The Time Ranger | Castaic’s Lost Forest, Arson & White Gold

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

This is always a discombobulating time of the year for me. It’s so profoundly beautiful, flirting with being warm. It can’t be that there’s only four weeks-ish until Christmas. Much of the country’s colder than a witch’s heart, inside a freezer. Me? I’m wearing a short-sleeved cowboy shirt. 

Much to inspect this fine autumn morn. We’ll say howdy to a couple of boys who found $14,000 in cash, behind a store. We’ll investigate a high-speed chase — on horseback. It’s my Pop’s birthday and we will see perhaps the very first event that launched the founding of the city of Santa Clarita — in 1953. We’ll pretty much have a grand time, and, bonus, with proper time traveling, we’ll get you back home before you even left … 


THE SCV CONNECTION TO KANSAS — Ever wonder why we have a Kansas Street in the middle of Newhall, California? Or Arcadia Street? Kansas was the home of John St. John, 19th-century governor of the state and America’s leading Prohibitionist. His home city was Arcadia. On Dec. 3, 1887, he sent neophyte anti-booze zealot Henry Clay Needham to oversee a new business venture in the Santa Clarita Valley. St. John bought 10,000 acres from The Newhall Land & Farming Co. and planned to turn most of what would become modern Newhall into a Prohibitionist community — an ambitious mission for a valley where there were more saloons than schools and churches combined. Real estate sales were slim to none. Even the most devout Prohibitionist didn’t want to buy land in this St. John tract. You had to sign a note that if anyone was caught imbibing on your property, your land could be forfeited back to the seller. 

REMEMBER THE THEME SONG TO THE TV SHOW, “THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES?” — “Black gold. Texas T…” Well. Here in Santa Clarita, we had white gold, i.e., white oil. White petroleum is nothing new. The Indians marveled at the stuff flowing out of Placerita Canyon. Some of the opaque petroleum was even on display at this nation’s centennial fair in Philadelphia in 1876. Auguste Ferrier owned a lease at the present-day county-state park that had a gusher of white petroleum in 1900. It pulled out over 200 barrels a day (at $4.50 a barrel then). The white oil was so potent, it burned 100 times longer and brighter than conventional lamp oil. It was so pure, one of Placerita’s early tenants, Frank Walker, used it instead of gasoline in his Model T. I can’t say where the exact location is because my pal George Fisher would hunt me down and scalp me. BUT — that open well is still around — albeit in a top-secret location — today. 

DECEMBER 2, 1923  

DEMON RUM — If the SCV was any barometer on the War on Alcohol, America was losing. This week in history, Judge Port C. Miller had only eight cases to hear. All were about either making moonshine or being drunk and disorderly conduct. 

HOPE THE POOL’S HEATED — Garner Curran stopped in town long enough to speak at a local luncheon. Curran has perhaps the oddest tidbit from any resume I’ve ever seen. Mr. Curran was YMCA membership secretary for Siberia since 1919. 

BABY CAREY — Harry Carey was one of those rare entities — a movie star who successfully transferred over from silents to the talkies. The Saugus rancher was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet in 1923. He and his wife, Olive, added another chore to their long list of things to do. Their baby, Ada Ella, was just a couple weeks old, born on Nov. 16. The Carey main ranch house was spared in the epic 1928 St. Francis Dam, but was burned to the ground a short time later. Today, their rebuilt adobe is part of Santa Clarita’s Tesoro Adobe Historic Park, cozily nestled on Avenida Rancho Tesoro and open to the public. 

BEFORE THE LIFE CUSHY — Being the 1920s and us being more than rural, many of Newhall’s citizenry didn’t notice that we had a major Edison blowout 100 years back. Folks still used lamps and candles. 

THE LOSS OF A HUGE CASTAIC FOREST — A.M. Dunn was the new owner of the Randall Ranch (it would later become Wayside Honor Rancho/Pitchess Detention Center decades later). First order of business for Mr. Dunn was clearcutting thousands of oaks and other trees from his Castaic property for alfalfa pastureland. 

DECEMBER 2, 1933  

ADIOS TO A GOOD COWBOY — “Skeeter” Bill Robbins, who ran Hoot Gibson’s rodeo grounds in Saugus (it would later become the Saugus Speedway) died in a fiery crash 70 years back. It was at the old intersection of Mint Canyon and Acton Road. Robbins had pulled over to help a motorist when a truck with faulty lights plowed into his car. There were five other passengers in the vehicle and all escaped with just minor scrapes. Robbins, the driver, had a crushed skull. In the oddest of happenstance, another car came speeding around the corner and couldn’t brake in time. It hit the wreck. Two of the men driving the car happened to be show business friends of Robbins. The rodeo manager was also a bit player in Westerns. 

DECEMBER 2, 1943  

LOSING TWO SCHOOLS IN ONE DAY — Arson was suspected in the burning of two Santa Clarita schools, one old, one new. The old wooden Castaic School building, which sat 150 yards away from the new (1943) building, went up in flames. Built in 1897, the school was then the residence of the Milano family and the grandfather was at home. The actions of a quick-thinking and brave Bud Sloan, who saw the smoke, saved the man’s life. Bud literally kicked down the door and carried the invalid to safety. Same day, the new two-story Mint Canyon Elementary and community center, in Forrest Park, burned to the ground.  

ANOTHER FIREBUG — Questions were circulating about a monster arsonist stalking the valley. The same week, near the Mint Canyon School, the Black and White Garage likewise went up in flames. 

DECEMBER 2, 1953  

THE VICE SQUAD RAID THAT BIRTHED A CITY — Some say there is no such thing as a small imposition. This one incident was one of the major foundations behind the passion to break away from Los Angeles County. On this date, a downtown L.A. sheriff vice squad raided a poker game at the Newhall American Legion, Post 507. Three coffee tables, $331 in cash and 245 poker chips were confiscated. What made it sting was the game was between pals who also happened to be the local mucky-mucks of the valley. They asked, with justification, if Hollywood Vice had anything better to do in Sin City than drive out here and bust a closed and friendly poker game. Many of the locals in the bust led a fight to first attempt to start the city of Newhall-Saugus, then, Canyon County, then, in 1987, the city of Santa Clarita. 

DECEMBER 2, 1963  

SUPER JOE — Folks around town were wondering what ever happened to that Hart High sports phenom, Joe Kapp. Kapp was more a basketball star as a Mighty Hart Indian and at Cal Berkeley but ended up playing football. Joe lost in the Rose Bowl. Joe continued to head north and was named MVP of the Canadian Football League. Joe played for the British Columbia Lions. He would lose in the Grey Cup (Canada’s Super Bowl). Later, as quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, Joe would have the distinction of losing in THE Super Bowl. The dear fellow died in May this year.  

DECEMBER 2, 1973  

FIELDING SAILS INTO THE MYSTIC — On this date, one of Saugus’ most memorable citizens passed on to his reward. Fielding S. Wood was the proprietor of Wood’s Garage next to the Saugus Café. Fielding was also the second president of our valley’s Kiwanis Club. He moved here in 1906. 

OR, SIMPLE, A ‘BUNCH OF …’ — Our dear saddlepal, Ruth Newhall, had just started her famed gossip column, “MIMI,” months earlier. Ruth/MIMI had some most excellent party trivia that’s too good to pass along: “If a group of lions is called a pride, and a group of bees is a hive, and cattle are a herd, what are groups of geese, cats, toads, peacocks, leopards, pheasants, herons, bears and swans? ANSWER: Gaggle of geese; clowder of cats; knot of toads, muster of peacocks; leap of leopards; nye of pheasants, sedge of herons; sleuth of bears; and, wedge of swans.” 

AN OLD-FASHIONED HIGH-SPEED PURSUIT — We were still rather rural, as judged by the exploits of Richard Young. The adroit sheriff’s deputy commandeered a horse and went galloping after a suspect, also on horseback. Young finally caught up to the brigand and arrested him for — no kidding — drunk driving. 

DECEMBER 2, 1983  

AN EARLY END TO A MARRIAGE — A month-long search for a young missing couple ended in tragedy. The pair’s auto was found at the bottom of a 200-foot ravine in upper Bouquet Canyon. The young couple had their springer spaniel with them who escaped the wreck and was found wandering near the wreckage by sheriff’s deputies. 

FUN WITH NUMBERS? — They’re in their 70s now. I wonder if they still recall what happened to them on this date in 1983. Mike Dunn, 10, and his friend, Mark Glasgow, 11, did beyond the good deed and then some. The two Valencia boys were looking for boxes behind the Kinney Shoes store on Lyons. They found a $5 bill sticking out of one — and more. The Orchard Elm kids found — are you sitting? — $14,000 in cash in a check box. After giving $100 each to two Kinney employees and spending $26 on a clock, potato chips and a couple of sodas, they decided to give the remainder to authorities. The money was returned to a woman who a day earlier filed a report that she was missing — ahem — $16,000. 

•     •     • 

Well. Told you. We’d travel hundreds of miles and get you home before you knew it. Thanks for the company and hoping you’re having a lovely weekend. Looking forward to seeing you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post next Saturday. Until then — ¡vayan con Dios y feliz Navidad, 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 holiday gift idea. Leave a kindly review… 

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