The Time Ranger | So. Do You Live in Saugus? Or in Surrey?

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A pleasant and sultry first Saturday in August to you, saddlepals. 

C’mon. Swish around a little of that designer mouthwash. Slide into your loafers. Get a decent pair of sunglasses. It’s time for our weekly trail ride through yesteryear. 

This morning, we’ll be saying howdy to giant local radishes, John Doe, Bob Doe, axle fires, and the hundreds of gold miners who lived in San Francisquito Canyon. 


WONDER IF THEY LEFT OIL SPOTS IN THE DRIVEWAY — It was moving day for the old Pioneer Oil Refinery. They switched headquarters near the old Lyon Station off present-day Sierra Highway and Newhall Avenue to Pine Street. That was on Aug. 1, 1876. They were the first successful oil refinery in California. The site is still there and is a state historical landmark. 

SURREY HIGH, HOME OF THE FIGHTING SYRUPS? — Back on Aug. 5, 1891, the Surrey Post Office was established. Where’s Surrey, you ask? It’s a humorous tale. If it weren’t for the post office, today, we might have the Surrey High Centurions, the Surrey Speedway and the Surrey Cafe instead of the Saugus Cafe. For a short period of about four years, the big question in the valley was what to call the area currently around the Saugus Cafe — Saugus or Surrey? It’s a bit puzzling, but here goes.  

The Saugus Train Station opened its doors On Sept. 1, 1887. The little area around it was dubbed “Saugus” after Saugus, Massachusetts, boyhood home of town founder Henry Mayo Newhall. Around the same time, merchant O.C. Bercaw moved the post office from his store in Soledad to the Saugus train depot. But, he called the post office, “Surrey.”  

Smart money feels it was because his relatives hailed from Surrey, England. Bercaw built a hotel (called the Surrey Inn), an ice house (called the Surrey Ice House), and a general store. Uh, no. It was called Bercaw’s General Store. Bercaw’s friend, Martin Wood, operated the Saugus Cafe and his blacksmith shop was called the Saugus Blacksmith Shop and, later, Wood’s Garage. People got quite a kick out of the humorous “feud” between the two friends, Wood and Bercaw.  

The south end of town was called Surrey and a few inches away to the north was Saugus. It finally got so confusing, the post office stepped in and officially dubbed the town Saugus on Sept. 4, 1915. And it’s been thus ever since. Story goes, the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society supposedly still has an envelope with a Surrey, CA, postmark on it. Adding to the confusion, do you know what the “S” in William S. Hart stands for? Yup. Surrey. 

AUGUST 5, 1923  

A LOCAL ANGLE ON A NATIONAL SADNESS — In a front-page editorial, The Signal noticed the sudden death of President Warren G. Harding: “Reports early in the afternoon indicated that the crisis had passed and he was expected to recover. Then came the sad news of a relapse which severed the tender cord which holds us from passing from life unto death.” 

THE BIG CENTURY-AGO PARTY — Fielding S. Wood opened his new, refurbished Saugus garage and held a party for 300. Folks danced through the night, ate ice cream, and probably some of them sipped moonshine whiskey out back. 

PRESBYTERIANS GET STONED — Big news in town was that the huge cornerstone for the new Presbyterian Church arrived and would be laid. That original stone had 25 of the church elders’ names on it, including Newhall’s very own bona fide presidential candidate of the 1920s, Henry Clay Needham. For those of you along on the trail ride not versed in U.S. history, Hank never won the Oval Office … 

AUGUST 5, 1933  

TENT CITY, USA — San Francisquito Canyon, along with some of our other dry fjords, had become an impromptu homeless encampment by 1933. At night, the canyon was dotted by campfires. Hundreds of prospectors had set up home there, searching for gold after the St. Francis Dam burst five years earlier.  

HE ‘KAME,’ HE SMOKED, HE WAS FINED — Isao Kame was fined $10 for throwing out a lit cigarette from his car along the Ridge Route. A similar incident involving another driver resulted in a big ol’ brush fire near the Half Way Inn. 

POTATO MATH — Trucks rumbled out of the fields of the Santa Clarita, bringing home the potato crop. Here’s the translation: A farmer could expect to get about $1.25 per bushel and the average yield was 350 bushels per acre. We had about 500 acres for just potatoes this year. So, if I’m ciphering right, local farmers brought in $218,750 for their 1933 crop. And if I’m not ciphering right, I know I’m going to hear about it. 

AUGUST 5, 1943  

POWER OF THE TOWER — On this date, Ray B. Gardner died. His passing is probably of interest only to the most ardent Signal historians. Gardner was a friend of Fred Trueblood and the political cartoonist who drew the little man with the binoculars in Trueblood’s front-page “Signal Tower” column. 

ONE RAD RADISH — Mrs. Hattie Douglas grew herself an 11-inch long by 9 inches in diameter radish on this date. 

I WOULD HAVE SPENT ALL MY TEEN YEARS BEHIND BARS — The county started a strict curfew. If you were under 18, best you weren’t out between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. If the cops caught you, they’d throw you in the pokey. 

ONE OF OUR MANY SCV MOVIE MOGULS — On this date, W. Ray Johnston got married to Doris Deupree of Fort Worth, Texas. W. Ray was president of Monogram Pictures, which would later become Melody Ranch. Mr. Johnston and his bride lived up on 8th Street, in one of the Charlie Mack rock houses that’s still there today. 

AUGUST 5, 1953  

PHUN WITH PHONES — On this date, Pacific Telephone enlarged its switchboard from 11 to 14. The upgrade was designed to accommodate 250 more telephones in the valley by year’s end. I’m guessing we probably add that a day now, maybe an hour, and all those cell phones. There were already about 2,000 phones in the valley in 1953 — more than triple the number at the end of World War II. Glutton for more phone trivia? Locals made an average of 7,378 calls a day. In 1943, we made about 2,000 calls a day, but that was with a government-mandated “talk-rationing.” There were 54 people working for the local Pacific payroll and the monthly salary for all of them was about $17,000. That means the AVERAGE salary for working for the phone company was $72.66 a week. 

TEAMSTER ESCAPES HIGHWAY OF DEATH — Somebody with a capital “S” Up There must have liked truck driver Ralph Webb. His double-rig lost its brakes going down the 5-Mile Grade of old Highway 99 (Interstate 5 today). Carrying a full load of wrapping paper — 17 tons of it — his rig hit speeds in excess of 90 mph before going airborne and crashing. Semi-confused cattle munched grass as they watched Webb and his load of paper fly off the road and land in their pasture. Webb escaped, somehow, with minor injuries. 

AUGUST 5, 1963  

CAN’T MAKE THIS UP — It was almost like a pie-throwing silent comedy. But it wasn’t too funny for all the firefighters. An axle broke on a pickup headed down old Highway 99, causing a wheel to break off. A large gas can fell out of the back and was ignited by the sparks of the wheel dragging across the highway, causing a 200-acre brush fire. 

MALCONTENT MUTTS — Our local dogs weren’t too happy. Hundreds of canines were lined up for the annual SCV Rabies Clinic. Besides having to stand in line and obey, seemingly forever, the “STAY” command, the dogs had to get their shots. 

AUGUST 5, 1973  

CONDOS FOR POCKET CHANGE — Today, we bandy these terms about without even thinking. But back in 1973, such words as duplexes (duplexi?), townhouses, condominiums and attached dwelling units were the bold new lexicon and vanguard of an entirely different lifestyle that would hit the formerly wide-open SCV. Planners and developers started to warn us that this would be the wave of the future. Without question, people lined up to buy into them. Condos up Bouquet Canyon, by the way, sold for $19,000 — new. 

BOB. JOHN. WHATEVER IT TAKES. — He wasn’t John Doe, but he was close. Bob Doe went shooting up Bouquet Canyon and was plinking targets when another man set up his own bull’s eye. The stranger challenged Doe to a shooting match, got mad, let out a curse and then aimed his pistol and fired three shots. Doe was hit in the shoulder and collapsed. The man sped off. Doe recovered and drove himself to a hospital. The bullet passed through, not breaking any bones. The would-be assassin was never found.  

OUR VERY OWN SOCIAL BUTTERFLY — Here’s a little Signal history for you real old-timers. On Aug. 1, 1973, society columnist Carolina Kelly made her debut. Her real name was Linda Pederson and you can still see her wandering about the local rubber chicken circuit. 

GOIN’ LITTLE — Santa Clarita followed the national trend by downsizing their autos. Folks were trading in their gas guzzlers for Pintos, Vegas and VW Bugs. Folks were on a waiting list for months to scoop up Ford Courier and Chevy Luv mini-trucks. Sales of local compacts had tripled from a year earlier. 

FISTFIGHTS AT A SCHOOL BOARD MEETING? NAAAAHHHHH — Chaos reigned at a five-hour Saugus Union School District meeting. Several times shouting matches and threats ensued between members of the 125-strong Saugus Teachers Association and the district superintendent and trustees. Dan Spangle had tried to stop the teachers from speaking at the meeting. They wanted to address questions about salary and working conditions. The STA had threatened to blacklist the district and strike. 

AUGUST 5, 1983  

GOING UNDERGROUND — On this date, there was a quiet extinction in the SCV. Overhead power lines were taken down on Lyons and Pico Canyon roads and moved underground. 

’TWEREN’T SUICIDE — On this date, the shirtless, bullet-riddled body of a man was found in a Val Verde walnut grove. Sheriff’s homicide detectives thought it was probably gang-related.  

’TWEREN’T SUICIDE, EITHER — Lower-case singer/actor Eddie Fontaine’s murder-for-hire trial continued with another stormy session. The Valencia entertainer was initially charged with trying to hire another singer to kill his estranged wife in exchange for an RCA recording contract. Further testimony revealed Fontaine hired yet another hitman to off a key witness. Fontaine didn’t have much luck with killers for hire. The second one fired three shots at the witness at close range and missed. Fontaine would be convicted of all charges in 1984. That conviction would be overturned due to the prosecution improperly bringing up previous charges on the crooner for child molestation. Ed, whose birth name was Ed Reardon, died in 1992 at the age of 65. While primarily a lounge singer and “B” actor, he is remembered for his hit single, “Nothin’ Shakin,’” which was later re-recorded by The Beatles. 

RE: THE ABOVE — “Yeah, yeah, yeah-uhhhhh …” 

•     •     • 

Whelp. Looks like from all the concrete, asphalt, and sushi, we’re back in modern times. I surely appreciate the company, dear saddlepals. You be most lovely to one another and I’ll see you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post next weekend with another exciting trail ride through your SCV history. 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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