The Time Ranger | ​​​When Acton Was Almost the State Capital

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

Well howdy dear Santa Clarita amigos, amigoettes and those who have to pay extra baggage charges for their pronouns. Nice to see all y’all. We’ve just a wonderful and scenic trail ride ahead, filled with blizzards, floods, windstorms, hoodlum bikers and the world’s largest deer park, smack dab in the middle of Canyon Country. 

Dress warm. If you brought a dog (like, a herding dog, nothing mini or yappy), no need to bring a coat for them. Why? They’re dogs. Besides. Somewhere along this morning’s ride, we’ll stop to make a fire and heat up our coffee. 

Oh. Small bit of business. If Alec Baldwin is riding with us today, not making any judgments, we’re going to play it safe and have him ride up ahead 10-15 miles. 

Straighten up in cowboy posture, adopt a knowing smile, hang onto your topper as we go through the spinning Signal/SCV History vortex and what say we see what yesteryear looks like … 


THE BIRTH OF VIGILANCE FOREVER — On Jan. 20, 1914, a whole lot of trouble came into this world. Scott Newhall was born on this date. He would later become editor of The San Francisco Chronicle and owner/publisher of The Mighty Signal. The swashbuckling journalist would set both San Francisco and the Santa Clarita on their ears. 

CALLING IT EVEN — The absolute largeness of the gesture to this day still floors me. Antonio del Valle, general manager of the Mission San Fernando, was owed a little bit of back pay. In lieu of wages, his friend, the governor of Alta California, granted him the Santa Clarita Valley. Like, ALL of it. That was back on Jan. 22, 1839. 

IT STARTED WITH A LOVE STORY OFF 126 — It would become one of the most significant books in all of American history. Author Helen Hunt Jackson stopped off at the Camulos Ranch on Jan. 23, 1882, off present-day Highway 126. There, she interviewed Blanca Yndart and from those tales would be born the inspiration for the novel, “Ramona.” This romantic novel would become one of the most influential books of the 19th century, helping to launch an epic real estate boom in California and debate among millions of Americans about the treatment of Indians. 

WELL AT LEAST WE WOULDN’T HAVE FAR TO TRAVEL TO PROTEST — In 1888, Acton was a thriving pocket of civilization with around 1,000 souls. That’s over 10 times more people than in all the Santa Clarita at the time. On Jan. 24 of that year, the Acton Post Office was founded. Earlier? Acton was almost named the state capital of California — no kidding! 

NO LONGER WOKE FOR OAK — We used to have hundreds of thousands of oaks in the valley. Most were cut for firewood and charcoal around the turn of the 20th century. We still see thick bushes where great trees once towered. These bushes are called secondary trees. Historian A.B. Perkins theorized another reason why the creeks stopped running year-round was because of the tree loss. 

BUILDING A FIXER-UPPER IN FOUR HOURS — Way, way back when, the Tataviams lived in reed corrales. These summer homes were more windbreaks and were open to the sun. When the homes got too buggy, the SCV’s Indian population didn’t call an exterminator. They burnt their dwellings and built new ones. This wasn’t exactly a labor-intensive job. It only took a half-day to construct one of these minimalist housing units and about a day to build a winter’s wickiup. 

JANUARY 27, 1924 

THE HUNT FOR CARELESS CAMPERS — Forest Ranger Jesse Graves was on the prowl, searching for some outdoorsmen (or outdoorswomen or some such combination) who started a brush fire up Elsmere Canyon. 

DUMBBELLS OF THE OUTDOORS — Many of the hills surrounding us were part of the Angeles Forest Reserve in 1924. Figures from firefighting from the previous year came out and it seems we lost 0.05% of the acreage to fires. It cost $12,384.05 to fight fires on a total of 4,137 acres. The great majority of the blazes were man-made, mostly by, again, careless campers leaving fires unattended or improperly doused. 

JANUARY 27, 1934 

SPEED KILLS. WE MEAN IT. — Wet and oily pavement and driving at a high speed down the Ridge Route was blamed for the death of Miss Geri Shields. She skidded into a truck and over the embankment.  

IGNORING THE BALANCE OF NATURE — Troops from the L.A. County Public Health Service invaded Newhall 90 years ago. They came to do battle with an army of rats that was plaguing the valley. Of course, local yahoos shooting every coyote, bobcat and vermin-killing predator they could get in their sights or traps surely helped the population explosion of pests. 

DEER ME! — Remi Nadeau III was the grandson of Remi I who was one of Southern California’s most powerful men of the 19th century. Remi III would build a fabled deer park in Canyon Country, near the present-day Sierra Highway/Soledad Canyon intersection. It was Remi’s dream to bring every species of deer on the planet to his refuge. Remi III came darn close to completing his dream, too. The pastoral park was one of SoCal’s major tourist destinations and folks would drive for hours, just to enjoy a picnic with deer from Vietnam to Siberia strolling by. On this date, he had some rather famous visitors to his deer reserve — composer Ignatius Paderewski and Albert Einstein.  

NOW HOW COULD YOU NOT GO TO A VENUE WITH TALENT LIKE THIS? — Next to CalArts, there was probably more live music played at The French Village than at any other place in the history of the valley. The dance club featured two orchestras on this date: Happy Lygum & His International Recording Orchestra and Bonnie Gray, Famous Rodeo Girl & Her Happy-Go-Lucky Band. Admission to the hall was 40 cents for gentlemen and 25 cents for ladies. The French Village moved around a bit, burning down in the 1920s and 1930s. It ended up at Tex Williams’ old honky tonk on Newhall Avenue, across from Starbucks today.  

JANUARY 27, 1944 

CRAZY IS AS CRAZY DOES — It is a grand and glorious day in journalism when you can sprawl “Acton Patients Engage in Gory Knife Battle.” Seems 80 years back, two outpatients at the Olive View mental ward had a disagreement as to their place in the chow line. They pulled knives and had at one another with much ferocity. Wondering if this happened today, would both combatants be blessed with cabinet positions. 

BIG BIRD — Leon Thompson was running the trap line on Newhall Ranch, searching for coyotes. He found one of his snares sprung, with a huge golden eagle caught by a talon. The predatory bird had run out of gas and allowed Thompson to free him. The forestry agent took the bird back to camp and nursed him back to health. The eagle had an 8-foot-long wing span.  

JANUARY 27, 1954 

“WHAMMO!”???? — A heavy night rain pounded Newhall. Some thought it was thunder. Others feared an atomic bomb. On this date, 70 years back, a cloud of gas exploded under the big boiler in the Hart Auditorium. The local barbershop quartet was going to use the facility. As was often the case, the big hall was colder than a tomb. Janitor Spike Ashford crawled under the heater to re-light it with a flaming newspaper. As The Mighty Signal succinctly reported: “WHAMMO!!” Poor Spike. He was rushed to Newhall Hospital on 6th Street where he was treated for shock and severe burns. 

BIG BILL: ONE OF OUR MOST COLORFUL, RICHEST & CONTROVERSIAL CITIZENS — “Big” Bill Bonelli, controversial muckraker, millionaire, chairman of the State Board of Equalization and a lifelong feudist with The Los Angeles Times, bought Circle J on this date. By purchasing the 300 acres east of Railroad Avenue by the Hi Chic Curve, Bonelli dramatically changed the face of the area. Prior to his purchase, the owners, who had an upscale equestrian academy there, were going to build a country club and championship golf course there. 

RE: THE ABOVE — Long ago, THE hot hamburger hot spot/cruise night destination was Hi Chic. It was a drive-up burgertorium where high school kids went to socialize and consume some pretty darn tasty cheeseburgers. For decades, it’s been called The Hi Chic Curve. Today, Keep It Simple Storage rests there … 

WHAT’S IN A NAME? PLENTY. — On this date, The Mighty Signal suggested that the valley’s main drag, Spruce Street (today, Main Street) change its name to Newhall Boulevard. This paper also put forth that Newhall Avenue change its handle to Hart Avenue or Hart Boulevard. You know, it’s never too late.  

JANUARY 27, 1964 

TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS — On this date, the Newhall-Saugus Chamber of Commerce opened its first five-day office. Ironically, the chamber moved to what would later be the World Corporate Headquarters of The Mighty Signal — in those teeny-tiny redwood buildings on 6th Street. 

BUT NO ‘WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS?’ — Several bikers were among 26 people nabbed at what police called a “Narcotics Party.” To the SCV’s credit, none were local. The two-dozen-plus did have some nefarious credentials, however. Most were members of either the Galloping Gooses, Satan’s Slaves or Hell’s Angels motorcycle gangs. If I may save any of the three organizations’ PR arms some trouble, I will print their clarification for them: “It’s not a gang. It’s a club.” 

BASEBALL, BASEBALL, EVERYWHERE — Because of the exploding population of the valley, on this date, the Wm. S. Hart Boys Baseball league was forced to split in two. The club — and it is a club, not a gang — formed the National and American leagues. 

JANUARY 27, 1974 

CANYON (NOT HART) MINI DRUG BUST — A seven-month-long drug sting operation ended at Canyon High. Two young-looking sheriff’s deputies, one male, one female, worked undercover, posing as students. When they started, there were estimates that 25% of the Cowboy student body were using heavy drugs. The deputies reported that while marijuana and some pill usage was prevalent, the 1-in-4 number was a bit, no pun intended, high. The pair made just 20 arrests, most of those for off-campus pushers. A couple of ounces of LSD and 300 peyote buttons were seized. My dear pal, Ricky Deising, swears he has an alibi … 

BEST DRUG STORY EVER — Signal gossip columnist Ruth Newhall’s alter ego Mimi shared a wonderful tale about the above undercover operation. It seems the youthful-looking male deputy who passed as a high school student had to give his home address and phone number, work and home, of his parents. So, the narc left his watch sergeant’s pertinent numbers. In order to get in with the wrong crowd, the undercover sheriff’s deputy started acting up and got sent to the principal’s office. A counselor called up whom he thought was the “boy’s” father and warned him the kid was causing problems and hanging out with the wrong crowd. The sarge acted concerned over the phone and suggested: “Punish him any way you like. Kick his ass around if you think it’ll straighten him out …” 

OH DEER ME — Here’s a story you just don’t see anymore. A Canyon Country woman hit a deer crossing the road. Not too many deer left in these parts to hit. 

THE GREENIES BEGIN THE ATTACK — Fifty years ago, SoCalEd raised the possibility of issuing rolling power blackouts for the SCV in order to comply with mandatory and political 10% energy cutbacks of the day. 

BIKERS & BEER — Eight members of the Vagos motorcycle gang (please see last two sentences, second graf from 1964) were arrested for being part of a group beating on a trio of diners at Karl’s Hofbrau, a noted beer bar of its day up Bouquet Canyon. A police pursuit in thick fog of the bikers (who were racing without lights) ended up in the arrests and felony charges. Because the victims wouldn’t testify, the charges were later shrunk to misdemeanors.  

SINK AND SWIM — More than a few Saugus homes were built atop ancient gold mines. The result? The lots sank. Louis Brathwaite had a pool commissioned for his back yard. It sank. 

EDDIE’S SISTER — Laura Diaz today is a noted Los Angeles newscaster. Fifty years ago, she was a senior at Hart High. On this date, someone broke into the glass trophy case at the mighty Indian campus and stole just one item — a picture of Laura in a gymnastic pose.  

JANUARY 27, 1984 

YO, HO, HO, HO AND BLOW THE TRUCKS DOWN — We’re known for our rare visiting fierce winds, but this was ridiculous. Steady gusts of 50 mph and up to 100 mph ripped the valley apart, uprooting trees, knocking over double semi-rigs and causing nearly 5,000 homes and businesses to lose electricity. Despite Interstate 5 being littered with flipped-over trucks and trailers, there were no serious injuries reported and the winds disappeared after but a few hours. 

HART DISTRICT TAKES A HEROIC STAND — Some of you old music aficionados will remember The Tubes’ hit song, “We’re White Punks On Dope” and the stirring lyric, “… hang ourselves if we could find enough rope …” On this date, the Hart trustees forbade students from wearing or bringing handcuffs, facial piercings, studded dog collars and various punk rock fashion to school. Also? The board no longer allowed students to make up work while they were under suspension. Or, I’m just guessing, on death row … 

RE: THE ABOVE? — There’s a former Hart High Student/Current SC Mayor Cameron Smyth false reference here, but we’re just going to purse our lips and mumble, “… kids” judgmentally under our breath. 

MUST HAVE JUST BEEN PREPARING FOR HIS TAXES. AGAIN. — The First Nationwide Bank on Lyons and Peachland (today, U.S. Bank) was robbed for the second time in a year — by the same pistol-waving bandit. The crook made off with $27,000 — coincidentally, the same amount he stole the year before. 

•     •     • 

Surely appreciate the company and sharing these precious vistas. You be most excellent to one another and I’ll see all y’all in seven, right back here at The Mighty Signal (259-1000 for subscriptions; you can give them as gifts!) hitching post with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. 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. Also? His political satire, “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Joe Biden” is available in print and Kindle. 

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