The Time Ranger | Our Recent Rains? NOTHING Compared to 1944

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A warm and Western howdy to you dear saddlepals. Hope all’s been well and ducky for all y’all, and then some. 

We’ve a most compelling trek into the back canyons of Santa Clarita’s yesteryears. There’s that time when it was snowing cotton. Then, there was that time we held a meeting to demand tax reform — in 1934. 

On this morning’s trail ride, we’ll visit saints and sinners, heroes and villains. Make sure you pack a poncho. We’ll be riding through one of the worst rainstorms in valley history.  

C’mon. Saddle up. We’ve gee-whiz trivia to collect so that at the next cocktail party you attend, you’ll be brimming with insufferable knowledge … 

WAY, WAY BACK WHEN  

OUR ALMOST NOT-QUITE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES — There’s no calendar link to celebrate. Just thought you saddlepals should know this amazing chap. Henry Clay Needham was one of this valley’s most famous citizens. He died on Feb. 21, 1936, after a most robust life. Old Hank kept running and running for president of the United States as the Prohibitionist Party’s top man. In the off years, he ran for senate. He ran for California’s seat back east in 1922. Hank lost. (Even though well-liked around town, Needham never once carried the Santa Clarita Valley in an election.)  

He was born on June 8, 1851, and there are stories that even as a boy, Needham was a passionate anti-liquor man. He was also a pro-Lincolnite and was against slavery, believing that truly, ALL men were created equal. That was a rather advanced idea in the 1850s. Needham joined the Independent Order of the Good Templars in 1871, advanced through the ranks in Kansas, and moved out here to Newhall in 1889. 

Needham was so politically conservative, that he vigorously fought the construction of a pool hall here in the 1920s, noting: “I have managed to live through almost my three score and ten years and to extort at least some degree of both pleasure and success out of life and have never yet shoved either a cue on the table or rolled a ball in an alley.” Needham urged everyone to vote no on allowing a pool hall in town. The pool hall, and many others, would eventually be built. 

Needham’s great-grandfather, by the way, fought at Valley Forge with George Washington. One of Henry’s prized possessions all his life was a wooden canteen his great-grandpappy carried during the Revolutionary War. Right now, there’s a brand-new business park on his ranch. 

In 1931, John M. Lacy and Bill Clark received permission from the Needham family to go treasure hunting on their Newhall ranch. Seems the men had some clues that a small fortune from an 1880s train robbery in the San Fernando Valley (near Roscoe) was buried somewhere on the Needham property. The bandits were caught, tried, convicted, and served jail time. The treasure hunters dug a hole big enough to bury a train, but didn’t find any boxes of gold.  

Adding insult to injury — AFTER they had sweated mightily looking for the loot, Henry Clay Needham came home and announced that many years earlier, he was taking his buggy into Los Angeles when he passed a suspicious large hole by some oak trees on his property. Hank felt that someone must have buried a chest there, and then retrieved it.  

FEBRUARY 24, 1924 

PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE ’EM!! WE’RE THE TRIPLE-A POLICE!!! — Believe it or not (actually, believe it) but the Automobile Club of Southern California had their own private police division. The group was from the company’s Theft Division and aided local authorities in trying to stop car thefts, which were at a record number so far in 1924. One favored spot for car thieves was the steep Newhall Pass and even steeper Grapevine. The Auto Club also offered a $50 reward for the arrest and conviction of any car thief. 

BACK IN THE DAYS WHEN WE PICNICKED — Here’s something that hasn’t been around for a long time. It’s the Castle Oaks, a shaded picnic area up Soledad Canyon, surrounded by huge oak trees. The place was even more popular after that part of Soledad was paved. 

FEW, FROM PETA, WERE IN ATTENDANCE — One of the biggest barbecues ever in the Santa Clarita occurred on this date. Captain Sinclair sent out around 10,000 invitations for the San Francisquito Canyon fest. A small herd of cattle was butchered for the main course. 

BOBBING FOR APPLES, BOBBING FOR HAIR — Signal Editor Thornton Doelle took on the neighboring Santa Paula School District. Doelle threw a cream pie westwardly, taking on SPSD’s stance on not allowing their teachers — the woman ones at least — to bob their hair. Doelle called the board “Human tombstones” and wrote: “Women who bob their hair show very good sense and we feel that any bunch of trustees who would discharge a teacher for bobbing her hair ought to be taken out and ducked in a lily pond. It is just possible that the aforesaid trustees are all bald-headed and so are not required to take care of a great excess of hair on their domes.” 

FEBRUARY 24, 1934 

TAXING ON THE SENSIBILITIES — Little tidbits like this from 90 long years ago tend to round the shoulders and burden the spirit. The local Tax League met to discuss — what else — tax reform. A small note of irony. The first bit of business discussed was the charging of a “small registration fee” for the club. Most Orwellian …  

FEBRUARY 24, 1944 

SO YOU THINK WE HAD A TON OF RAIN A COUPLE WEEKS AGO? — In just five wet days, the Little Santa Clara River Valley notched more rain than in a regular season. It started with a light snowfall that whitened all local roofs. Then, nearly 14 inches of rain fell from Feb. 19, 5 p.m., until the monster storm cleared on Feb. 22, 5 p.m.  

The monsoon weakened the tracks, causing a 15-train-car wreck at Honby. A yard of snow gathered in the low foothills and every dry creek was a raging river. All the trails and roads leading in and out of the valley were closed if not wiped out in sections.  

The old Saugus Speedway (then, the Bonelli Ranch and Rodeo Grounds) was a lake. My old pal, Walt Fisher Sr. and his family, had to be evacuated from the Nadeau Ranch in Solemint. Adding to the misery, gale-force winds lashed the valley, ripping the roof off of the Herman Johnson home. Power lines fell. The drinking water was fouled. Emergency stations were set up in those buildings not leaking too badly. Even the historic California Aqueduct pipeline was threatened as floodwaters washed away surrounding soil.  

Locals had really gotten their fill of rain. It was just a year ago in January when the valley was hit with an epic storm that dumped 15.38 inches of rain in just 36 hours. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood compared the rivers of the East to the rivers of the West, noting that out here, they’re fine most of the time, but then explode like a “locoed bronco.” 

LET THE CHARIOT RACES BEGIN! — Local Sheriff’s Capt. Harris was lucky he wasn’t arrested by the Highway Patrol for littering. Harris owned a ranch in Ramona Hills (Val Verde) and had wanted to clear his spread of collected junk, from hubcaps to old barrels. He hitched two saddle horses — a major Western no-no — to a full wagon and was going to cart the mess to the San Martinez landfill. Bubbles and Betty Lou (the horses, not the nicknames of two local city councilwomen) bolted, taking the sheriff and wagon for a merry ride while leaving the trash scattered along the road for about 2 miles. Making matters worse, Harris earned the nickname of “Capt. Ben Hur” from the grinning locals. 

FEBRUARY 24, 1954 

AT THE END OF A MOST INTERESTING LIFE — With suburbia we lose those wonderful rough edges that add color to a community. On this date, Rob Somerville died at his mine in Piru. The town character owned 100 acres by Piru Gorge and had lived 60 interesting years before his heart failed. Somerville once fought Jack Dempsey, served in World War I where he lost a leg, was a stand-in for Wallace Beery, and then became a semi-recluse. Despite having one leg, he worked his claim solo and was a quite successful gold miner. Neighbor and country/western singer Stuart Hamblin found his remains. 

FEBRUARY 24, 1964 

THROUGH RAIN, SLEET, SNOW AND THEN SOME — Eve Pullar called it quits. Finally. She had worked for the post office here in the SCV since 1929 and became the Saugus postmaster in 1944. A small measure of change: When she started, the Newhall Post Office sold $1,800 in stamps in 1929. In her last year in Saugus, they sold $113,000. The local post office had six regular mailmen, one rural carrier and seven clerks in 1929. 

THE “SPARTAN” IS SILENT — On this date, The Newhall Land & Farming Co. announced they would build an 18-hole golf course and a 100-room luxury hotel off then Highway 99. They eventually built the golf course. A hotel was eventually built off Magic Mountain Parkway, but in a small compromise, NL axed the adjective, “Luxury …”  

FEBRUARY 24, 1974 

WOULD YOU LIKE US TO CHECK YOUR AIR AND PUNCH YOU IN THE NOSE? — Bud’s Texaco Station in Castaic wasn’t exactly famous for its friendly service five decades back. Local sheriff’s deputies logged 30 complaints within a short period from customers complaining about the Dellantonia family, which owned the shop. Patriarch Richard “Buddy” Dellantonia had been more than scolded for threatening customers with a gun, getting into fisticuffs, and, in general, being abusive. His gas station was going through financial problems. One night, Buddy went home, started drinking vodka and orange juice and started firing his .38 revolver in the house. A bullet came close to his toddler granddaughter. When his daughter-in-law, Rosa, made a move to call the police, Dellantonia shot her between the eyes, then turned the gun on himself, committing suicide. 

ON THOSE OLD, COTTON FIELDS BACK HOME — It looked like a blizzard in Castaic, which wouldn’t be that unusual. But it wasn’t snow that was hanging everywhere. It was cotton. A big double rig from Bakersfield blew a tire coming down the Grapevine, turned over and sent several tons of the white plant sprawling. The wind kicked up and bingo. Cotton, cotton everywhere … 

FEBRUARY 24, 1984 

THE BIG ‘0’ — All this talk of epic rains? So far, NO rain had fallen in the SCV in 1984. The last time it had rained locally was Dec. 23, 1983. It finally DID rain — in early April. We were doused with .02 inches of rain, wet enough to rearrange the dust on people’s cars … 

WORK SOMEWHERE ELSE? FRAZIER PARK? TIERRA DEL FUEGO? — On this date, about 3,000 of the estimated 5,000 workers of the Valencia Industrial Center signed a petition asking the Board of Supervisors to do something about the nightmare traffic jams in Rye Canyon.  

•     •     • 

Well. Speaking of traffic jams, time to leave the past and return to the present. Not to fret. We can disappear and leave our cares next Sunday with a brand new trail ride through Santa Clarita history. 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. If you’ve already got your copy, then leave a kind review on Amazon! 

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