The Time Ranger | Change a Street Name, Start a City…

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger
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Hey saddlepals and saddlepalettes. Hope you survived the New Year intact and are ready for a full-fledged trek into the lore and history of Santa Clarita’s yesteryears. 

Bring a thick range coat with a big collar. We’ve some severe weather ahead, along with crooks, bandits and bootleggers. There’s fallen land barons, dumbing down the high schools and planet-shifting earthquakes. 

C’mon. Make sure your thermoses (thermosi?) are filled with hot beverages and your cinches are tight. We’re headed into the Santa Clarita Valley mystic … 

WAY, WAY BACK WHEN  

WERT ROAD? — Two of them had canyons named after them and I always wonder why the third, who was even more famous, did not. Back on Jan. 8, 1869, the first steps in turning the Santa Clarita into a major oil-producing region were taken by Sanford Lyon, Henry Clay Wiley and the Judge Roy Bean of his day, W.W. “Wert” Jenkins. The trio drilled the first oil well in the area, in Pico Canyon.   

A WHOLE LOT OF SHAKIN’ GOIN’ ON — The third-largest quake on the North American continent that we know about happened just a few miles north of the SCV. On Jan. 9, 1957, at 8:13 a.m., a major continent-busting earthquake that may have registered off the Richter Scale was centered in the Fort Tejon area. It knocked over just about all of the few buildings here in the SCV, including the original Mission San Francisco. Cows, horses and men fell over.  

There was a split at Fort Tejon that was 10 feet in diameter. One mountain man in Frazier Park reported losing his mule into a yawning chasm when the earth split and that he almost fell into the crevice himself from his bedroll. One Newhall woman was killed when her house collapsed on her.  

That Fort Tejon quake expelled 5.5 times the energy of the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. 

OLD IGGIE? — Back on Jan. 10, 1847, the controversial John C. Fremont and his band of tough customers were the guests of SCV owner, Ignacio del Valle. Interestingly, in his diary, Fremont described Iggy as a noble and aged fellow. Aged? Señor del Valle was in his mid-40s at the time. 

ON THE ROAD TO EVERYWHERE — After a couple of days’ rest, Fremont and his small army road through a narrow, sometimes impassable road to the San Fernando Valley and beyond. Today, it’s called Sierra Highway. For many years, it was called Fremont Pass. 

BATTLE PALS — Then, on Jan. 13, 1847, another local, Gen. Andres Pico, had the nefarious distinction of losing to Col. John C. Fremont at what historians call the Capitulation of Cahuenga. The two men met, unarmed, to discuss a peaceful end to the war for California. Pico at one time owned half of the entire San Fernando Valley, but, died nearly a pauper. 

JANUARY 13, 1924 

A JURY OF HIS PEERS? — Despite being caught red-handed with enough bad liquor to float a battleship, C. Eichenhofer was acquitted of bootlegging 100 years ago. It was an exciting case, filled with screaming matches between the two attorneys. Finally, a jury of his Newhall peers (and possibly customers) acquitted the bootlegger on a technicality. 

BONUS? IT WAS OPEN 24 HOURS DAILY — Don’t try dialing this today, but, a century ago, the phone number for the Saugus Cafe was 28-J-4. 

JANUARY 13, 1934 

ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST FAMOUS ENTERTAINERS — Because of his old vaudeville routine, which later became a hit radio show, Charlie Mack was one of the most famous men in America. His blackface routine and characters of The Black Crows earned him a fortune. He built that small cluster of charming rock houses that are still up there at the end of 8th Street today. Charlie died 90 years back and left a sizable estate. You wonder what was his relationship with his brother, Frank. Either Frank was already rich or Charlie was pulling a last joke. In his will, the comedian left everyone in his family a variety of houses. His mother in Tacoma got a house. His daughter Mary Jane got one in Newhall. His sister got a house in Portland. Brother Frank got a watch. Hope it was a nice one. 

HOW WE MADE OUR MOOLAH — Newhall was getting a reputation as a speed trap town. With good reason. People came down the old Ridge Route — or, Violin Canyon Grade as it was also called — like maniacs. A dozen Highway Patrol officers were used just to patrol the downgrade. Things haven’t changed much over the years. People still come roaring down Interstate 5 lickety-split AND by cracky. 

JANUARY 13, 1944 

JUST SAY NO TO UNIONS — Two huge unions had been unsuccessfully trying to organize Bermite and had rented an office near present-day Main Street and Lyons. A vote to bring in the Teamsters and American Federation of Labor (the AFL then) failed by 8% of the Bermite workers. The union organizers left town and Fred Lamkin had to hire painters to blot out the big sign on his property. 

JANUARY 13, 1954 

THE EARLY BIRTH OF THE CITY — It’s funny how seemingly small incidents can have a rippling effect of tidal wave proportions. Early in January 1954, the county of Los Angeles sent crews from their Public Works Department to visit our sleepy Little Santa Clara River Valley (what we were called then) and change some of our street names. Up until 1954, the main drag of Downtown Newhall was called Spruce Street. Early one morning, workers from county came, took off the old street signs and put up the new name of San Fernando Road. Today, it’s Main Street. 

Apparently, no one from the county told anyone in the SCV of the upcoming change. They just showed up and did it. Along with Spruce Street getting the ax, Pico Canyon, which used to run all the way from Mentryville to San Fernando Road, got changed to Lyons Avenue. Supposedly, it was named after one of the Lyon brothers, Sanford the businessman or his twin, Cyrus the famed gunfighter. But, if so, it should be either Lyon Avenue or Lyons’ Avenue. Hill Street was changed to Wayman Street and the old Broadway Street in Saugus was dropped in favor of a simple letter of the alphabet. 

This sent the town into an uproar. First, everyone in the offended areas had to change all their paperwork and get in touch with friends, relatives and creditors to announce the change. It was more than a hassle. 

What was so significant about this (coupled with the changing of EVERYONE’S street address a couple of years later) was it served as another reminder of how the county cared little for the SCV. It would later be part of the fuel to drive locals to seek to create their own municipal government. 

The funny thing is that while the county was demonized for decades for these two huge changes, they didn’t do it without consideration. It seems the county kept sending letters to the Chamber of Commerce and the then-president kept ash-canning them without reply. So, one cold January morning in 1954, our street names were changed. 

THE LEGEND OF BIG BILL — On this date, powerful land baron, politician and commissioner of the State Board of Equalization, “Big” Bill Bonelli, went over to what many in this valley might consider the dark side. Bill switched from the GOP to being a full-fledged Democrat. Bonelli, who was embroiled in a decades-long feud with corrupt state officials and the powerful ownership of The Los Angeles Times, felt the Southern California Republicans were part of a nefarious political machine of graft and intrigue. Bonelli, who lived in the long-gone historic adobe mansion at what is today the Saugus Speedway, owned hundreds of thousands of acres of ranchland in the Southwest, the SCV and Mexico. 

He had rather strong words for The Times: 

“I believe the Democratic Party offers Californians their only protection against the sinister threat of political domination by the Chandler-owned Times-Mirror combine,” said Bonelli. 

“The picture of this scheming Chandler family, owning and controlling a half-billion-dollar empire, with its $50 million a year income is frightening,” Bonelli said. “All forms of business are being invaded competitively by this hungry and cunning group.” 

Those words would help fuel a war during which Bonelli would hide out, flying ranch to ranch, for 17 years. Bonelli had been accused of both racketeering and income tax evasion. He would later receive a rare apology from the federal government for the trumped-up charges. 

ART’S LAST CIGARETTE — Local historian Art Perkins lost his son, Art Jr., on this date. His oldest boy owned a cattle ranch outside Durango, Colorado, and was cleaning out a well. It was an odd tragedy. Perkins died when noxious methane gases combusted. Methane was also called fire damp back then. The blaze was started by either a spark from the water pump or Perkins lighting a cigarette. His wife, Maxine Praeger Perkins, valiantly tried to pull her husband out of the well, but nearly died from the fumes herself. Art Jr. was responsible for bringing back the world-famous Newhall-Saugus Rodeo to the valley after the floods of 1937 wiped out much of the grounds. Art Jr. left behind his father and mother, and brothers Dick and Valentine. 

NOT SO HAPPY A NEW YEAR’S — Another tragedy, this one was closer to home. Roy Lee Winham Jr. died from head injuries after a New Year’s Eve brawl in Pacoima. The Agua Dulce worker left a wife and four young daughters. What a tragedy. 

LONDON’S LAST NAP — All that refrigeration engineer Frank London wanted was a bit of rest and to escape the cold. He pulled off Highway 99 at Pico Canyon to catch a quick nap. London cranked up his faulty Studebaker heater, rolled up the windows and never woke up. The car heater both emitted fatal fumes and overheated to such a point that London was found, partially cooked. Kind of a Robert Service ironic ending, isn’t it? 

RINGY DINGY — In 1954, Newhall had 2,060 telephones. 

JANUARY 13, 1964 

STOP. THE DARN. PRESSES. — Sure was a quiet day for news 60 years back. The lead story in The Mighty Signal was: “Adult Fiction Tops Library Demands.” By adult, they didn’t mean X-rated back then. Adding to the intrigue was the record-breaking month of October for book lending. Mrs. Elaine Buddell, assistant librarian at our only branch then, Newhall, guessed that the reason was that there were no holidays in October, and the library was open more, hence the boost in title movement. Stop the presses. 

JANUARY 13, 1974 

DUMB AND DUMBER — Three decades back, a measure to make it harder to graduate from the William S. Hart Union High School District failed. School board president Tom Hanson felt the kids accomplished little in their stay at the two campuses (Hart and Canyon then) and wanted them to be more steeped in core subjects of reading, writing, and, well, that other one. The measure didn’t pass. In fact, the rest of the board actually changed the standards to make it easier to get a diploma, causing a heated debate. 

THAT WET AND MIGHTY COLD WINTER OF ’74 — After the unusual and heavy snow cleared from the Santa Clarita Valley floor, we were pummeled by another system. That front brought in 8 inches of rain in five days. 

KILLING ME SOFTLY — Bob Callender was arrested for a charge you don’t hear every day — assault with a deadly weapon, in this case, a marshmallow. The College of the Canyons student was arrested after he and a friend were driving around, hitting people from their car with high-powered sling shots. Callender and his friend actually spent the night in jail. The district attorney released them the next morning, refusing to file charges. 

CAVING IN TO DEVELOPERS — The dire predictions of a retired construction worker who helped grade lots in Saugus earlier came true 50 years back. Edward Malloy, a heavy equipment operator, had sent letters two years earlier to county Supervisor Warren Dorn. The whistleblower said developers from the Braewood and Pardee projects forced him to cut corners. “I was sent to the jobs to compact the slopes. I was forced to do such shabby work that I refused to do any more and had to give up my job.” Malloy said the lots were built on fill dirt with very little compaction and that when the first big rain or earthquake hit, the lots, with the houses, would be lost. So it came to pass after a big rain and landslides in Seco Canyon on this date. 

JANUARY 13, 1984 

THE VALLEY WITH A HEART OF GOLD — Two sheets tied to the side of a white van told a small tragedy: “Work for Food-n-Gas. STRANDED. Wife-n-3 Kids. Need Work.” Dave Behrenmeir, an unemployed carpenter, left North Carolina before Christmas to find work in California. He ended up stranded on Lyons Avenue at Kansas Street with no food, no gas and no prospects. His plight drew attention and well-wishers visited the van to drop off food, clothing and money. After a couple of days, Behrenmeir and his family disappeared and we haven’t heard of them since.  

MISSING SNAKES AND BULLS — Local sheriff’s deputies had some beastly problems to work out. Ben Gilmour, 87, was missing his black angus, who wandered out in the wilderness. Our lawmen also had to deal with a 20-foot-long dead boa constrictor found in the middle of Sierra Highway. I think that’s both a first and a local world record for road kill.  

•     •     • 

Darn if it isn’t just a wheelbarrow full of monkeys wandering the back canyons of yesteryear with you dear folks. What say. Next week? Another history trail ride? 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 and Kindle. 

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