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John Boston | SCV Nuclear Warheads & 2 Presidents Here!

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

Well howdy, dear Santa Clarita saddlepals. Hope I’m not too early. But, just outside, I’ve got several thousand noble steeds all saddled up and ready for our Signal Saturday trail ride through local history. It’s a two-for-one weekend with not one, but TWO American presidents visiting the Santa Clarita Valley. We’ve got weapons of mass destruction, a possible accomplice to the legendary bandit Buffalo Tom Vernon, and our own American Graffiti nights. For those of you in those second- and third-story condos and townhouses, no jumping from the balconies into the saddle. It’s hard on the horse and doesn’t exactly do wonders for your own personal plumbing … 


TWO OF HIM WOULD MAKE 10-FOOT-12 — April 25, 1891, President Benjamin Harrison briefly stopped at the Saugus Train Station back when it was across the street from the present-day Saugus Cafe. “Little Ben,” as was his unasked-for nickname, was one of the shorter commanders-in-chief at 5-6. He also was one of those presidents who lost the popular vote but won resoundingly in the Electoral College, 233-168. 

AND THERE WASN’T A SINGLE FREE BERCAW GENERAL STORE T-SHIRT TO BE SEEN — Again, same exact day, but this time in 1906, the Bercaw General Store held its grand opening in Surrey. SURREY BUT WITH NO FRINGE ON TOP — OK. Let’s shed a little light on that above item. If it weren’t for the Post Office, today, we might have the Surrey High Centurions, the Surrey Speedway, and the Surrey Cafe instead of the Saugus Cafe. For a short period of about four years, the big question in the valley was what to call the area currently around the Saugus Cafe — Saugus or Surrey? 

It’s a bit puzzling, but here goes.  

The Saugus Train Station opened its doors On Sept. 1, 1887. The little area around it was dubbed “Saugus” after Saugus, Massachusetts, boyhood home of town founder Henry Mayo Newhall. Around the same time, merchant O.C. Bercaw moved the post office from his store in Soledad to the Saugus train depot. But, he called the post office, “Surrey.”  

Smart money feels it was because his relatives hailed from Surrey, England. Bercaw built a hotel (called the Surrey Inn), an ice house (called the Surrey Ice House), and a general store. Uh, no. It was called Bercaw’s General Store. Bercaw’s friend, Martin Wood, operated the Saugus Café, and his blacksmith shop was called the Saugus Blacksmith Shop and, later, Wood’s Garage. People got quite a kick out of the humorous “feud” between the two friends, Wood and Bercaw.  

The south end of town was called Surrey and a few inches away to the north was Saugus. It finally got so confusing, the post office stepped in and officially dubbed the town Saugus on Sept. 4, 1915. And it’s been thus ever since. Story goes, the SCV Historical Society supposedly still has an envelope with a Surrey, CA, postmark on it.  

IT DON’T STAND FOR SAMANTHA — Adding to the confusion, do you know what the “S” in William S. Hart stands for? Yup. Surrey. It’s just a coinkydinky, which, copy desk and Pat Comey assure is an acceptable Scrabble word … 

APRIL 27, 1924 

AND THE CLEANING DEPOSIT WAS 29¢ — How would you like to take this real estate deal back into the 21st century? The Santa Barbara National Forest (precursor to the Angeles and Los Padres) was offering home site rentals. Summer homes could be built on some heartbreakingly beautiful land on federally protected property. You couldn’t buy, but you could enter into long-term rental agreements for up to 15 years for just $10-$25 a year. 

CRIPES THE GROUND MUST HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY GERM RICH — More background on the big Hoof and Mouth epidemic of 1924. Just about everyone owning property in the SCV and throughout California was required to build disinfectant sheep dip or creosote troughs on their property. Not only did you have to wash your livestock, pets, and yourselves, but also, your car tires AND your shoes (if you had ’em) for every trip off your property. 

APRIL 27, 1934 

BUFFALO TOM’S LONG-LOST PARTNER? — One of our larger historical bookmarks in this valley was that we were the site of the great Saugus Train Derailment Robbery of Nov. 10, 1929. Buffalo Tom Vernon, a lost-soul wanderer and cowboy, confessed to the spectacular crime and that he acted alone. He would serve nearly 40 years for that robbery. But on this date, five years after the wreck, Jess C. Rumsey confessed that he was the one who wrecked the train and that Vernon was innocent. Not too many people believed Buffalo Tom’s innocence, especially after his signed confession. But there was a nagging question. How could a small-sized man like Tom move those big railroad track sections by himself? Was Rumsey his accomplice? Side note? Several folks, possibly Catholics with guilt issues, confessed afterward to derailing and robbing the passenger train in Saugus. Lots of extra paperwork and heavy sighs for law enforcement … 

A LOT OF PEOPLE GAVE A HOOT — An estimated 21,000 folks came out this weekend to catch the big rodeo at the Hoot Gibson Arena (today, the Saugus Speedway). Cowboys from as far away as Canada came out to compete. Our own Andy Jauregui, a Basque, took first place in calf roping as did Newhall’s Dolores Steelman in the women’s version.  

THE GUNS OF SALINAS SNAKE — Ranch hand Johnny Walters, who went by the handle of “Salinas Snake,” stole three handguns from the B & Y spread up Mint Canyon and disappeared out of state. Ol’ Double S later repented, sending a letter to the owner saying that he buried the pistols near a telephone pole in Railroad Canyon. A prospecting expedition dug up the weapons. 

STONES OF THE ST. FRANCIS — Sometimes there’s a story even in the most seemingly innocuous structure. On this date, Mrs. Sarah Gifford, Newhall’s first citizen, had a stone wall built around her Market Street home. Many of the stones were local, but she had several imported, including rocks from the Boulder and ill-fated St. Francis Dam and from the original Los Angeles Courthouse.  

APRIL 27, 1944 

DEAD STEER WEATHER — The unusually cold April continued. What made it odd was the freezing winds that went with it. Even though there was a half-inch shower that passed through, some cattlemen were shooting their steers. Downtown Newhall hit a low of 21 — not counting the wind chill. 

SOMETHING YOU JUST DON’T SEE ON MAIN STREET TODAY — Apparently, Lorraine Underwood’s horse had an irrepressible urge to go jogging. Ms. Lorraine chased the steed a mile-plus, on foot, all the way into downtown San Fernando before being able to throw a noose around it. 

RE: THE ABOVE? — For you yuppies on your first trail ride today, AFTER you throw your lasso around the horse, the next step is to gently pull said steed toward you, offering a minimum of curses and a modicum of praise and encouragement, insincere as it may be … 

APRIL 27, 1954 

TWO MORE AND YOU HAVE ENOUGH TO MAKE A BEDSPREAD — Jim Salmond had some extra yard work. The gophers were so bad on his property, he had to set a rather lengthy line of traps. In one week, Jim bagged 28 of the varmints. 

CENSUS: 42 LIONS IN CASTAIC — The SCV launched its third Lions Club 70 years back with the addition of the Castaic branch. There were 42 Castaicean males who applied for membership. 

APRIL 27, 1964 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MUSTANGS — Terry Houck, part owner of Clymore Ford, unveiled a brand-new car at his Newhall agency on this date 60 years ago. It was called, “the Mustang …” 

MAJOR GARRETT — He would become one of the best athletes this valley ever produced and a Major League ballplayer. On this date, Hart High’s Greg Garrett fanned 17 batters in a 6-1 trouncing of Thousand Oaks. Seventeen. Garrett only faced 22 batters in seven innings. Greg would end up pitching in the majors, where he continued his legacy of being a character. Starting one evening for the Angels, he showed up minutes before the game, mud-encrusted, covered in oil, and filthy. Greg had spent the day racing motorcycles at Indian Dunes. After baseball, he got into powerlifting and was one of the strongest men in the world. He also played softball in the local leagues and there are home runs Greg hit that still haven’t come down from the ionosphere … 

APRIL 27, 1974 

HIGHWAY OF DEATH The state Division of Transportation put a big red X through their plans to build a freeway on Highway 126. Eventually, the road would be straightened, widened and made safer. The narrow curvy road accounted for hundreds of accidents and dozens of deaths over the years. Sometimes, the deadly legacy of the St. Francis Dam culled more dead souls. The road had been lined with 500 eucalyptus trees, which grew immense, and hapless motorists would lose control, veer off the road, and smash into them. 

NOT THE TENNIS SHOE — For years, a missile battery stood quiet guardian in the mountains above Sand Canyon, just past Bear Divide, on Mount Gleason. Another was miles to the east on Magic Mountain. That would be the ORIGINAL Magic Mountain, above Sand Canyon, not the amusement park en route to Piru. Those Nike sites, along with 14 others in the Los Angeles area, WERE shut down in 1974 after the U.S. and the USSR signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972. The 10,710-pound missiles, which were capable of carrying nuclear warheads, were dismantled and eventually taken out. There has been some debate about whether the Nikes in our hills carried nuclear warheads.  

MORE SCV ATOMIC MISSILE STUFF — In the 1950s, the 1st Battalion 56th Artillery unit was stationed at present-day Tick Canyon, off Shadow Pines Boulevard. Also, up Soledad, near the present-day gravel plant, was a Nike Ajax site, which was later converted to house Nike Hercules missiles. These two military installations — one at Shadow Pines and the other atop Bear Divide — were among those 16 missile bases surrounding Los Angeles. Besides protecting various hot targets, L.A. had just tons of aerospace industry locations that needed protection from the USSR, China and other hostiles.  

AND YET MORE SCV ATOMIC MISSILE STUFF — There was a 32-home army housing area in Sand Canyon, just for officers, senior enlisted, and their families. The names of those two streets? Able and Baker. Those streets are still here today, across from Rancho Maria, with the original Able/Baker names z… 

SPECIAL TIP OF THE STETSON TO — Pat Comey for his spy reports on the Nike missile info! 

THE JELLYBEANSTER HIMSELF — As governor, Ronald Reagan made his first public appearance in the SCV. He officiated at the dedication of the COC Bonelli Center. The BC was COC’s first permanent building, at a cost of $3.25 million. The center was named after Bill Bonelli II, who served on the original board of trustees. Reagan, by the way, had been here before, twice in the 1950s to speak at the Hart Auditorium for General Electric. The man who would become president of the United States barely made the newspaper when he spoke at the Hart Auditorium … 

THE SHORT-LIVED GOOD OLD DAYS — Alas, it didn’t last very long, but for a brief time, we had our own “Cruise Night” here in the SCV a la the Wednesday parade up and down Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley that had been a tradition since the 1950s. Hot rodders from all over would come up to motor up and down Lyons Avenue. As usual, a few bozos put their size one hats together to spoil our event, throwing water balloons and wreaking small havoc for the many. Another point — the ’70s sure weren’t the ’50s … 

APRIL 27, 1984 

CROOKS AND IMBECILES IN GOVERNMENT? SAY IT AIN’T SO!!! — Finally, after a litany of pie-throwing, graft, and mismanagement, the Board of Supervisors acted to close down the comic little bureaucracy with the long handle: The Northwest Los Angeles Resource Conservation District. For years, the agency collected a small percentage of county property taxes. In its later years, the directors of the poster child of government graft wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavish vacations, buying matching cars, bicycles, and, in one instance, a house. Even though the supes were aware of the purchase, it took them four years to finally get around to shutting the brigands down. 

•     •     • 

As I like to say among my friends, “Absolute Christmas!” spending another weekend atop a tall horse with you dear saddlepals. Do come back next Saturday here to The Mighty Signal (259-1000 for subscriptions!) hitching post and we’ll mosey out for another exciting Time Ranger adventure into the back canyons of SCV lore and history. Until then? “¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!”  

If you do love local history and reading about ghosts, myths and monsters, visit Boston’s bookstore at 

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