The Time Ranger | Big Cow-Catchers & Stealing FOR the Blind

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

Just a perfect darn day to saddle up with a few thousand good friends and neighbors and kick up a little dust back in the day when we had an abundance of the powdery stuff. 

We’ve got forgotten 5-star hotels, crazy and crooked bureaucrats (how time has not changed one iota), an overdue spring cleaning for Hart Park and earthquake-predicting pheasants. 

That’s “pheasants,” as opposed to “peasants.” 

C’mon. Depending on your skill level, you can use the tenderfoot raised platform to climb into your saddle or do one of those rodeo trick rider mounts where you urge the horse into a gallop THEN hop on board. Me? Jeans are a bit weathered in the seat and don’t want to tempt the prairie gods. I’m choosing the former. 

Mystic’s yonder. It’s just a perfect early day in spring to go and fetch it … 


OUR LONG-LOST 5-STAR HOTEL — It started out humbly, as a store around 1888 with a couple of rooms in the back for lodging. Locals jokingly called it “Hotel de Acton.” Its real name was the Acton Hotel and it was started by newspaper publisher Rudolph Nickel. 

Acton was a thriving community — much larger than Newhall and Saugus together — in the 1890s. Trains would drop off tourists for the Woodbine Resort up Aliso Canyon. The tourists would take a stage from Acton to Woodbine. Acton was so prosperous that it was nearly California’s state capital. Nickel noted that he had to expand his little store with the beds in the back. 

Clay was hauled from nearby and a Mr. Mitten formed the bricks right on the spot. The Acton Hotel would become an impressive brick two-story affair in which presidents Hoover, Cleveland, McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt would stay. The place had 14 rooms. 

The stately resort lasted until the 1940s when it was the victim of an arson so violent and filled with melodrama, it deserves its own movie. After the fire, for the next 10 years, folks slowly carried away the place brick by brick, using the material to build patios or outdoor barbecues. 

THOSE LAST THINGS WE NOTICE — “Pronto” was the last word he uttered. The man after whom Vasquez Rocks took their name got his last wish. At 1:35 p.m., March 19, 1875, the gallows trapdoor sprung open in San Jose and California’s most famous bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez, fell through to his death for the charge of murder. I’ve sometimes wondered what those last minutes must have been like for him, the sights, the thoughts, the feelings, the questions of what lies beyond … 

MARCH 23, 1924 

BOARD STIFF — I’d like to bring some of this back into 2004 at 1924 prices. Mr. A. Duarte was selling 1,000 feet of 2-by-8’s in 20-foot lengths. Asking price? Twenty bucks. Of course, you can’t compare prices a century ago to today, but, just ONE of those boards today would cost you about $30. A thousand feet of those 2-by-8’s would set you back $1,500 … 

MARCH 23, 1934 

SNAKE EYES — Our famed silent film star William S. Hart was  recovering from eye surgery and was worried if he’d ever be able to see as well as he did in his youth. Hart was strolling around his castle grounds in Newhall when he heard a threatening and familiar sound … A 4-foot-long diamondback rattler was off to one side of a trail and was coiled up ready to strike. Hart backed away, ran back to his house, came back with a six-shooter and blew the snake’s head off from 30 paces. One shot, too. Don’t know if it was luck, good vision or Western zen. 

EVERYONE’S GOTTA SEE A COW-CATCHER — Figuring the population of the entire valley was around 5,000 souls, this was an amazing crowd to gather in one place. An estimated 4,000 people showed up at the Saugus Train Depot to inspect the brand-new Union Pacific “Streamlined Train.” The ultramodern passenger ship looked futuristic and one snoop noted: “It looks like one piece, from nose to taillights.” One critic commented that the bumper — or cowcatcher as they were called — was too high. A wandering steer on the tracks might end up derailing the high-speed vehicle. 

WHERE’S ALL THE KIDS? — Can you imagine this today? The valley’s entire high school graduating class of 1934 consisted of just 15 students. Of course, there wasn’t a high school in the Santa Clarita Valley and our teens attended San Fernando High back then. 

RE: THE ABOVE — I can’t remember the exact year, but Newhall Avenue’s icon, Lou Calzia, played on the San Fernando High football that not only won the CIF championship but also went undefeated and UNSCORED UPON!  

MARCH 23, 1944 

THERE’S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN… — Garner Brown replaced E.C. Marty as head sheriff here in Newhall on this date. Capt. Brown had primarily a city background so moving to the boonies was a bit of an adjustment. Even though it was much quieter than in L.A., it wasn’t like there wasn’t anything to do. His territory back then was 1,000 square miles. 

I LOVE THE SMALL-TOWN MISCHIEF OF THIS ONE — Jake, a downtown merchant, had been complimented by Signal Editor Fred Trueblood for his huge new blind in his east-facing window. Fred noted how much nicer it made the business look, plus, it kept out the harsh morning sun. Fred wanted to know how much the improvement cost. The businessman thanked Fred but noted: “Didn’t cost me nothin’. You and the rest of my customers paid for it.” Trueblood didn’t recall making any such payment. “Yes, you did,” said Jake. “I put a little box on my counter that said ‘FOR THE BLIND’ and you all put in your donations.” Not that Jake actually did pull such an inspired albeit slightly wicked stunt, but if he did, I don’t think he could get away with that one today … 

MARCH 23, 1954 

THE PHEASANT EARTHQUAKE SCALE — Irene Nicklas owned a ranch in Weldon Canyon and had a pretty sensitive seismographic system worked out to detect earthquakes. She owned a pair of Chinese pheasants who were ultra-sensitive to the slightest movement in the earth. She kept a chart of every time they started to frantically cackle. Sure enough, even if it wasn’t felt by humans here, there was an earthquake of some size somewhere in Southern California to correspond with the pheasants’ loud protests. 

MARCH 23, 1964 

PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS — If you’ve ever been to the south side of Hart Park, you’ll note there are many mature trees and campgrounds there. The park didn’t exactly come that way. L.A. County gave permission for an entire passel of community groups, like Rotary, the Jaycees, Kiwanis, Lions and Boy Scouts to name a few, to plant trees and create the campgrounds that are still there today. 

RE: THE ABOVE — With the city o’ SClarita planning to take over park operations from the county, might not be a bad idea to have someone flirting with smart to walk around those back areas and fix the many eyesores, non-working latrines, rash of Thou Shalt Not Postings and Orwellian excuses for nature that haunt that back section today … 

RE: THE ABOVE — Yeah. You heard me. 

MARCH 23, 1974 

COUGAR CHEAPSKATES — Faculty at College of the Canyons asked the trustees for a raise 50 years back. Seems the state average was $16,651 for junior college professors and was about $750 less at COC. Did the Cougar teachers get the increase? Eventually. 

WHEN ‘MASS TRANSIT’ WAS DEFINED AS WALKING — The Chamber of Commerce was fighting mad. They kept complaining that while the SCV dug deep and paid taxes for mass transit here with the Rapid Transit District, they didn’t have a single penny’s worth of mass transportation. 

NO BUTTS ABOUT IT — On this date, my sibling-like substance, John Peters-Boston, won The Signal’s Jr. Art Contest. “Hondo,” as I still call him, drew a panel on streaking (where you take your clothes off and run through a public place). Hondo was 9 when he won the $2 first place money. Hm. Nine? Fifty years back? Doesn’t that make him — SIXTY — this September? Two years from Social Security? Excuse me a moment while I go into the other room and laugh like a maniacal hyena … 

THOSE LYING SO-&-SO’S OVER AT THE COUNTY — The Mighty Signal urged, in its editorial, that we not allow the county and state to destroy the huge oak, which was in the path of widening Lyons Avenue. The road engineers did, though, claiming the massive tree was dying and posed a hazard. Turned out it was healthy as Mother Nature Herself … 

AND THAT’S ANOTHER REASON WHY WE HAVE A SECOND AMENDMENT — More controversy with the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation. Their Mint Canyon neighbor, Philomine Ratzlaff, started taking a shotgun with her down the dirt road to her mailbox. Seems a couple of her Christian neighbors tried to shove her into their car. 

RE: THE ABOVE — Is it just me or does the name, “Philomine Ratzlaff” just beg for a “Mwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha” at the end? 

MARCH 23, 1984 

OUR CRAZY & CROOKED LITTLE AGENCY — Perhaps the most controversial government body in local history was The Northwest Los Angeles Resource Conservation District. Their board of directors had amassed a huge war chest and spent it on themselves, with trips to Hong Kong, 5-star hotel suites, cars, bicycles and a lengthy list of self-indulgences. The board was also paneled by a then-current felon and an institutionalized mental patient (who signed himself out to attend official business). Meetings were highlighted by fist fights, intrigue and fraud. On this date, the county pulled the plug on the little agency, removing the last remaining $50,000 from their bank account. 

IF IT WERE MONOPOLY, THEY’D BE BALTIC & MEDITERRANEAN — On this date, The Newhall Land & Farming Co. made $16.8 million with the splash of the pen. They sold two of their big mobile home parks — Greenbrier and Cordova, both in Canyon Country.  

FORGET SPRING. SUMMER’S SPRUNG. — Lately, we’ve been blessed with just Garden of Eden like weather. But, four decades back on this date, it was 100 degrees. Ouch and everybody run, Global Warming … 

•     •     • 

Amen boy howdy. You can always tell when we start heading toward our own, personal time portal back to the Here & Now. The horses pick up their gaits a smidge, in anticipation of hitting the stables and some well-deserved brushing down and pony vittles. Happy spring and thanks for the company, saddlepals. See you in seven. ¡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. If you’ve already got your copy, then leave a kind review on Amazon! 

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