Happy darn Santa Clarita Saturday to you, saddlepals. First weekend in September. It’s a grand morning for a trail ride to distant Santa Clarita Valley vistas.
We’ve got moonshiners, ranch fires and gunfights. We’ll journey back to the 1940s and look at tragedy and heroism.
C’mon, amigos. Wiggle a bit in those saddles. The creak is most pleasant. Press the spurs just a bit and offer your pony a laconic urging. We’re time traveling …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
SPIT OF LAND: IS THAT WHAT HAPPENS AFTER EATING DIRT? — For only having a handful of people here, a lot happened on Sept. 1, 1887. Both the Saugus and Castaic train stations were founded, as was the town of Saugus (named after the boyhood home of Henry Mayo Newhall). Saugus, by the way, comes from an Indian word meaning sandy spit of land. We will all carefully place our tongue in our cheek, make a big point of not making eye contact and gently rein our ponies in another direction.
CHARLIE WAS ROUGH ON EXPENSIVE TOOLS — Back on Sept. 5, 1876, famed multimillionaire and California pioneer capitalist Charles Crocker, using a supposed solid silver hammer, drove home a solid gold spike. The ceremonial strike, right here in Saugus, connected Los Angeles and San Francisco via the rails.
AND THE VERY NEXT DAY — The Newhall Train Station and the town of Newhall was founded. This always gets confusing. Newhall was created across the street from the present-day Saugus Cafe. Some say it was because of a drought. Others vote that it was too windy. Still others say the reason was because of the trees sucking up all the water. Whatever. The brand-new town of Newhall was moved down the road a couple miles to around where Main and 6th Street converge today.
THAT’LL STILL BE THREE OUR FATHERS AND SIX HAIL MARYS — Civilization, dreaded and blessed, had a landmark event on Sept. 8, 1787. The Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana was founded a few miles away.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1923
’T’WEREN’T HAY — In an epic late-summer blaze, rancher John Mitchell lost 80 tons of alfalfa on his Sand Canyon ranch. The fire cost Mitchell $1,600. That’s more than a ton of cash in 1923 finances …
CRIME APPARENTLY DOES PAY — Local game wardens got a bonus a century back. They bagged themselves a deer hunter who shot a buck out of season. They also confiscated several cases of Old Scotch Bond whiskey, valued at $3,000. The rum runner was taken to Judge Miller’s court and fined $600. I’ve emphasized this in the past what a steep fine that was in that $500 was the median cost of a local house in the 1920s. The crook didn’t blink an eye, but everyone in the Newhall Courthouse did. He pulled out a wad of around $2,000 and flicked off six C-notes.
SOTS — The Signal came out in favor of Prohibition, despite several reports that even with the constitutional amendment, there seemed like there was even more drunkenness and law-breaking than before. Noted publisher Blanche B. Brown: “A musty room is not made worse by the sun’s light and refreshing influence.” Amen, Blanche.
FLYING RATS (GOOD BAND NAME?) — Local forest rangers were part of a program to exterminate crows and hawks. The hawks were targeted because they went after chickens. The crows were deemed more villainous because they chased away insect-eating birds and wrecked their nests. I’ve heard crows being described as “flying rats” and, indeed, despite being so darn smart, they can drive entire species of birds out of an area.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1933
LOST ANOTHER LANDMARK — The main house on the 6-S Ranch in Honby burned to the ground. The big cattle spread was home to the Schmidt family (named 6-S because there were six of them). Everything was lost in the old wooden structure — antique furniture, a rosewood piano, photos, clothing. Value was placed at $20,000 — a small fortune during the Depression. Several huge coast oaks shading the property were also lost. Only Homer Schmidt was home at the time and he was out elsewhere on the property. The Schmidts would rebuild. They were also famous for having their own airstrip on their property.
EUGENE GOT HIS JUST DESSERTS — Eugene Dessert of Castaic hitchhiked all the way home from Klamath Falls. He made the 1,000-mile trek in two days and counted that he had 23 rides.
SUBTERRANEAN CARPENTRY — Newhall Elementary opened its doors with a new woodshop program for its seventh and eighth grade boys. The shop was built in the basement. Bet you folks didn’t know Newhall Elm HAD a basement …
THERE’S STILL GOLD IN THEM THAR CANYON — The Arch Clow company of Los Angeles leased a good chunk of upper Placerita. Purpose? Gold mining. They had plans to start a large-scale placer mine. I don’t think Clow ever went through with the project, but I could be wrong.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1943
A CHILLING ACCOUNT OF A WARTIME BEHEADING — While World War II was being fought thousands of miles away, the effects were felt here. George Cole, 41, a munitions worker at Bermite, had his head blown completely off when his machine blew up. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood, who worked at the plant during the day, had a gripping description of the event:
“In an instant everybody is standing and moving quickly, quietly, to the exits. Some glimpse through the smoke, a blackened figure prone on the floor. Red rivulets are creeping outward. But there are no screams, no panic. In a twinkling, the room is empty.
“Some of the girls try to get back into the room. They want to help the man on the floor. Those with him know he is beyond help. Others are trembling and unstrung, some even physically sick. An hour passes while necessary measures are taken.
“And now the women and girls are coming back into the room. They take their accustomed places and again, the flow of deadly war materials begins.” Cole would later be buried with full military honors.
BURIED ALIVE — Across town, another worker was luckier. Brick layer John Hanzal was buried alive while excavating a cesspool in the new Bermite housing tract in Newhall. Workers labored furiously for nine hours and finally pulled Hanzal out, exhausted but uninjured. A series of sand slides had kept filling the hole.
JUST GUTS AND SHOVELS — Soldiers were used to battle an 1,800-acre brush fire in Castaic. The fight was hand-to-hand. No equipment could fit into the rugged terrain.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1953
FINALLY. GOING THE DISTANCE — Here’s some extreme trivia for you. Seven decades ago was the first time a local girls’ softball team played through an entire summer. There had been girls’ softball leagues that had started earlier, but they never finished a season.
THINK I MIGHT BE ASKING THE SAME QUESTION — Up Soledad Canyon where all the recreational trailer parks dwell, two men were arguing over a woman at the Trail’s End Ranch. Both ended up hospitalized. Ted Paradis was shot three times in the arm by Mike Ragan, owner of the facility. Ragan wanted to know what his wife was doing in the car with Ted and a couple of other men at 2 a.m. That’s when Ragan shot Paradis three times at point blank range. That’s also when Mrs. Ragan fainted. Two other male passengers, thinking that Ragan had killed his wife, vaulted out of the car and nearly beat him to death. By the way. THAT Trail’s End Ranch in upper Soledad was NOT to be confused with Chief Little Horse, aka, Bill Barbour’s Sloan Canyon spread of the same name on the other side of the valley.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1963
THAT’S ONE TOUGH PREGNANCY — Dr. Jim Ticer, vet, couldn’t believe his eyes. He was helping to deliver some Australian shepherd pups and they just kept popping out — 16 of them. A dozen ended up living.
FAREWELL TO A GREAT FREW — Newhall pioneer Thomas McNaughton Frew III died on this date. He had been a resident of this area since around 1900. Frew had been owner of the T.M. Frew blacksmith shop, which he bought from Sam Smith in 1901. Frew was on the Newhall School Board for 15 years, helped found the William S. Hart Union High School District, the Fourth of July parade in 1932 and was one of the founding members of local Kiwanis and Masons.
BACK WHEN YOU COULD SWAT THEM — Children playing with matches started a brush fire, which luckily only burned 160 acres up Bouquet Canyon. The kids, ages 9-15, were camping and had gone off to smoke.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1973
PULL OVER? — The conductor of a Southern Pacific freight train was given a ticket by the Sheriff’s Department on this date. Seems the engineer and his crew caused a traffic jam all around the intersection of Valencia Boulevard and Magic Mountain Parkway. The railmen had left the train — running — a half-mile away and had walked to Bob’s Big Boy for dinner.
YET ANOTHER WHACKY GOVERNMENT AGENCY — Here’s some trivia. On this date, the little agency with the very long name held an election. Ten folks filed to sit on the West Los Angeles County Resource Conservation District. There were only three seats open. It was the first time in 30 years they held an election. The WLACRCD, which would later add “North” to its title, allegedly oversaw soil conservation in the SCV. The agency started out actually trying to conserve soil and do some good. It collected just a few pennies a year from taxpayers, but those pennies added up. Eventually, the NWLACRCD would become embroiled in a series of tragi-comic events involving everything from embezzlement to fist fights by board members during meetings. A Signal editorial from Sept. 7, 1973, asked: “Will it ever die?” Not for a long time.
THE HIGHS & LOWS OF IT — How’s this for a drop? In Sand Canyon, the mercury hit 104 for the day’s high and the evening low of 54.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1983
AHHHH, PROGRESS — Forty years back, a new computerized phone system was installed at the County Civic Center in Valencia. Prior to September ’83, there was only one number: 244-1131 to reach ALL the county agencies there.
TAN. TANNER. TANNEST. — On this date, Jim Tanner of Nebra … ah, I can’t do it to the guy. Jim Tanner of COLORADO was appointed principal of Placerita Junior High.
FROM A COUPLE HUNDRED BUCKS TO TENS OF MILLIONS — COC and the Hart district announced their new budgets. The trustees at Cougarville adopted a $5.6 million budget and their counterparts at Hart approved a $26.1 million budget for the 1983-84 school year.
HOW COULD ANYONE VOTE AGAINST THIS? — On this date, the state Assembly voted 70-0 to pass the Caldwell bill. It was named after veteran Newhall California Highway Patrol officer, Bob Caldwell. Despite being rated one of the top officers in California, Caldwell faced job dismissal because he couldn’t pass part of the CHP’s mandated physical fitness test — the long jump. Caldwell was in excellent shape but couldn’t broad jump. He had lost both of his legs in a motorcycle accident. The Caldwell bill applied specifically to our own local patrolman. The bill was eventually signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian.
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I appreciate the company and good conversation, which is why we get The Mighty Signal in the first place, isn’t it? Surely look forward to next weekend’s trail ride through the back roads of Santa Clarita history, and, 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…