Sure has been a little more than brisk lately, with the cold winds blasting down from the Tehachapis. Make sure the lids to your designer latte sippy cups are firm and you have a significantly fashionable fur-lined cowboy coat and 1,000X hat. We’ve some serious winter Santa Clarita Valley history exploring ahead.
There’s murders, mayhem, prostitute rings and dog fights waiting on this morning’s trail ride.
BIG, FAT CORRECTION
1957. 1857. WHATEVER IT TAKES — Our eagle-eyed (plural) saddlepal, Jody Liss, pointed out a typo in last week’s Time Ranger trek. (It’s actually a Time Ranger column, but we’re just doomed to be poetic devils …) With us’ns having digits the size of bananas and the “9” key being a hair short of a smidge from the “8” key, we accidentally typed in “1957” instead of “1857.” Adding to that, Signal Editor Tim Whyte is deathly afraid of earthquakes and he sometimes faints editing copy to the point you can’t see his pupils. This wouldn’t mean much if the offending paragraph was about a hay bale falling off a pickup truck, or, more importantly, my second-grade on-stage command performance completely in French the subject of which I couldn’t tell you to save my life. But, no. The century-off date referred to the 1857 — NOT 1957 — Fort Tejon 7.9 earthquake, one of the biggest since dinosaur days. I think we actually had a huge 11.17 quake in 1957, but we were hardy souls back then and didn’t whine over a deer head falling off the fireplace mantle. So, thanks, Jody. Oh. And please send money (cash only, no blankety-blank PayPal) to: John Boston; c/o Tim Whyte Earthquake Psychological Counseling Fund; PO Box 221916; Newhall, CA 91322.
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
THE END OF MAC — Back in the 1890s, young Mac Pyle died. One of the teenaged brothers who had accidentally discovered one of the most significant Amerindian caches in American history back in 1884. The Castaic cave would eventually be called Bowers Cave, after the Ventura minister and amateur anthropologist who bought the cache for what A.B. Perkins cited as a sales price of $15. Pyle was one of Ed Pardee’s constables when someone snuck up to him while he was sleeping at present-day Castaic Junction, put a gun to his head and shot him dead. There was another story that Mac died when he walked through the swinging doors of a Newhall saloon and someone shot him in the back of the head.
THE TOWN THAT KEPT ON MOVING — OK. This is confusing. The Newhall Post Office was established in Campton’s General store on Jan. 16, 1877, months after Newhall was founded — in Saugus. Yup. It’s true. The community of Newhall first started where the Saugus Cafe sits today.
KEEP ON MOVING, PART II — One year shy of a day later, on Jan. 15, 1878, the brand-new town of Newhall relocated about 2 miles down the road to around present-day 6th Street and San Fernando Road. Some say it was because there was no water. Some say it was just too windy.
WONDER HOW MUCH THE WHOLE VALLEY WOULD BE WORTH TODAY? — Henry Mayo Newhall, multi-millionaire and big-dog capitalist, bought most of the Santa Clarita Valley for about $90,000 on Jan. 15, 1875. The land was valued as high as $15 an acre and Hank bought it for less than $2 per.
A LONG RIDE TO GIVE MASS — Back on Jan. 17, 1915, we got our second official Catholic church. Our Lady of Perpetual Help was founded right near present-day Lyons Avenue, at Walnut Street. The first church, of course, was the Mission San Francisco, founded at the turn of the 19th century. Priests would ride up from San Fernando to hear confessions, give communion and deliver mass to the few Catholics here in the SCV.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAUGUS CAFÉ!! — On Jan. 18, 1899, brothers Martin and Richard Wood purchased the Tolfree Eating House, which was originally situated inside the Saugus Train Depot. The boys changed the name to The Saugus Cafe and it’s been open pretty much 24 hours for a century-plus. Great open-faced hot turkey sandwiches and killer shakes.
JANUARY 20, 1924
BIG vs. LITTLE — Today, we talk about the unfairness of giant SUVs banging into itty-bitty econocars. A century back was no different. Up Castaic way, a little Model T got the worst of it when it crashed head-on into a big touring Hudson. The two people in the Ford were seriously hurt. The Hudson passengers escaped without a scratch.
JANUARY 20, 1934
NARY A TESLA TO BE SEEN — Fords made up 67% of all cars in California.
BACK WHEN WE WERE SPUDS COUNTRY — Most of you old-timers remember when the Santa Clarita used to be a huge grower of potatoes. It was in the early 1930s when farmers started making the transition to growing the crop. In 1933, we had about 700 acres dedicated to taters. A year later, farmers dedicated a little over 1,000 acres to the crop.
‘WAISIN’ WABBITS’ — E.E. Chitwood went into the Angora rabbit business. It was a pretty good commodity, too, especially during the Depression. The prized rabbit — uh, wool — sold for $5 a pound. The wascally wabbits’ fur could be clipped every three months and each rabbit produced about a buck per. The long-time furniture czar Chitwood had 50 of the varmints. You do the math. The special rabbit fur was prized as one of the finest fibers known to man. It is very soft, gentle to the skin, warm and virtually waterproof. More math: Each rabbit required about $1.50 per year in food.
A BACK DOOR TO THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY — Workers at the Bear Canyon CCC camp used a ton-and-a-half of dynamite to clear a solid vein of iron near Magic Mountain. That would be the one above Sand Canyon, not the amusement park. The boys were building a road through Bear Divide.
JANUARY 20, 1944
THAT LAST GOOD DEED — Boy. What a way to go. On this date, 85-year-old Henry Tuttle, who worked on the old Spalding Ranch in Sand Canyon, had just separated two dogs from fighting and became a bit tired. Hank sat down on a rock to catch his breath and keeled over dead without saying a word.
WHERE THE AMERICAN THEATER MARQUEE CAME FROM — Legendary silent film star William S. Hart appeared in probate court to go over the will of his sister. Mary had died in October the year before and left most of her estate to Bill. Like he needed the money. She also left some cash to build the marquee over the new American Theatre. It’s the American Legion Hall today on Spruce Street.
JANUARY 20, 1954
RUDOLPH WOULD HAVE BEEN TRULY PEEVED — Before Political Correctness, The Mighty Signal would sometimes indulge in a little editorial license in its news stories. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood made no bones about how he felt about four youths who attacked a Finnish reindeer herder in Castaic. Yes. You read that right. A reindeer herder. Arnold Blomberg, former merchant marine sailor, was hitching to Canada to resume his career herding reindeer. He was picked up by what Trueblood called “a vicious rat pack,” which tried to rob Blomberg of not just his money and belongings, but his pants as well. Blomberg put up a good fight and saved his life by vaulting out of their moving car. Local law officials quickly caught up with the gang, beat the holy tar out of them and threw them in the pokey.
PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING EARTHQUAKE COVERAGE — I always get a kick out of the small-town charm of our paper way back when. Our lead story was about a mild tremblor that hit the valley. The headline: “Everything Shuck But Nothin’ Busted.”
ALL THAT WAS MISSING WAS THE CATS AND DOGS — What a day for weather. Same day as the quake, we had rain AND snow here. Sierra Highway, Soledad and the Ridge Route were all closed.
DOWNTOWN NEWHALL: YOUR ONE-STOP COWBOY BOOT-MAKING CENTER — We’ve had a long link with Death Valley (the woman who named it later moved to Newhall in 1849). On this date, the famous desert character, Death Valley Scotty, died. He used to come into Newhall just to have his custom boots made at Monty’s Shoe Store.
JANUARY 20, 1964
IS THERE, REALLY, A SAFEWAY? — On this date, The Newhall Land & Farming Co. filed a petition with the Los Angeles County Planning Commission that they would, pretty please, like to build a 10-acre shopping center on Lyons and put up a Safeway there. They did, too. Today, that grocery store is Vallarta.
THE BEGINNING OF A SERIOUS LACK OF ELBOW ROOM — Same week, L.A. County Planning OK’d several projects for the SCV that would eventually bring in 1,254 homes to the valley.
NEEDLESS TO SAY, SCOTT WAS BOTH BEMUSED AND LIVID — This is what you call, “Irony.” San Francisco Chronicle Editor Scott Newhall had just bought The Mighty Signal. The week before, he introduced an entire new look, complete with the brand-new bald eagle logo. We ran a rather large story about the community response to the change. Wouldn’t you know it, on the jump of the story, the alleged art department botched the layout, pasting two columns overlapping one another, then leaving out two complete paragraphs and replacing them with white space, AND, cutting the “New Look” jump into a story about a water board battle.
JANUARY 20, 1974
I-5 HOOKERS. GOOD BAND NAME. — A ring (coven? covey? pride?) of prostitutes were running a trucker sex operation along Interstate 5, from Castaic to Gorman. They used CB radios to arrange payments and rendezvous (rendevouses? rendevousi?). The CHP even reported some truckers were experiencing HAVING ahem — adult fun — while driving 70 mph.
BRRR AND BRRR AND BRRR SOME MORE — The poor folks back east are shivering right now with the mercury dipping to single digits — and much, much colder. We were shivering ourselves 50 years back and that was indoors. In order to save money, the county turned off the heat at the Valencia County Center. Staff and employees were wandering around the halls in scarves, fur-lined jackets and thermal underwear (underneath).
POOR NEWHALL LAND — They sometimes can’t win for losing. The überdeveloper had originally built a big redwood-framed sign, spelling out “VALENCIA” in flowers. Squirrels ate the flowers. Then, they used sod to replace the flowers. Vandals turned on sprinklers around the sign, eroding part of the hillside and wrecking the sod. A spokesman for the company announced the company would rebuild the sign the third time — in concrete. And so it came to pass …
MONKEY DIVISION. SOUNDS LIKE A ‘LAW & ORDER’ SPIN-OFF — A half-century back, animal control officers had a full-blown — well, monkeyhunt — going on. Where else? North Oaks. A couple of boys reported seeing a spider monkey in their back yard. Word spread and dozens of kids gave chase. When one of the lads tried to pet the creature, said ape bit said boy on the finger. The mini-monkey then bit two other kids in his rampage. The sheriff’s switchboard was overrun with monkey sighting calls. I love this King Kong-esque quote from the ACO (Animal Control Officer): “It seems to be heading down Whites Canyon toward the shopping center, going from backyard to backyard. It’s no use driving around the streets trying to find it. It’s probably up a tree somewhere.” The simian, Jojo, disappeared into the hills overnight but was eventually captured peacefully the next day when he was found in a neighbor’s garage. This, my friends, is the very fabric of history.
DON’T YOU DARE — Some of you old-timers will remember Tony Don’t. Nope. He wasn’t a Mafia don or a breathy endearment in a steamy Pontiac on a moonlit Canyon Country night. Mr. Don’t (pronounced, “don’t” but spelt “d’Honte”) was the gourmet Belgian cook at Joe’s Lounge on San Fernando Road. According to gossip columnist Mimi: “If you order what Joe lists as a ‘burrito’ for local patrons, you’ll get a fine French crepe.”
JANUARY 20, 1984
C’MON ON DOWN! BRING THE ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA!! — John Morelli, manager of the Canyon Country Datsun/Subaru dealership (off Calgrove Boulevard back then) had sent out several helium-filled balloon bouquets with advertisements in them for his business. Several of them landed several days later — in an Iowa cornfield. The farmer who found them, Lawrence Hartfield, called the dealership and was promptly sent a sports coat, coffee mugs, two watches, some baseball hats and a map on how to get to Canyon Country Datsun/Subaru from Iowa.
MEIN KOMP? — Wonder if she has any of it left? On this date, 40 years ago, Valencia resident Ingrid Komp put eight quarters into a slot machine at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, pulled the lever and won $26,330. That’s like a billion dollars today. My dopey sister-like substance, Lisa, around the same time, won $48,000 in Nevada. She was headed out of state at a diner, had a silver dollar, dropped it in a slot machine and ended up buying a house with the prize money.
JANUARY 17, 1994
NOTHING STOPS THE MIGHTY SIGNAL — I still recall the clear, cold January sky and 10 trillion stars above at 4:31 a.m. That was when most of us rushed out of our warm beds, greeted by the 6.7 Newhall Quake. I know. Some call it the Northridge Quake. It’s America. They’re entitled to their opinions. The Mighty Signal hadn’t missed an issue since 1919. Much of the staff worked to get out the next day’s paper and thanks to our friends at the Antelope Valley Press, we did. Lots of grace under pressure from a lot of people in the valley and our outlying neighbors then.
• • •
Well that was just a hoot and three quarters. Sure appreciate the company, dear Santa Clarita friends, neighbors and saddlepals. Let’s meet back here a week from now at The Mighty Signal hitching post (259-1000 for subscriptions!) and do another one. Sound good? 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.