A glorious and most happy Mighty Signal weekend morning to you all, dear saddlepals. We’ve one heck of a grand ride ahead through the back trails of SCV history.
There’s speculation from my ex-boss, Ruth Newhall, about how the valley’s civilization was created by ancient sun worshippers.
We’ve got bear sightings and one of the oddest stories I’ve ever stumbled upon. It’s about how a Newhall father tried to trade his 3-year-old daughter for a Ford Thunderbird. I’ve heard of car dealers saying, “We’ll accept any offer,” but this one goes a smidge too-too.
We have tales of local high school NRA, the original ZIP codes, and, alas, a terrible tragedy that hopefully will offer an important lesson.
C’mon, amigos and amigo-ettes. Throw that first foot in the stirrup, groan a little and exclaim, “Ouch, my coccyx!” if you must, and let’s head back to simpler times…
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
LOST YOUTH LAMENTED — Signal Editor Fred Trueblood lamented about how the local Newhall Pool in 1953 had parents and a lifeguard or three. But, in 1899, Trueblood recalled going down to the local tree-shaded pond and skinny-dipping, unsupervised and unclothed, save for a hand-made straw hat. Fred remembered making sure he wasn’t the last one out of the water because if your pals got to your clothes before you did, they’d tie them in tight knots, get them dripping wet and it took you an hour to untie them.
JULY 1, 1923
ANOTHER THEODORE ROOSEVELT-SCV CONNECTION — On this date, Wolcott Evans was the guest speaker at the eighth-grade graduation ceremonies at the Felton School in Mentryville. Evans surprised the group by going into detail about how he met President Roosevelt in the Dakotas. Interestingly, TR was a frequent visitor to the SCV, hunting with friends up in Acton.
A DOWNTOWN BEAR — Barney Sullivan and a couple of pals had some company while they were working on the railroad in the middle of town. A black bear sauntered over the hill from Placerita Canyon and watched them work for quite some time. Must have been a Caltrans bruin.
IN THE PRE-CABLE DAYS — The Mighty Signal noted that more and more people were listening to the radio in the valley, but there were reception problems and it seemed reception was much better in the winter than in the summer.
ACTON ROADS CAN MAKE YOU SHORTER. — The road through Soledad Canyon up to Acton was in miserable condition, with tall weeds growing on both sides and some in the middle. A reporter also warned of potholes a foot deep. That’d make you shorter, your auto dropping into one of those …
JULY 1, 1933
AS LONG AS YOU DON’T EAT YOUR SALAD IN THE MIDDLE, FROM THE INSIDE OUT — This isn’t exactly completely local, but it was in your Mighty Signal 90 years back. Mrs. Curtis Dall, daughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was given credit for spreading a California tradition eastward through all of America. Prior to the 1930s, most folks followed the European custom of having their salad AFTER the main course of dinner. Mrs. Dall made national headlines for entertaining her friends with the new custom of having the salad first. Personally, I and my pal Tom Lee like having our salad at the end of the meal. Usually — about four weeks after …
WHEN ‘KNOCKED HIS BRAINS OUT’ IS NOT AN EXPRESSION — Charles Childress died in an odd accident nine decades back. On his way to work at the Bouquet Dam construction site, Mr. Childress was filling his flat tire with air. The rim blew off, hitting him in the head and literally knocking his brain out. I’ve known some folks where if they lost their brain, it wouldn’t necessarily be fatal. But, in Chuck’s case, he didn’t make it.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS — A small guest house in Newhall in 1933 was rented out for $5 a month. And that was with three meals a day.
JULY 1, 1943
SHOOT. NO CHUTE. — An Army pilot flying a P-38 died in the fields of the Wayside Honor Rancho. The plane’s engine quit. The poor guy bailed out, but his chute didn’t open. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
I LONG FOR THE DAYS OF THE SODA FOUNTAIN AT NEWHALL PHARMACY — An historic business trade occurred on this date. Josephine Hawley had operated the Hawley Drug Store and Soledad Hotel since 1928. She sold it to Ralph Williams. Ms. Hawley retired to work her Placerita Canyon ranch. Mr. Williams ran the store — with its most wonderful soda fountain and lunch counter — long after I had graduated from Hart. My favorite was tuna on toasted wheat and vanilla Coke and they’d let me read the comics while I ate. Today, the place is a restaurant. The first thing Williams did was to revert the business to its original name: The Newhall Pharmacy. Ralph got more than a little help in running the place from his wife, Harriet, their 9-year-old son Ross, and their 5-year-old daughter, Susan. I’m betting Susan is pleased as punch right now how I challenged the local math whizzes to figure out her age…
NOT OPEN 24 HOURS, NOT OPEN PERIOD. — Meanwhile, the same week and a couple of miles down the road, the Saugus Cafe closed its doors for the first time in 40 years. Ms. Laura Woods was forced to shut down the historic eatery due to a lack of supplies during World War II and a lack of help. It would sputter from time to time, opening and closing for the next couple of years. I assure you. If the Way Station, Halfway House or Saugus Cafe ever closed their doors, life in Santa Clarita would have little meaning and you’d never find me while I was hiding in Wyoming …
HERE’S THE BUZZ ON BILL — Beekeeper and rancher Will F. Erwin was laid to rest on this date. He was a pioneer in these parts and as a road commissioner, he tried in vain to make peace during the great Castaic Range War at the turn of the century in which between 22 and 40 men (one woman was almost lynched) were killed over what had started as a boundary dispute. Erwin was a community leader and former director of the valley’s first lending institution: the Bank of Italy (which would later become Bank of America).
THE SHERIFF’S ROOTS RUN DEEP HERE — Same week, Bill Biscailuz of Newhall died. His nephew was sheriff of Los Angeles County. The Frenchman’s roots ran deep here. His mom was Juanita Biscailuz, who hailed from the local pioneer Lopez family (Francisco Lopez was the chap who found those gold nuggets in 1842 in Placerita Canyon).
JULY 1, 1953
EVERYONE KEEP REPEATING: ‘MERCURY, STAY REASONABLE. MERCURY, STAY REASONABLE.’ — June can be like this: I hope history doesn’t repeat itself, but a half-century back, the mercury climbed from 67 to 103 in just five days.
AN ACCIDENT MOST HORRIFIC — I decided to share this just on the chance the harsh lesson could be passed on to parents today. On this date, an 18-month-old boy became the sixth person in the SCV of 1953 to die in flames. The accident took place on Valley Street when his parents moved his crib in the pre-dawn chilly morning closer to the living room furnace. About an hour later, the mother got up to check on her son and found the charred remains of the crib and her lifeless infant. Firemen reconstructed that the baby must have rocked the crib back and forth. The bedding caught fire and the child died of asphyxiation.
WELL. ALONG WITH HORSE RUSTLING, HERE’S ONE CRIME STAT THAT’S GOING WAY, WAY DOWN — With cell phones, we don’t get many of these complaints anymore. On this date, police were on the lookout for a small gang of pay phone bandits. They were breaking into the coin-operated pay phones and stealing the money. Agents from the phone company said the bandits made off with about $38. That’s a lot of nickels …
JULY 1, 1963
WHEN THINGS WEREN’T SO DARN FRENETIC — We had only switched over to direct dialing just three years earlier. Sixty years ago, there were just 1,350 phones in the entire Saugus and Canyon Country area with the prefix 252. All other phones in the valley were 259.
ZIPPITY DO DAH — Here’s a landmark for you. On July 1, 1963, something called the ZIP code was established across America. Back then, we only had three ZIP codes for the valley — 91321 for Newhall; 91350 for all of Saugus and Canyon Country; and, 91310 for Castaic. Folks were given written instructions by both the post office and The Mighty Signal on how to address an envelope. Oh. BTW. “ZIP” stands for “Zone Improvement Plan” and it’s capitalized, like FBI!
OHHHHH, SHOOT — On this date, the Newhall Junior Rifle Club received their first-ever NRA awards. Among those getting marksman awards were my pals, brothers Clint and Casey McKinney, the Randall boys, and Bobby Knaggs.
JULY 1, 1973
‘WE’LL ACCEPT ANY TRADE-IN OFFER?’ REALLY? — Hope this makes you appreciate your child a bit more. On this date, a father of four daughters attempted to sell his 3-year-old to a Newhall businessman in exchange for a 1967 Thunderbird. The alleged parent lived with his wife in a rundown trailer park. The father had been berated by the wife of a local business owner over their lack of care. “You don’t deserve children,” she told the man. He responded, “If you want one, take your pick and you can have her.” The couple kept the girl over the weekend and wanted to keep her. The father took the child back, saying it would cut into his wife’s welfare check, but then offered to trade the couple the child for the T-Bird. The other children were seriously neglected, with neighbors reporting that they sometimes ate dirt to abate their hunger pangs. The children were sometimes left outside most of the night. Little Margaret was temporarily placed in a foster home but returned a few days later to the squalor. While I know that juvenile authorities were called in to investigate, years later, I don’t yet know the ending to this sad local tale.
NOT ADAM’S, BUT GEORGE’S RIB — Perhaps it was fitting that one of the valley’s most voracious readers also ran the local barbecue cafe. On this date, George Mikien, owner of the fabled Rib restaurant near the Saugus Café, passed away. His eclectic eatery always had a large library of the classics. The Rib closed right after George’s death. His wife, Pat, sold the last keg of beer at 10 cents a glass to friends. As one pal noted of politics and philosophy, “it did not taste the same.”
RE: THE ABOVE — It made me smile. In my office, I have an old menu from The Rib on one of my bookshelves …
JULY 1, 1983
ALL OF IT WENT TO VENTRESS’ SALARY (KIDDING CUZ WE LOVE YOU, JIM!) — The Boys & Girls Club Auction committee was very happy. They netted $150,000. That’s a bit short of what the club raises in modern times.
SPEAKING OF THE AUCTION — Speaking of the auction, it used to be held at CalArts. One of the problems was that either some of the artists or friends of artists there kept making off with auction items. Thieves stole some donated gold coins, a compound bow, and a T-shirt. A pair of armed security men were posted to guard the auction items, and, adding insult to injury, a light-fingered bandit made off with their radio.
THAT HEINOUS, HEINOUS DAY ON THE SET — On this date, the film, “The Twilight Zone” opened nationwide. Another opening occurred the same day — the opening of indictments against the film’s director, John Landis. Landis was brought up on manslaughter charges for causing the deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors during the filming here at Indian Dunes near Castaic Junction. The trio were killed when a helicopter crashed on them in the middle of the night.
WIGGING OUT — A couple of California Highway Patrol officers learned there is truth to the old adage, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” The CHiPs pulled over a car for speeding. When the driver opened his glove compartment to pull out his registration, a book fell out. The book had been hollowed out and inside was a .25-caliber revolver. Also in the car (driven by a man) was a long blonde wig and bundles of $20 bills. The driver was arrested for possessing a concealed weapon and suspicion of armed robbery.
PLEASE. REMEMBER THIS DELIGHTFUL TIDBIT!! — Former Signal editor and gossip columnist emeritus Mimi, aka Ruth Newhall, had a wonderful lead tidbit in her page 2 column 40 years back. She noted that on June 21, the longest day of the year, the sun set EXACTLY at the end of Newhall Avenue (McBean Parkway now), directly behind CalArts. Wrote Mimi, “Some astronomic archaeologists of the distant future can make great deductions from that, concluding that the people who lived in the Santa Clarita Valley planned their streets by the solstice (Newhall Avenue) and the equinox (Lyons Avenue) and therefore worshipped a sun god…”
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Sure appreciate the company, dear saddlepals. What say we meet back here next weekend at The Mighty Signal hitching post with another exciting trail ride through SCV history? See you in seven. 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…