The Time Ranger | When Castaic Calvin Was Almost 1944’s Miss USC

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

Sure love this pleasant May weather. Wish the days and nights could be this way all year long. What say we take some of it back with us on our Saturday trail ride through Santa Clarita history? 

We’ve a most interesting trek ahead, complete with hot CHP britches, a thousand misplaced Indians, Ronald Reagan, streakers, and a local female impersonator from the 1940s who almost became Queen of USC.   

C’mon, saddlepals. Toe in the stirrup, up and, well, NOT over, but into the saddle. We’ve fine steeds underneath and plenty of back canyons to explore … 


WHAT!?!?! NO GOMER!!?? — It was an early morning on May 2, 1884, when two teenage brothers, McCoy and Everette Pyle, were climbing around the hills of what would soon be called Ramona Hills. The mostly empty backcountry would adopt that name, after the wildly successful Helen Hunt Jackson novel, “Ramona.” Later? The place would be called Val Verde. 

There, above today’s Chiquita Landfill, the two teen siblings discovered one of the most significant Indian artifact sites in American history. The cave they found would be named, oddly, Bowers Cave, after the Ventura amateur archaeologist and newspaper publisher who bought the boys’ cache. The amount of the sale price differs, from $35 to $1,500. (That higherend estimate seems dubious in that it would be around $50,000 in today’s money.) Bowers later sold his goodies to the Peabody Museum at Harvard, where they still rest today. The Peabody won’t part with the Tataviam treasure. 

Anywho. Poor “Mac.” Perhaps he suffered some Tataviam curse for raiding the tomb. When he first entered the cave, he wrote, in smoke, “Mac Coy, 1884.” He would become a local lawman. Just a few years on the job, some skunk snuck up behind him in Castaic, put a revolver to the back of his head and blew his brains out. 

MINERS ARE ALLOWED — It’s astounding how rich and deep the history runs here. The state’s first mining district was founded here in the Santa Clarita Valley on May 3, 1842. Ignacio del Valle, owner of the entire valley and also, later, mayor of Los Angeles, was the first chairman. 

THERE AIN’T NO MOOSE IN ACTON — Back on May 4, 1903, the old Bull Moose Himself, President Theodore Roosevelt, stayed at the Acton Hotel. He made a brief stop at the Saugus Train Depot but local lore notes he didn’t step off the train. 

DON’T CALL ME THAT — Not like you’re going to run into him, but President Roosevelt HATED the nickname of Teddy. It was first attached to him in an unkind political cartoon about his politics and hunting. He was holding a weeping baby bear cub. So that’s where “Teddy” bears originated, along with President Roosevelt’s unasked-for nickname. 

WELL. AS LONG AS YOU DON’T CALL THEM THE HART HIGH INDIANS — There are very few things concrete in history. For years, we have been reporting that there were approximately 500 Tataviams in the SCV at the turn of the 19th century. In going over some old records of historian A.B. Perkins, he noted there were as many as 1,500 in 20-some semi-permanent villages. Was it 500 or 1,500? A typing error, and, if so, which way? Now we’ll just have to use the two figures. 

MAY 4, 1924 

SORRY. YOU CAN’T PHONE IT IN — In our modern existence, we take a lot for granted. Back in 1924, there were only few dozen phones in the entire valley. But also, you only could make a telephone call between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., WHICH required making an appointment at Campton’s General Store. If you had an emergency, you had to call (if you could get to a phone) either Constable Jack Pilcher’s office in town (telephone number: 11), or the Forest Service cabin in Saugus (telephone number: 23). You could also forget calling anyone on weekends or holidays.  

QUITE THE HIKE TO MAKE A CALL — Speaking of phones, I just love this little notice. It’s tres small town: “The Bouquet telephone line, being built by the Forest Service, has been completed to within a mile of the goat ranch.” 

GETTING YOUR COW TO TESTIFY ON YOUR, AHEM,  ‘BEEFHALF’ — Judge Port C. Miller’s court was full of an unusual bunch of criminals — ranchers. With the hoof & mouth quarantine, lots of livestock owners were being fined for letting their stock stray or selling them without the proper county inspection papers. Of course, Miller fined several ranchers, then suspended the sentences. 

MIXING IT UP WITH THE CANUCKS — Our own boy, Tom Mix, had one of his silent moving pictures debuting over the hill at the Cody Theatre in San Fernando. It was “North of Hudson Bay,” filmed the year before. I’m guessing it wasn’t a hockey movie. I also have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t shot locally at his Mixville Studios. Interestingly, Mix’s HQ was just a 3-wood shot from William S. Hart’s hilltop mansion. In a valley with a few hundred souls, two of the world’s most famous actors lived practically right next door to one another. 

MAY 4, 1934 

MEAN AND STUPID GO WAY BACK — An arsonist attacked the Newhall Post Office 90 years ago, dropping a couple of lit matches into the mail slot. A few letters and packages were burnt, but beyond that, there wasn’t much damage. 

MAY 4, 1944 

HANDS DOWN, DANG NAB IT, ONE OF SCV HISTORY’S MOST IMPORTANT EVENTS — Cripes this is perhaps my favorite, albeit twisted. Cal Nixon, whose father was the principal of Castaic School, went on to become a freshman at USC. You know. Home of COC’s Vice Dean Eric von Harnish and O.J. Simpson? As a young man, Cal was an ordinary if not homely fellow. But, as a buxom blonde temptress, he was beyond come-hither fetching. You see, Cal, as a prank (or — WAS IT???) entered the Miss USC Pageant. He had a Hollywood makeup artist do his face, donned a curly blonde wig, the necessary hip and bosomy padding, and woman’s clothing. Back then, the Miss USC selection process was simple. You paid a small fee and entered the pageant, then distributed your photographs around campus. People later voted on their favorite beauty. Cal was way ahead in the contest when one of his friends snitched. Jim Hardy, starting quarterback for the Trojans, noted that of all 21 contestants, Cal (or his stage name of Sylvia Jones) was the fairest. What were the lyrics to that old Kinks song? “Walks like a woman and talks like a man … my la-la-la-la-LO-la …” 

GOOD THING IT WASN’T A VOLCANO MOVIE — Thespian Keith Carradine is enshrined in our Western Walk of Stars and 80 years ago, his famous actor father, John, was in town filming “Trail of the Yukon.” The movie company brought in tons of snow to transform the future Melody Ranch (then, Monogram Studios) into an Alaskan frontier town. They also burned part of the Placeritos ranch down for filming. Prophetic. In 1962, much of Melody Ranch DID burn down in the infamous Placeritos Fire. 

94-FOOT SKID? SOMEONE AT CHP HQ TELL ME WHERE I CAN BUY A PAIR OF THESE BRITCHES! — The big show-AND-tell item at the local CHP HQ was Don Baldwin’s britches. The motorcycle patrolman was giving chase at 90 mph when his bike started shimmying. Don’s thought was to let go of the handlebars and sit back in the seat until the bike leveled out. It. Didn’t. Baldwin did a 94-foot skid (they measured) on his butt. The pants, and Baldwin’s heinie, took a few days off for repair. 

THE WRETCHED IRONY OF WAR — Pvt. James L. Whitmire was one of the original employees of Bermite, the big ordnance plant, when it opened here in the late 1930s. He was killed during an accidental explosion at Camp Swift in Texas on this date. 

HOW MANY POST OFFICE BOXES DO WE HAVE NOW? A BILLION? — We continued to grow. The Newhall Post Office reported that some additional mailboxes were installed, bringing the number to a shocking 500. Some rural families had been sharing addresses for years. Of course, the mail tonnage was a tad smaller back in 1944. 

PUNKS: A HISTORICAL CONSTANT — Today, one of our big concerns is youth gang violence. Sixty years back, incumbent District Attorney Fred Howser ran on a campaign to protect citizens from juveniles. 

MAY 4, 1954 

OMG!! GLOBAL WARMING AND GLOBAL COOLING!! — Like, on the same day? I hate to belabor the point (actually, I don’t) but spring weather in Santa Clarita can be absolutely bizarre. Seventy years back, we had a low of 47 and a high of 97 — a 50-degree difference. 

BENJO? — We had our 28th annual Newhall-Saugus Rodeo and tens of thousands piled into the grounds at the Bonelli Stadium (Saugus Speedway today) to enjoy the fest. Some lanky local cowboy named Ben Johnson finished third in the wild cow milking contest. Ben’s face was familiar worldwide. He had been in dozens of Westerns, including “Shane.” Later, he would earn a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in “The Last Picture Show.” 

THE LAST OF JUSTICE — On this date, in the sleepy little neighboring hamlet of Piru, the old courthouse heard its last case. With a bang of the gavel by Judge Fred E. Bagnall, the Center Street courthouse closed down for good. 

MAY 4, 1964 

MAKING ICE CUBES — Here I go again with the weather. The low 60 years back was a perfect freezing in Canyon Country — 32.  

THAT WORKS OUT TO 21 CENTS AN HOUR — The old Beacon Motel was still in operation up Castaic way. They advertised a special rate of $5 per day for two. Stories from the old-timers were that the place was used by a lot of, ahem — cover the kids’ ears — “nooners.” 

MAY 4, 1974 

BRINGING BACK THE VIGILANTES — San Francisquito Canyon has long been a haven for ghosts, miners and outlaw shooters. For the latter, some of the canyon residents decided to fight back. Yahoos kept invading the quiet rural area, shooting everything from water towers and MAILBOXES to cattle and electrical transformers and finally, ranchers said, “Basta!” Actually, they didn’t because basta is Italian AND Spanish for “enough.” But, they did start their own armed posse unit and asked the county supervisors for more law enforcement protection. The Supes, as usual, agreed to study the matter. 

ADIOS, DEAR ART — One of the valley’s biggest movers and shakers of the 20th century, Judge Arthur C. Miller, passed away on this date. He was 73. 

NEWHALL POOL: OPEN FOR ICE SKATING — A couple of factors kept Newhall Pool practically empty. First, it was rather cold. Second, the pool heater busted and swimmers had to brave Northern Atlantic water temperatures. 

WEIGHT WATCHERS MEETING: THROUGH THE DOUBLEWIDE DOORS — Boy. If this didn’t seem like an Old Testament miracle to change your ways, then you were beyond saving. On this date, a group (did it take but one to make a group?) of locals were at a Weight Watchers meeting at the Olde Courthouse Building. They heard a huge rumbling and, at first, thought they were in the middle of an earthquake. Looking up, they saw a pair of legs dangling through the ceiling. Blame the Canyon Theatre Guild. They were in the rehearsal hall upstairs, practicing for “Come Blow Your Horn.” Phil Noell stepped on some old timbers and went through the floor/ceiling below. Fortunately — kind of — Noell hit a support beam and his groin stopped him from plummeting further. 

THE MAN WHO HATED MOVIES — As my mother used to say: “That lousy Phil Lanier.” On this date, The Mighty Signal’s film critic (and my best pal) panned yet another movie. This time, he threw a pie at the Redford/Streisand vehicle, “The Way We Were.” Quoth Philly: “She (Streisand) is undoubtedly a fine singer, but a man, and an audience, can stand only so much. No wonder he divorced her.”  

GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM — He was simply one of our best citizens. On this date, the Rev. Samuel L. Dixon died after succumbing to injuries from a car accident two weeks earlier. The accident may also have resulted from the reverend’s poor health, which he had kept a secret from the outside world. Sam was just 45. 

GRAND OPENING OF HIGHWAY 14 — I don’t know if this means I’m old, or just a really good time traveler, but, 50 years ago, I was sitting on a folding chair in the middle of Highway 14. It wasn’t a college prank. It was the ribbon-cutting to open the last section of the Antelope Valley Freeway. BTW? I wasn’t the only person sitting in the fast lane. There were dozens of the usual rubber chicken/white wine local muckety mucks. Cripes. The ties and lapels were wider than the Highway 14 lanes. 

THE NAKED TRUTH AT COC — Gov. Ronald Reagan had spoken at College of the Canyons earlier, but it was a week later that a plot on his dignity was foiled. Since this was in the middle of the streaker craze (where people ran nude across large public events) extra security was added for the governor’s speech. A ground crew thwarted a nude man who had climbed out of a van and was fiddling with a locked gate. They made no move to arrest the streaker and he and his friends (clothed) drove off. Reagan was rather disappointed. He had prepared a couple of snappy one-liners in case his speech was “streaked.”  

MAY 4, 1984 

ATSA BIG, FAT PORTFOLIO AND THEN SOME — The folks over at The Newhall Land & Farming Co. were smiling. Their previous year’s report came out and das Farm showed a net income rise of 67%, most of that from real estate sales. 

THEY’RE A BUNCH OF LOW-DOWN MANGY DIRTY COMMIE SO-&-SO’s AND THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW — An informal poll among Hart district students showed that of 75 kids asked, most said they would like to learn more about communism. Not that they wanted to be communists. They just wanted to learn more about worst-case-scenario socialism. 


From the car horns and parking lot lights ahead, looks like we’ve reached that point from whence we started. Thanks so much for the company, saddlepals. Hope to see you all next weekend right back here at The Mighty Signal (259-1234) hitching post in a brand new Time Ranger adventure. Until then? I bade you, “¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!”  

If you do love local history and reading about ghosts, myths and monsters, visit Boston’s bookstore at Pick up JB’s two-volume set of local horror and macabre … 

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