The Time Ranger | Remembering, Jean, a Non-Famous Santa Claritan

The Time Ranger
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Small confession? I’ve been simply humbled over how beautiful Santa Clarita has been through late winter and early spring.  

What’s ahead? 

Everything from Santa Clarita Valley mastodons to an amazing story about how a toddler survived a plunge over a 200-foot embankment.  

Not only that, we’ll ride over to Saugus High, back when it was called High School No. 3. There’s crimes, kooks, floods, submarine attacks, winos, mad scientists … 

Heavens. Enough jawing.  

Let’s mosey into yesteryear and see for ourselves … 

WAY, WAY BACK WHEN  

CUANDO ERAMOS MEXICANOS — Before we were Americans, Santa Clarita belonged to Mexico. On March 26, 1821, we became the territory of Alta California. 

IGGY AND HIS DARN BIG FAMILY — Ignacio del Valle was one of the top 10 most influential people in the history of this valley. For one thing, he owned it. Iggy was a premier mover and shaker in Southern California politics, holding several important offices. He was even mayor of Los Angeles. Poor fellow died on March 30, 1880. He had more than enough people to attend his funeral. Don Ignacio had around 100 people in his family. That was a killer come mealtime.  

TREE TIMES — Back in the days of the Tataviam and Chumash, from Sand Canyon to Newhall, out to Castaic and beyond, it was all one big grove of white and live oaks, sycamores and willows aplenty. All those trees and shrubbery — along with a human population of about 500 — helped keep the water table higher. Creeks flowed year-round. The Santa Clara River, at Castaic Junction, was more of a full-roaring river than a creek, year-round. Speaking of water, it was both a blessing and a curse. About three times a century, we were hit with epic flash floods. Then, there was the St. Francis Dam Disaster. Both the old raging waters and the state’s second worst manmade disaster helped wash away centuries of Indian artifacts. 

LIKE, WAY, WAY, WAY, WAY BACK WHEN … 

OUR GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, ETC., YADA-YADA RELATIVES — The radiocarbon dating has been questioned, but there are reports of the presence of man on Santa Rosa Island 47,000 years ago and at the Calico site near Barstow where man may have been dining on mastodons 50,000 years ago. A good portion of the professional archaeological community disputes these numbers. Historian Jerry Reynolds reported “stone choppers, scrapers, and projectile points have been found, some dating back 18,000 years.” That figure may be a bit liberal, too, depending on whom you ask, but the tools were found at Agua Dulce Springs years ago. Scientists do agree that at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, our relatives were running out of big game animals like giant sloths and giant buffalo — giant just about everything. Around 6,000 years ago, they started supplementing their diets with more acorns, seeds and smaller game. This is known as the Early Period or Millingstone Horizon and it lasted until 1800 B.C.  That’s when people stopped migrating as much and settled in semi-permanent villages. 

MARCH 30, 1924 

I’LL CALL YOU LATER. MUCH LATER. — The Mighty Signal went to war with The Telephone Company. In a brash front-page editorial, we echoed the complaints of local citizens that the phone giant had to pay more attention to the SCV. With less than 100 phones here, our service then was only offered between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. If you wanted weekend calling, you had to wait until Monday. At 7 a.m. We also noted: “There should be two telephone operators instead of one at present …” 

CITYHOOD, A CENTURY AGO — All the way back on March 28, 1924, The Signal (did I mention, 259-1000 for subscriptions?) urged that the valley be incorporated into a city.  

MARCH 30, 1934 

OUR LAST CONNECTION TO THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES — Manassas couldn’t kill him. Old age did. George W. Freeman died on this date. That name may not mean much, but he was Newhall’s last surviving Civil War veteran. He was 91. 

SOME EVEN REPORTED SEEING NOAH FLOATING BY — We had a pretty big gullywhopper of a flash flood pass through, hitting just San Francisquito Canyon. It washed out sections of the road. 

MARCH 30, 1944 

PUT ME DOWN FOR 10 OF THEM — How’s this for a nice real estate price: A 10-acre ranch in Placerita Canyon, with a modern five-room house, barn, outbuildings and three guest cabins, with well water and arena — asking price? Just $7,500. If you didn’t have that kind of cash, they’d take $1,500 down and $50 a month.  

MARCH 30, 1954 

WINO. WINER. WINEST. — On this date, a big rehab center opened up on Bonelli Mesa. Odd thing, not a single newspaper in L.A. County, including The Mighty Signal, bothered to cover the ribbon cutting, presided over by L.A. Mayor Poulsen and police chief Parker. Most locals didn’t care for the idea and called the place The Wino Farm. 

BEGGING FOR MARCHERS — If you’ve ever been involved with the Fourth of July parade, you can appreciate chairman Fred Trueblood’s lamentation. As usual, it was tough if not impossible to get people to attend the planning meetings, especially the early ones. Wrote the former Signal editor: “I urge, plead, beg and pray that all service and civic organizations name delegates and get them out to this meeting.” 

RODEO-DEO-DEO — While this time of year we’re anticipating our annual world-famous Cowboy Fest, 70 years ago, we were getting ready for our world-famous Newhall-Saugus Rodeo. A little trivia for you saddlepals and saddlepal-ettes. Pecos, Texas, was the site of the first rodeo where they gave cash prizes. That was back in 1883. There were only two events: steer roping and bronc riding. Prescott, Arizona, was home to the first rodeo that charged admission. That was in 1888. Besides the impromptu events at the Rancho San Francisco in the 19th century, the valley’s first official public rodeo was at the present-day location of Newhall Elementary in 1920. It moved to the present-day Saugus Speedway the next year. 

‘ORANGE’ YA GLAD TO SEE ME? — The Newhall Land & Farming Co.’s horticulturists were hard at work creating a new strain of navel orange. The orange was created by Paul Hackney, orchard manager of Walter D. Newhall’s Duarte spread. Hackney noted an unusual hybrid branch on a tree and made some cuttings. He took them to grow at his home on the Newhall Ranch and grafted them. Hackney noted that the new orange was better colored, larger, and had a higher sugar content. The varmints liked the new orange, too. In 1953, rats chewed up and destroyed 150 of the trees. 

MARCH 30, 1964 

BLUE JEAN — Mrs. Jean Topping never ran for office, robbed a liquor store, or chaired a water board meeting. But, she deserves to be recognized in the local history archives as one of the best people to ever live in this valley. She died too young. But, in Jean’s heyday, she was a heck of a torch singer and actress. The secretary of Santa Clarita Elementary on this date starred as “Mrs. Bramson” in the Newhall-Saugus Community Theater play. Wish all of you would have known this very special, larger-than-life gal. Still thinking of you, doll … 

GEEZ, ED. WHY DIDN’T YOU ASK IF THEIR WIVES OWNED SHOES? — I just love the old Ed Murdock “Question Man” series in The Mighty Signal. Sixty years back, Ed asked a dozen men: “Does Your Wife Wash Your Car?” The answer was a rather self-defensive and flinching “No.” 

MARCH 30, 1974 

AND IT SHOWS NO SIGNS OF LETTING UP — For thousands of years, there had been less than 500 people in the entire valley. Heck. That was the population just a scant century ago. In the years 1972 and 73, the population of the valley increased at a rate of about 4,000 people per year — or, 8,000 new souls here. The Chamber of Commerce reported the figures so that we could get more gasoline during the Arab Oil Embargo. 

‘HIGH SCHOOL NO. 3.’ WHAT AN ABSOLUTELY SWANK BAND NAME!!! — For a while, Saugus High (home of Signal Editor Tim Whyte for 11 years) was not Saugus High. A lone dissenting Hart school board member objected to calling the soon-to-be-opened school, “Saugus.” Why? It was “too broad a name.” For a while, the future Centurion campus was called, “High School No. 3.” 

FROM THE HOW DAMN DUMB DO YOU HAVE TO BE DEPT. — OK. Here’s the Unasked-For Time Ranger’s Parental Tip No. 1. Never — EVER — leave your kid unattended in a car. On this date, a Saugus woman ran out of gas near the Placerita/Sierra Highway intersection. She was with her 3-year-old daughter. She and the girl were picked up and taken to her husband’s work, where she got his car and some gas. She drove back to her vehicle to switch cars, leaving her young one in the front seat for just a second while she went back to her husband’s car for her purse. That’s when the toddler released the parking brake and the car rolled backwards over a 200-foot embankment. The horrified woman ran to try and catch the car but slipped. Beyond luck, the car was wrecked but the little girl suffered only minor scrapes and abrasions. And, probably a few nightmares. 

FIGHTING THE COUNTY OAK KILLERS — Marguerite was the wife of valley historian A.B. Perkins. She and her husband came to the valley the same year The Signal was founded — 1919. She had undergone health problems in 1974 and, two weeks earlier, had witnessed her Kansas Street house being bulldozed to make way for the widening of Lyons Avenue. Despite all the problems and her ill health, she volunteered to chain herself to the Lyons Oak. That grand tree, 500 years old, was eventually cut down to widen Lyons. The county claimed the epic tree was diseased but, after it was cut down, that claim had turned out to be a lie. Marguerite was on the losing end of another fight to save an oak 20 years earlier when they widened Highway 99 (today, The Old Road) where Wal-Mart in Stevenson Ranch is near today. 

PLAYING A GAME OF CHICKEN — Most of us make fun of the CC&Rs — those oftentimes strict rules & regulations governing planned housing projects in the SCV. I can kind of understand the reasoning. Neighbors of a woman who had a large chicken coop in the backyard of her Skyblue Mesa tract home were tearing their hair. Seems the roosters were keeping everyone awake all night and the flies were a plague. County Health eventually showed up and offered a small warning to clean the place up. 

DO NOTHING. TELL NO ONE. — What if you had the medium but no message? That was the dilemma facing billboard owners on Sierra Highway. When a section of the new Highway 14 opened a few years earlier, most of the traffic bypassed Sierra. For almost two years, the signs — a dozen of them — which had hawked everything from cigarettes to Las Vegas hotels, were still blank. 

THE LIFE OF A COP IS NOT EASY — Many of you may still remember Phil Vanatter, the lead detective in the infamous O.J. Simpson murder trial. Thirty years earlier, it wasn’t any easier on the younger man, then a sergeant with the L.A. Police Department. Vanatter had a case in which four boys, all around 15 years old, walked into the yard of an elderly man in the Fairfax district and shot him dead, just for the fun of it. After retirement from the O.J. farce, Phil put the darker times behind him, horseback riding in the Santa Clarita. 

MARCH 30, 1984 

ANOTHER FAMOUS COWBOY — Santa Clarita just may lead the entire planet in the category of famous cowboys. We have dozens upon dozens enshrined in various Western halls of fame, including the national Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. It seems like yesterday to me, but, 40 years ago, the valley was still full of actual, everyday working cowboys, including Eddie Adamek. Ed was a rodeo star for — get this — 50 years. The SCV trick roper lived in the valley since World War II.  

•     •     • 

Eesh. Wasn’t that just one hoot of a ride? There are weekends, dear saddlepals, where I wouldn’t mind just getting off the horse, sitting down with an oak as a back rest and just taking in the quiet. But and alas, here we are, in the holy Here & Now. Appreciate the company, dear friends and neighbors. See you in seven? ¡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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