real first, practical helicopter, the VS-300, had only been introduced here in America in 1939, just a scant four years earlier. 

JULY 22, 1953  

HISTORY SEEMS TO ALWAYS BE CHRONICLING THE SHORTAGES OF SOMETHING — A wave of triple-digit heat pummeled the valley a half-century back, causing a strain on the little Newhall Water Co. A rationing program had to be enacted temporarily. One of the problems was the use of evaporative coolers (aka, swamp coolers), the precursors to air conditioning. Folks were running the coolers until well after midnight and NWC was pumping about 600,000 gallons daily. The water company had to lease a private well from the Dietze property in Happy Valley. During this emergency, Newhall Water also had to connect to the wells on Newhall Elementary and Hart High campuses. 

HERE’S A WATER PROBLEM YOU DON’T HEAR MUCH ABOUT NOWADAYS — Geneva Snowden heard a terrible racket. Running out of her Val Verde ranch house, she found a calf of hers stuck in the mouth of an abandoned water well next door. Lucky for the little beef he got stuck. The well was 40 feet deep. Geneva and some pals extricated the critter and the absentee owner came out to fill in the old well. 

JULY 22, 1963  

BEFORE THERE WAS A CITY — For a good part of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were movements to form local government in the Santa Clarita Valley. In the early 1960s, Newhall looked into incorporating as a city. Our own Newhall-born county supervisor, Warren Dorn, advised locals to not “…press the panic button.” Dorn didn’t come out and say we shouldn’t form a city, but, like a politician, Dorn made a case for looking left, looking right, and doing nothing. 

CHEAP AS POTATOES — At the short-lived LeVal Foods market on San Fernando Road, owner John Capella had a special on potatoes — 100 pounds for $2.69. That’d get you about two potatoes at today’s prices. I’m not being facetious. Just got back from the market and noticed those plastic wrapped potatoes you throw in a microwave were $1.50 — each. 

JULY 22, 1973  

THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY? — In my SCV history book, “Monsters,” I note that the decade of the 1970s had an inordinate amount of heinous murders. On this date, Robert Grigsby was sentenced to life in prison for the brutal stabbing murders of two toddlers and a young Valencia housewife. The 17-year-old Hart High student’s attorney had asked that Grigsby be sent to the California Youth Authority, noting that sending him to prison would “…delay his eventual rehabilitation.” Judge Harry Peetris sighed and looked tired in making his ruling. He noted that Grigsby, at 15, had earlier bludgeoned a young girl with a hammer while burgling her house. “There is no question that the defendant must be removed from society for the protection of society,” Peetris noted. “(Grigsby’s) crimes were beyond description.” Grigsby is 67 now and, from time to time, comes up for parole. 

TALK ABOUT ROAD RAGE — Two Saugus men were driving down Bouquet Canyon Road when they thought their car had backfired. Instead, they looked behind and a man was leaning out his car window, firing a revolver at them. Two out-of-town young men were arrested later by the California Highway Patrol for the assault. 

A COMEDY LEGEND IS BORN — On this date, a young California Institute of the Arts drama student — a male drama student — starred in the school video production of “The Mermaids.” Name of the 25-year-old student who starred as Mermaid Pearl? Paul Reubens. Later, he would become famous for being the offbeat children’s show emcee, Pee Wee Hermann. 

GO YE FORTH, O HENRY “HOLD THE” MAYO — Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital was given the green light by the Board of Supervisors on this date. 

A TAXING PERSONALITY — Here’s a story you just don’t see anymore in the 2023 SCV. Four decades back, Emma Olsen out in Saugus hit a steer in the middle of the road. She suffered cuts and scrapes. The steer was a very large road kill. I don’t think June Miller got her hands on that carcass. June lived on the old Miller Ranch, on a mesa above Soledad Canyon. June’s occupation? She was Southern California’s only woman taxidermist. Man, woman, or in between, that’s not exactly a SoCal growth industry today … 

JULY 22, 1983  

SWIM IN CASTAIC. GET A FREE RASH. — That’s the itchy lesson learned by dozens of bathers 40 years back. The lagoon had been closed earlier for months as county workers tried to get bacteria levels down. Despite all the posted signs and warnings, people were still sneaking in to go swimming. With all the variants of dumb, this was a special kind …  

WHADYA GOT? ANTS IN YOUR PANTS? ERRRR, ESOPHAGUS? — On this date, Tina Hargrove of Canyon Country sued the Laura Scudder’s potato chip people. Tina said she bought a bag and inside were dead red ants. Of course, she didn’t realize it until she ate some. Tina was offered $500 to settle out of court. Judge Jack Clark’s decision was hard for Tina to swallow, too. He ruled in favor of the chip maker. 

BETCHA YOU ACTUALLY — CAN — EAT JUST ONE — There’s no history item to go with this headline, but I thought of it right after I shared the above Potato Chip/Ant/Courtroom Drama tidbit and it was just so darn good, that, like a great potato chip, I had to share it… 

•     •     • 

Thanks for spending another Signal weekend morn with me. I appreciate the companionship. I’ll be back here next Saturday, under the same spreading oak. You bring the bottoms and I’ll bring the saddles in which to park them. 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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