Doggone it saddlepals, just want to take my hat off and wish all of you a peaceful and Western Christmas coming this Monday.
Having said that, I’m going to hold a pleasant poker face for about a nanosecond, then do a 180 and panic gallop. I haven’t done a speck of shopping yet.
On the bright side, the nice thing about moseying back into yesteryear, you’ll find time is but a concept.
We’ve a most interesting pre-Christmas trek ahead, amigos and amigo-ettes. Those dreaded desperadoes, the Burger Bandits, hit our valley again. We’ve got carjackers, bison ranchers and — I believe — a one-of-a-kind sporting highlight in local history.
C’mon, dear friends. Swing up to the saddle. Take a deep breath. At least for a while, all your problems will stay planted on an Earth that only we can make peaceful …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
WOODS. WE STILL HAVE A FEW LEFT — On Dec. 20, 1892, the San Gabriel Forest Reserve, predecessor to the Angeles National Forest, was founded. It was a big piece of property — some half-million acres and the first national forest in California.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOMMY — One of the Santa Clarita Valley’s most influential men of the 19th century was Col. Thomas F. Mitchell. He was born on the day before Christmas in 1824 back east in Davy Crockett Land, aka, Tennessee.
TICKS AND BORAX — Before it was called Soledad Canyon, the narrow dirt trail along the river was called Williamson Pass, named after the geographer and Army lieutenant, R.S. Williamson, who laid out plans for a road through the area in 1853. He and his map makers camped out in an arroyo and discovered it was filled with bloodthirsty little critters. Hence the name, Tick Canyon.
A half-century later, two grizzled prospectors, Louis Ebbenger and Henry Shepard, were working their gold mine in the exact same location. They didn’t find any gold, but they found huge deposits of sodium borate (borax). They sold their claim to a couple of former clerks — Thomas Thorkildson and Steven Mather — for Pacific Borax (which would later become our good neighbor, U.S. Borax). The two clerks had quit to work a borax mine in the Frazier Park area and they bought the Tick Canyon land for $30,000 in 1906. That investment would later pay off in the millions.
The new owners installed their own “Dinky” railroad line and hauled about 20,000 marketable tons of borax per year, creating huge, manmade mountains of slag.
Just five years later, the friends sold their $30,000 investment for $1.8 million — while staying on for a decade as president and vice president of the company.
The mine slowly petered out. In nearby Lang, the boom town dried up starting around 1923. The hotel, shops, employee cottages and the rest of the infrastructure was eroded by the high desert wind and vandals.
Mr. Thorkildson lived a rather ribald retirement, throwing parties for the who’s who of Los Angeles. People called him “The Borax King.” His quiet and unassuming friend, Mr. Mather, became the first director of the National Parks System.
That would pretty much be the story of Sterling, the lost mining city of the Santa Clarita. Except another valuable mineral was found in the abandoned shafts — howlite. It can be found only in a couple of spots in North America. Rock hounds to this day can be spotted off Davenport Road, killing a weekend, looking for this grayish-white mineral.
Some unscrupulous individuals have been noted to dye howlite blue and sell it as turquoise. What’s howlite? It’s a gem people use for meditation and was named after the 19th-century Canadian mineralist, Henry How.
DECEMBER 23, 1923
CARJACKING IS NOTHING NEW — Indeed, it was just the second cousin to horse thieving, although, sadly, they don’t lynch car thieves. We had a rash of hold-ups and auto takeovers on the old Ridge Route, especially on the north side of Sandberg’s resort. One motorist, driving a long-extinct rig called a Marmon, was beset upon by gunmen as he made a hairpin turn. Instead of stopping, he gunned it coming out of the curve and nailed one would-be thug dead-grill center. Of course, most of the episodes ended in small tragedy. In the span of a week, five cars were flagged down and liberated from their owners.
OLD JUDGE JOHN POWELL — Another one of our famous 19th century pioneers was Judge John Powell. He was given a surprise birthday party on this date. Johnny turned 85. Judge Powell was famous for serving as a jurist here for 40 years and leading troops in several major battles for Union forces in the Civil War. He also was a big-game hunter who bagged the biggest mountain lion in California here in Canyon Country.
TODAY, $1.25 WON’T GET YOU A TACO — Hope you saddlepals brought a buck-and-a-quarter along. Woodard’s Cafe hosted a seven-course Christmas Day dinner for $1.25. Their motto then: “Why Eat At Home?” A question I’ve been asking since I was little.
DECEMBER 23, 1933
THE OLD HOBO JOKE — What appeared to be a mud-encrusted tramp appeared in the front yard of Bertrand Russell (the Newhall homesteader, not the famous philosopher/educator). The wanderer appeared to be the hungriest creature Bert had ever spied and, in a high-pitched voice, asked if the Newhall man could spare a bit of food. Bert ordered him to the back door but when he got there with a plate, there was nobody around. Bert went back to the front and saw the hobo lounging on the front porch. Bert started a cussin’, then noticed a grin from under the mud. It was his good friend, Bob Pallette, in town for a Christmas visit. Bob’s wife pulled up a moment later in their car. Nice joke, Bobby…
DECEMBER 23, 1943
COUNTING OUR BLESSINGS — One of the best columns ever written in this historic paper appeared on Christmas Eve, 1943. Owner, editor and publisher Fred Trueblood penned a touching comparison of Joseph and Mary trying to find lodging 2,000 years earlier and a young soldier trying to stay warm and safe in a foxhole during World War II. A most touching tome.
THE WRONG LANE — Bill Lane never made it home for Christmas. Owner of the feed store in Canyon Country, Lane pulled his stalled truck off the side of the road in a rainstorm. He was trying to fix the engine and despite putting out flares and a safety cone, a speeding car plowed into his old pickup, killing Lane instantly.
NOT DO-RIGHT BIT DUVALL — Dudley Duvall had run Newhall’s Chevy agency here since 1938. He sold his shop to Tom Carrell and moved to Los Angeles. Dudley went from selling cars to selling caskets. Yup. He went into the undertaking business.
PIONEER PASSES — On this date, Jim Lindhoff McIntyre, father of Walter McIntyre, passed to his reward. Jim was one of the town’s pioneers, settling here in the early 20th century. He helped build the old adobe ranch house at the Baker Ranch that would become later the Bonelli home at the Saugus Speedway.
DECEMBER 23, 1953
FROM THE OMIGOODNESS DEPT. — Next time you’re driving by Hart High, check out that giant Christmas tree in the front. There’s a picture of it on the front page of The Mighty Signal from 70 years ago when it was merely 10 feet tall. And yes. You do have to say, “Omigoodness.”
WARNING OF THE DEATH OF THE SMALL BUSINESSMAN — Before Walmart became the major omnivore of retail sales, Newhall’s E.E. Chitwood warned of the demise of the small businessman. At a Kiwanis Club luncheon, Chitwood, who ran the local furniture store of the same name, complained about big national chain department stores taking a bigger and bigger chunk out of the independent retail outlet’s pocket. A half-century after Mr. C’s lunchtime speech, so it came to pass. No more Chitwood’s, but lots of Walmarts …
AFFORDABLE HOUSING — The new Parkway Ranchitos opened in Saugus. About 1,300 square feet of new house went about $13,500. Payments then were about $65. That’d be a month. Not a minute.
TAKING THEIR BALL AND GOING HOME — I think this was a first in SCV high school basketball. On this date, Hart High beat Burroughs 2-0 on a forfeit. Seems the score was tied 43-43. Gary Yurosek (who would later become the movie star, Gary Lockwood) was fouled right before the buzzer, according to the ref. The Burroughs coach, Bill Flora, didn’t think so. Instead of playing the overtime, Flora walked off the court, taking his team with him.
DECEMBER 23, 1963
BEFORE THAT AND BEFORE THAT AND BEFORE THAT — The brand new Sierra Vista Junior High took another step toward becoming a reality. On this date, the Hart district board of trustees enacted the school’s new boundaries. Placerita was still brand spanking new. Before that, Hart took on grades 7-12. Before that, elementary schools went up to the 8th grade and if a young Santa Claritan wanted to attend high school prior to 1945 (Hart’s first year) you had to drive all the way down to San Fernando High.
DECEMBER 23, 1973
LETTING BISONS BE BISONS — Ah, the good old days. Cattle dotted a thousand hills in Santa Clarita as little as 50 years back. We even had buffalo. Rancher Bud Bliss added a young male bison to his herd (which included longhorns). Bliss had worked for Africa USA and was paid the creature in lieu of back wages. Heck of a deal. Those buffs eat a ton (they also eat bread). Bliss also had four other bison. He purchased those critters from Hart Park when the herd expanded.
DECEMBER 16, 1983
A HERO’S LAST WORDS — “I’m dying. Take care of the other guys.” Those were the last words uttered by firefighter Jerald Hisel. He was electrocuted in a freak accident, along with two prison work camp inmates building a culvert near Lang Station. A big crane brushed against a high-tension line, sending 16,000 volts into a beam that was being lowered to Hisel.
THE INFAMOUS BURGER BANDS STRIKE AGAIN — The infamous fast food outlet bandits struck again. The pair earned the nefarious title after a long string of robberies on hamburger joints. On this date, they had to stretch out their nickname to the Burger & Taco Bandits. Yup. They held up the Taco Bell in Canyon Country. Sheriff’s deputies pulled over two men matching the BB’s description, but it turned out they were the wrong guys.
• • •
Well. The vista is shifting. We’re going from a few lone campfires to a million lights. We’re back in present-day Santa Clarita. I’ll see you next Sunday with a brand new Time Ranger adventure, 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.