A warm and Western “howdy” to you, saddlepals. Or, should I say, a warm and Western — “hello?” Got a great little tidbit on that word we all (hopefully!) say every day.
Before you tape up and put on the pads to fight the madding crowds, I suggest we take a small sabbath in the form of a trail ride. Location? The Santa Clarita of yesteryear.
This morning, we’ve most interesting vistas ahead. There’re ancient traffic jams involving dozens of cars. There’re villains, invention, and, as my pal Scott Newhall put it, “Those Ugly Little Kids.”
C’mon. I’ve got a few thousand mounts out here all pawing and ready for scenery …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
“WOLVES! WOLVES!! O WOLVES! YOO-HOO!!” — Normally, I like to keep our tour within the confines of the Little Santa Clara River Valley. But, this one vista is too good to pass up. Ever wonder from whence the word, “Hello” originated? According to an issue from the 1923 Telephone Engineer magazine, the word originated in England. French was the language of the English court and the noblemen’s pastime was hunting wolves. To call the wolves, the French would howl, “Au loup! Au loup!” Loup means wolf. “These words heard at a distance sounded like ‘a loo’ but the English, who always put an ‘H’ on wherever they possibly can, put it on the words, ‘a loo’ and when wolf hunting, shouted ‘ha-loo.’ This form we use when we call, ‘hello.’”
BUT WHEN WE TIME RANGER SADDLEPALS ALWAYS ANSWSER THE PHONE, WE SAY A ROBUST, “HOWDY!!!” — OK. Just one more. When Alexander Graham Bell was experimenting with his new invention, the telephone, he wouldn’t answer it “Hello …” He’d say, “Ahoy …”
ONE GOOD GUY. ONE BAD GUY. SAME FAMILY. GO FIGURE. — Back on Dec. 5, 1890, the San Francisquito Canyon Ranch was granted to Frank LeBrun. His brother, Gus, would die in infamy and a hail of bullets after murdering Newhall Sheriff Ed Brown (no relation to The Signal editor of the same name) in the 1920s.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TWO-GUN! — Hope all of you fellow Santa Claritans were singing Happy Birthday in rousing fashion last night, for, on Dec. 6, 1864, our legendary superstar of the silent era, William S. Hart, was born in New York. Had he lived, he would be a spry 159.
DECEMBER 9, 1923
WHEN WATER RAN ALL YEAR ROUND — Hard to believe, but we had actual, real streams and creeks (with water!) flowing through the valley. The state Fish and Game Department announced plans that, come spring, they would begin stocking our waterways with trout. Some 2,000 cans of fish eggs were released in Soledad, lower Lake Elizabeth, Fish Creek, Bouquet, Piru, and Little Rock canyons. Some fish nets were set up too. Sometimes, due primarily to ranchers’ wells or drought, the creeks would run low. Today? They still do. Ranchers and homeowners up Bouquet Canyon today complain that the greenies running Bouquet Reservoir won’t release water because they can’t figure out which of three varieties of Spiny Stickleback fishes are out partying.
CAN’T GET TO THE GRAND CANYON FROM HERE — Newhall resident C.A. Brown returned from a Thanksgiving trek to Arizona. He had hoped to make it to the Grand Canyon, but had to turn back. Snow. Folks in Arizona kept asking him why he was leaving California, “land of sunshine and flowers.” Brown pointed out Arizona had plenty of sunshine, too. Upon his return, he commented on the traffic jams in the small Arizona towns of people returning from the canyon and noted that the roads were jammed with as many as 300 cars per day. That’s a knee-slapper …
FOR THE RECORD — The Mighty Signal’s world corporate headquarters were in the new all-brick Swall Hotel. We did more than print the valley’s weekly paper. We sold records. Some of the foxtrot hits of the day offered: “No, No Nora,” “Cut Yourself a Piece of Cake,” and “That Old Gang of Mine.” I guess that last song could be a hit rap single in 2023 …
DECEMBER 9, 1933
FAREWELL TO A TRAINKEEPER — After the Southern Pacific depot closed in Newhall (where the Jan Heidt Metrolink Station is today), they retired P.J. Coyle, the station manager. He received a small pension and continued to live in Newhall. There were only two station managers ever for the Newhall Depot — John Gifford and his wife, Sarah, and Mr. Coyle.
NEWHALL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — For you statistical nuts, here’s a small handout: the little Newhall International Airport, near present-day Granary Square on McBean Parkway, logged 1,177 landings in 1933. In its day, it was noted as one of the most important airports in the country. The field was primarily used during bad weather or heavy fog and in the days of flying by sight and primitive instrumentation, it probably saved hundreds of lives. The NIA nickname was a loving local joke. The airport made a couple of mail runs into Mexico a couple of times a week.
DIDN’T PULL OVER QUITE FAR ENOUGH, POOR GUY — On the other side of the coin, John Youman lost his life. He was fixing a flat on Weldon Canyon, a mile south of the LaSalle filling station, and got smacked by a speeding and reckless motorist.
AND SUDDENLY, WE HAD OUR FIRST LIQUOR STORE — With Prohibition only recently recalled, Newhall quickly moved to catch up to legal drinking. The Blue Eagle Cafe and Hotel partitioned off part of the lobby to put in a liquor store. Just about all makes and types of hard drinks were offered for sale.
YUP. SOMETIMES, WE LIVE IN SNOW COUNTRY — We had our first snow of the year. While it barely dusted the valley, the hills were covered. Folks up in neighboring Pine Canyon about 20 miles north reported 8 inches on the ground.
DECEMBER 9, 1943
THE WET SEASON VISITED WITH A VENGEANCE — A Pacific storm, coupled with gale-force winds, uprooted trees and knocked out electricity to some of the valley. Some roofs were lost, some roofs leaked, and there was snow on the ridges.
PRESSED FOR TIME — The lamentations of Fred Trueblood, editor and publisher of The Mighty Signal, continued. He was still waiting to have his new printing press installed. In the meantime, he had thrown out the old press, noting it was responsible “… for all the silver in this silvery hair.” The Signal had been printed on a Wharfdale stop-cylinder model built in 1870. The press was originally built in Chicago and shipped around Tierra del Fuego to San Diego where it went to work for a Spanish-language paper. It could print 480 copies an hour. When electricity came in, they sold the Spanish gazette and up the Camino Real and over to Fillmore it went. A.B. “Dad” Thatcher bought the press. Noted Trueblood: “The pieces wound up in The Newhall Signal office where they were fitted together and an electric motor applied. This increased the speed to 500 impressions per hour. The press bucked a little at printing in English, but soon became reconciled.” Trueblood donated the parts of the old press to the war effort as scrap metal.
VIEWY KABLOOEY WAS TAKEN? — One of the country’s largest munitions plants, Bermite, was a huge part of the community. They even had their weekly column in the newspaper. One segment of it was called “Fuze News.” Clever.
DECEMBER 92, 1953
NUTTS TO YOU — They decorated the Pacific Bell telephone building in 19th century period furniture, courtesy of our own Gene Autry. Reason? It was the 75th anniversary of the nation’s first telephone operators. On hand was Mrs. M. Smith Peters, who had been working at the old switchboard in Newhall since 1928. A no-show was Emma M. Nutt. Of course, no one was waiting for her. Mrs. Nutt was the nation’s first telephone operator and that was back in 1878 in Boston. Cripes. “Emma Nutt.” What were her parents thinking?
HA. THAT’S ALL I HAVE TO SAY. HA. — Another knee-slapper for you. Local Highway Patrol spokesmen labeled the post-Thanksgiving weekend traffic “… the worse we’ve ever seen.” Seems the roads were clogged all the way into the San Fernando Valley back to the top of the Newhall Pass. We get that at least twice a day now.
ARMED IDIOTS — Even though just about every home had a rifle or sidearm 70 years back, we had little patience for yahoo hunters. Poor folks in the upper canyons were besieged by idiots hiking with guns. Several ranchers reported coming home to find barns or homes peppered with bullet holes. In some cases, the jerks even shot water tanks and livestock.
DECEMBER 9, 1963
ONE VALLEY, ONE VISION — Hard to believe, but on this date, a county commission OK’d a plan for all the Santa Clarita Valley schools — from Castaic to Acton/Agua Dulce and everywhere between — to unify into one superdistrict. It never happened. It sure would simplify elections today, though. And, make life impossible for any board of trustees …
LIFE INSURANCE TO COWS — On this date, Tom Lowe was named the new president of Newhall Land & Farming Co. He had been an executive vice president of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance until then.
DECEMBER 9, 1973
THE MAGIC BUS — Six kept rolling on and on. Ol’ Bus No. 6, aka, Old Ironsides, Old Faithful and Old Dog, was the workhorse of the William S. Hart Union High School District fleet. Since it started the distant Mint Canyon route, picking up students in 1948, it logged nearly 300,000 miles. The low-geared International Coach could hit speeds of 50 mph but rarely did. By 1973, it had seen around 45 drivers behind the wheel. While a new bus would cost the district about $33,000, Old Dog was worth about $400.
THE BONELLI LEGACY — On this date, College of the Canyons finished its first permanent building. The Bonelli Center, which housed the library, classrooms, media services, teacher and administrative services, and a lounge, held its grand opening. It was named after Bill Bonelli II, who owned that classic adobe ranch house next to the Saugus Speedway.
A SAD DAY FOR US TACO BELL FANS — The fast-food chain (whose entire menu is one of the five important food groups) announced they would be turning off their patented gas flames in their fire pits outside their restaurants to help ease the energy crisis. It wasn’t too long after that when The Bell turned them off forever. I remember, as a boy, warming myself by those flames on a cold, wintry eve. We ordered our food at the outdoor dining counter. Hate to show my age, but a TB taco cost just 19 cents back then …
ONCE AGAIN, WE’RE OIL COUNTRY — Speaking of the energy crisis, because of the fuel shortage, our legendary Placerita oil fields were brought back to life. The petroleum production in all of Placerita Canyon was a paltry not-quite 10 barrels a day. And that was with 150 out of 380 wells in operation. Have no idea how many wells are in operation today …
GETTING A LITTLE UGLY, AREN’T WE? — We had another strike by the Retail Clerks Union. Picketers were blamed for putting nails under the tires of delivery trucks.
DECEMBER 9, 1983
THE CULT OF CABBAGE — I cannot tell you why, but 40 years back, the Cabbage Patch Doll craze was sweeping the nation. Only 14 of the little foam-head toys arrived in the SCV and that was at the Toy Barn in Canyon Country. They were swept up in a frenzy that lasted just a few moments. Nearly 100 parents were turned away.
WHEN THE SIGNAL WAS ANTI-CABBAGE — Signal Editor Scott Newhall penned one of his famous front-page editorials. This one was entitled, “Those Ugly Little Kids.” At the end, Scotty asked: “Will a people so anxious to spend their wealth on tubby little upholstered kids and pet rocks be able to resist the sales pitch of presidents who are convinced that the world can survive a nuclear war?” Forty years later, I think I know the answer to that question …
BIG, AND RICH, JIM — My good buddy, Jim Droz, had a big smile on his usually happy face. The powerlifter and Realtor was Century 21’s top Realtor — in the world. And that was out of 750,000 agents. He made 120 sales, valued at $14 million. If Jim were to make 120 sales today, that sum would be closer to $96 million.
FAMOUS, BUT IN DEBT BIG TIME — The Saugus Cafe is famous for being Los Angeles County’s oldest eatery. It’s closed down a few times over the years — like during World War II and the 1950s for a remodeling. It also closed down in 1983 when the new owner went bankrupt. The old Saugus Cafe owed about $100,000 to creditors. An old owner, Fred Kane, had sold the restaurant years earlier. He got interested in reacquiring it, but didn’t want to monkey with all the liens and paper. Kane got permission from the building owner to open a new restaurant. He called it The Famous Saugus Cafe and Lounge. Or, the Saugus Cafe for short.
• • •
Well. I can see the lights of Greater Newhall that some call Santa Clarita ahead. We’ve just about come full circle. I’ll see all y’all compadres back here at The Mighty Signal (259-1000) hitching post next Saturday with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. 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 johnbostonbooks.com. 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…