Let me warn you saddlepals right up front. Take a sweater. Take two or three. This morning’s trail ride through Santa Clarita Valley history has some serious wintry weather ahead on this, the first Sunday in 2024 A.D.
We’ve a most interesting trek ahead, filled with record snowfall, serial killers, fresh corpses and ancient computer geeks. We’ll also take a look at the new owners of The Mighty Signal and the debut of our beloved totem — The Signal’s “Vigilance Forever” bald eagle.
You know the drill. If you’re sitting correctly in the saddle, there should be a pair of twitching hairy ears about a yard in front of you and a spinning vortex time portal into yesteryear …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
TODAY, THAT’D BE WORTH A WHOLE BUNCH OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND THEN SOME — Biographers tout Ignacio del Valle as just a peach of a human being and quite the opposite of his father, Antonio. The two men never cared for one another, and, in fact, fought against one another in battle in the early Californio days. As Antonio came closer to his death, he wanted to mend all the fences with his estranged son. He also wanted the family name to continue and said, in a letter to Iggy, that he would give him half of the Santa Clarita Valley, plus a ranch and holdings in Santa Barbara, plus a ton of other stuff, if his boy would settle down, wed and bear offspring. Ignacio did (though not in that order). When his dad finally passed away, on Jan. 1, 1842, Ignacio lawfully claimed the Rancho Camulos, or, half of the SCV. He would have to defend his holdings in court for much of his life after California was admitted as a state.
THE MANLY THING TO DO — On Jan. 2, 1850, William Manly and John Rogers arrived at the old del Valle rancho. The pair had hiked all the way from Death Valley, surviving on roots, dead animal carcasses and branch water. They were in search of help for their stranded wagon train of settlers. Actually, Manly and Rogers thought they were near the city of San Francisco. Quite lost, they asked some local cowboys where San Francisco was. The Caballeros pointed toward Don Ignacio del Valle’s home — which was called: Rancho San Francisco. Caballeros from the Santa Clarita ranch would follow Manly and Rogers back to Death Valley and rescue the starving encampment. Many of the survivors from that wagon train would eventually settle in the SCV.
NEWHALL GAL NAMES DEATH VALLEY? — RE: above? I read a while back that one of the rescued women from that wagon train settled in Newhall. She was the one who, upon leaving the unnamed desert hell, looked back from her wagon and said, “Goodbye, Death Valley …”
WHY, IT’S TOUGH TO GAGE — What do our petroleum-rich hair-gelled Gavin Newsom and Henry Gage have in common? Both were California governors. On Jan. 5, 1899, Acton good old boy Henry T. Gage, famed mine owner and entrepreneur, was sworn in as this state’s chief exec.
JANUARY 6, 1924
MIGHTY McKEAN OF HANGTOWN — The MacGregor clan of Placerita Canyon held a birthday party for their neighbor, W. Harris McKean. “Old Mac” as he was known around town just turned a spry 93. He had moved to Placerita in 1893 after a life of grubstake mining throughout California, including in Hangtown. They later changed the name to Placerville.
JANUARY 6, 1934
A SEASON & A HALF IN 2 DAYS — We were punished by an Old Testament-style storm 90 years ago. Get this. Locally, we had 9 — NINE — inches of rain in an unrelenting two-day cloudburst. Weldon Canyon (The Old Road today) was not just closed, it was filled with mudslides. Every road in and out of town was impassable and the railroad washed out in dozens of spots. The entrance to the Newhall train tunnel was closed shut after backwash filled the great hole with debris. Part of the tunnel itself was damaged and had to be repaired afterward. The Newhall road tunnel was also shut after several cars were washed away in landslides on the south side. Dozens of cars littered the sides of roads or were overturned in ditches. Hundreds of motorists were stranded in Santa Clarita and given comfort, food and shelter by the residents. While the valley was hit hard, La Crescenta, Montrose and Glendale were devastated. More than 200 homes and 100 lives were lost in the heaviest rain since the 19th century.
OUR FORGOTTEN JUDGE — The Soledad Township (aka, the SCV) had a new jurist. E. Wallace Jones, who had served for a short time, retired. Replacing him was the good judge, William J. Kennedy.
JANUARY 6, 1944
ANOTHER ST. FRANCIS DAM CORPSE — Sixteen years after the great St. Francis Dam burst, sending a monstrous wave of destruction nearly 200 feet high down the canyon, children playing in San Francisquito Creek found another disaster victim. The skeleton of a large, middle-aged man was found in a small gully about a half-mile down from Power House No. 2. While there were 486 known flood victims, another 100 people were listed as missing after the disaster.
TALK ABOUT BEING LUCKY TO BE ALIVE — Cadet Merrill Aday would never face as much danger in World War II as he had in the Newhall Train Tunnel. Aday stepped from the dining car into the passenger section just as the train hit the tunnel. He became disoriented and fell off the train. Except for some cuts and scrapes, he was lucky he wasn’t turned into mincemeat.
OARK. OARKER. OARKEST. — Here’s some trivia for you. The Norman Oarker family were the first people to move into a Bermite war house. Their new little home was at the corner of 12th and Walnut. The buildings were called the Bermite houses because it took a special congressional act to build them. Because of an acute housing shortage in Newhall during the war, and the importance of the Bermite munitions plant (next door to today’s Metrolink Station on Soledad, near the Saugus Speedway), the entire neighborhood around Walnut and Chestnut was created. They built the homes at a rate of about four per day. Tons of fill dirt was trucked and scraped in to that area to raise it out of the flood plain.
HM. GUESS THAT MEANS FRED ASTAIRE HAD A SUBSCRIPTION, TOO — The Mighty Signal always gets around. One of our subscribers was Walter Owens — grandfather to dancer, singer and actress, Ginger Rogers.
JANUARY 6, 1954
SANTA CLARITA: GRAVEYARD FOR MURDER VICTIMS — Rabbit hunters found the grisly remains of a murdered Pasadena waitress floating in a local mountain creek. The greater Santa Clarita area had long been a favored dumping ground for corpses and the victim brought back memories of another unsolved mystery. Eight years earlier, a motorist found the body of a woman known only as Ridge Route Annie. Her head had been split in two by an ax. Wonder if it had been the work of infamous SCV serial killer who was dubbed by the judge who called him “A human wolf who preyed upon mankind since the age of 6?” — Richard John Jensen?
JANUARY 6, 1964
MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH — A move to incorporate Newhall into its own city was defeated narrowly by a 53-47% margin. An anti-city protest, organized by a group of developers and locals called The Good Government Committee, helped raise money and petitions to defeat cityhood.
THERE’S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN — Most everyone in town was talking about the new owner (Scott Newhall) and the upcoming new look of The Newhall Signal. A full-page ad 60 years ago promised: “A New Year. A New Look.” Underneath the huge headline was featured the first look ever of a bald eagle on a shield of stars, stripes and arrows. The eagle held the banner with the paper’s modern logo and promise: “Vigilance Forever.” Quoth the teaser: “The American Eagle, Traditional Symbol of Fierceness, Freedom and Individuality Signals a New Era For Readers of The Newhall Signal. Watch Your Doorstep Next Thursday For New Look Version Of Your Favorite Newspaper.” And so the monkey business began …
JANUARY 6, 1974
LITTLE LEAGUE CROOKS — The Canyon Country Little League was still looking for $500 worth of missing sports equipment. Three years earlier, they had purchased bats, balls and some miscellaneous sports stuff and never received it. All that was left was a dog-eared receipt from San Fernando Sporting Goods.
ENOUGH TO FILL UP A QUARTER-TANK IN DR. RODGER PHILLIPS’ PICKUP TRUCK — During the oil embargo, a motion was put forth to ration gas to Los Angeles County motorists. The weekly allotment? Just 35 gallons. It never passed the Board of Supervisors.
SO WHERE’S THE MISSING 60 MINUTES? — Oddly enough, Daylight Saving Time kicked in on Jan. 5.
ASK ANDY ALLENSWORTH ABOUT RUNNING OVER THE ROCK-FILLED SNOWMAN — This happens rarely — about once every 10-15 years. It snowed on the valley floor on this date 50 years ago. By 11 a.m., it was 30 degrees. The national weather report issued a rare warning: “Snow level at 1,000 feet.”
Downtown Newhall proper is a smidgen over 900. This would turn out to be no light flurry. It snowed and snowed and snowed and for one of the few times in the 20th century, the roads in the SCV were blocked and we were cut off from the rest of the world. Snowball fights ensued across Lyons Avenue. Some 14,000 local students arrived at school only to be dismissed an hour later.
Up in Canyon Country, parents with snow chains — yes, snow chains — organized carpools to get the kids back home. Teachers escorted kids home sometimes as far as 3 miles through the white stuff. Tens of thousands of plants, unaccustomed to either the cold or weight of the heavy blanket, perished. Pacific Bell was overrun with calls and many locals couldn’t get a dial tone. Pipes burst. Swimming pools froze over. Cable TV was out, as was electricity in some neighborhoods. Trees fell. The trains stopped running.
Local stores sold out of everything, from food to gloves to snow shovels to film. People who worked in the San Fernando Valley or Los Angeles and beyond couldn’t get home. Ethel Leigh of Canyon Country was perhaps the most excited person in the valley. She went into labor at 4:30 a.m. and had to be rescued by a convoy of paramedics, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies.
My favorite memory of this?
My dear pal and soul brother Andy Allensworth, former COC baseball coach and semi-talented athlete, rammed a freshly made snowman built by my sibling-like substances, Joe and John Peters-Boston. Andy escaped in his VW Bug, laughing like a madman. The two little kids rebuilt their snowman, only this time, around a rock-filled trashcan. Allensworth dented his post-Nazi-built Beetle.
NO BUTTS ABOUT IT — The local Golden State hospital reported an unusual amount of snow-related bruises and sore bottoms. Hmmm. Wonder if we’re about due for another SCV snowfall?
JANUARY 6, 1984
ALMOST AS MUCH AS CHINA? — It pretty much came to pass. The population of the SCV was about 80,000 people 40 years ago. Planners and developers predicted it would double by 2000. It did and then some. Right now? The population of the Santa Clarita Valley — including the CITY of Santa Clarita — was about 425,000 in 2023. The city population? It’s listed at 217,003 for 2023. Actually, we lost about 2% of our population from the previous year. For us old-timers? It feels more like a billion-six …
SPEAKING OF GROWTH — Something to consider, the valley population a century ago was about just 500 people. Eeeesh …
SAUGUS. ALWAYS ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF TECHNOLOGY — You geeks will get a kick out of this. The Saugus Union School District approved the purchase of 21 brand new computers for their schools. They were TRS 80 models from Radio Shack (and probably the size of a Buick Roadmaster).
JANUARY 8, 2003
THE MOST IMPORTANT DATE IN SANTA CLARITA HISTORY — OK. I’m real prejudiced on this one. But, on this date, 21 years ago, my dear daughter and light of my life, Indiana Boston, was born. To celebrate, I think Indiana and I will mosey out and enjoy a lovely cup of hot tea …
• • •
Thanks so much, dear saddlepals, for being with me on this, the first of The Mighty Signal’s 2024 history trail rides. Great darn place to live, this Santa Clarita Valley, isn’t it? See all y’all next weekend with another terribly interesting (OK; So I’m prejudiced) trek into the wonderful vistas of yesteryear. 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. Also? His political satire, “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Joe Biden” is available in print, full-color hardcover and Kindle.