The Time Ranger | Hookers, Ka-Blooeys & Gerald Ford 

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

Katie bar the door, what in Heaven’s name are you dear saddlepals doing? Me? The ponies? We’re stretching our necks toward the east and if I’m not mistaken, there seems to be the slightest hint of dawn. 

C’mon. The sins of Friday night are forgiven. It’s a new day and what more refreshing way to greet it than with a time ride through Santa Clarita glorious and epic yesteryear? 

We’ll visit the last of our local Indians, Johnny Fustero. We’ll say howdy to wildcatters, crooked bureaucrats, hookers and almost-president Gerald Ford’s visit to CalArts. 

And, not to worry. If you’re bringing designer lattes and herb-type teas back into our local time continuum, none of us old-timers will laugh at you. 

Much … 


DOUBLE WHOOPSIES — Our eagle-eyed saddlepal Patrick Comey (Hart Class of 1969, graduation pending) pointed out a pair of glaring errors made right on this very horse trail last week. First, an inability to stretch the fingers accounted for me writing that William S. Hart died in 1846. I must have been referring to a previous life. Let the record reflect that dear “Two-Gun” Bill died in June 1946. Geez. What the heck was he doing for that missing 100 years? Anywho. Also. Another errant key stroke and I typed a graf about Oscar-winner Spencer Tracy shooting a film out here in the Valley de SClarita “60 years ago” in 1944. Should be, and, math being what it is, 80 years ago. If either thespian were still around today, The Mighty Signal send them each a dozen Costco hot dogs, a six-pack of Grape Nehi, two Signal subscriptions at 15% off and we’d send over 12 fetching and giggling Time Ranger coed interns to wash their cars. Note to self? Pay attention, Mr. Ranger!!! 


THE LAST OF OUR LOCAL INDIANS — Back on June 30, 1921, the valley’s last known full-blooded Tataviam Native American, Juan Jose Fustero, passed away. He was 80. Fustero was a colorful fellow and we’ll never know his real Native American name. He was given the handle of “Juan Jose” as a generic handle that many Anglos called Mexicans or Indians during the day. As for “Fustero,” when the Piru native went to a Ventura court to register some property, the judge could not pronounce his Tataviam handle, which may have included some tongue-clicking sounds. The judge asked what the man did for a living and he said he made “fustos.” That’s Spanish for saddletrees (the wooden frames that are under the leather). So, the Piruianite was called Juan Jose Fustero (maker of saddletrees). 

The Tataviam was a well-liked and sought-after fellow. Some around here thought he had discovered Joaquin Murietta’s alleged missing fortune. Why? Because Fustero would show up at the stores around town constantly with new $20 gold pieces or bags of gold. Seeing that Fustero lived in a primitive lean-to abode, half shack and half-wickiup, they couldn’t imagine where he was getting that kind of money. Folks used to trail Fustero from a distance, trying to find where the source of his income originated. He always eluded them, possibly traveling on dark nights to make withdrawals. 

He married twice and had eight children. Neither wives were Tataviam, so there went the last of the pure bloodline. There is even some debate about whether Fustero, who had a huge white beard and long flowing white hair on a frame about 5 feet high, ever spoke much Tataviam. Some felt the language was lost as early as the 1830s. 

Fustero distrusted Western medicine and never saw a doctor. In his later years, he sported a huge stomach on his already stocky and short frame. The extended gut was the result of a massive hernia. Still, Fustero continued to ride and built a special saddle to help hold his tummy. 

It wasn’t too much fun for those who stumbled upon his dead body 103 years back. It was hot in his home and Juan had been dead for several days. It took several men, holding their breath, to get the 300-pound corpse out of the lean-to. 

They found $1,100 in gold coins under Fustero’s pillow when he died. He is buried under the cold waters of Lake Piru. Before the dam began to fill, workers moved a boulder marking his grave to outside the reservoir. I know there used to be a bronze plaque marking the new spot, but I’m not sure if it’s still there. 

GETTING RICH FROM THE SANTA CLARITA EARTH — One thing about most mucky-mucks from the 19th century. They knew how to build empires and grease one another’s palms. On June 24, 1865, Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Beale and his pal, Gen. Andres Pico, formed the San Fernando Petroleum Mining District. It was a county-sanctioned office that basically put the two men in charge of mining claim disputes. Frequently, the pair would take the claims involved and hold them in sort of an escrow account until they could, ahem, study the matter. Frequently, when the miners (who were a roaming lot to begin with) moved on, Beale and Pico would sometimes buy their gold mines or oil leases for a pittance. Nice work if you can get it. 

SPEAKING OF DUBIOUS GOVERNMENT EDICTS & PARTNERSHIPS — In 1850, the brand-new state of California enacted the Plank and Turnpike Road Act. That meant that a private company could condemn someone else’s property and construct a road through it, as long as the road didn’t come within 50 feet of a building. By 1878, there were 68 of these private companies operating toll roads in this state.  

One of them was owned by Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. It’s still in town today and called Beale’s Cut. There were some aspects to the law to try to protect both road owner and the public. A toll keeper couldn’t charge unjust fees. But travelers could be fined $5 for walking around a toll gate. At our own toll house at Beale’s Cut, most of the tolls were paid out in gold dust.  

As late as 1854, a Mrs. MacAlonan, whose first husband Tom Dunn ran that toll house, still had the gold scales used to measure the dust and nuggets. That old white-washed adobe toll house, up the road from present-day Eternal Valley, had five rooms and a shaded porch. It had a weighted toll gate that had come from another toll road up Soledad Canyon. 

JUNE 29, 1924 

THE ST. FRANCIS CLAIMS AN EARLY VICTIM — In March of 1924, T.O. Schwenssen was working on the St. Francis Dam. He lost his footing and fell into a surge chamber. His body was finally recovered, three months later. 

PITTY AND PAT — The valley’s population drastically increased on this date. There used to be a place called Bower’s Canyon, about 3 miles southeast of downtown Newhall. A silent movie company moved in to film an epic serial: “The Sacramento Trail.” Edwin Cobb was the star of the flick and Signal editor (and widow) Blanche Brown noted of the handsome lead: “… there will be many a feminine heart go pitty-pat.” 

THE REPEATABLE EDITORIAL, A CENTURY LATER? — On this date, Thornton Doelle penned an editorial that could run without much editing today and still be significant. The good forest ranger/poet/actor’s/lawman’s/editor’s words:  

“We live in an artificial atmosphere of prosperity and sanctimonious charity bazaars. Our talk is confined to cheap self-glorification and meaningless slogans. We have adopted tar and feathers as our national emblem and our idea of courage consists of knocking down the man who disagrees with us. 

“We have become a nation of moral cowards who exult in crucifying the few courageous souls that dare into the public square with the warning words of truth.” 

Thornton then went on to say it was hypocritical of us to bequeath charity at Christmas time and forget the needy souls the other 364 days of the year. 

A LITTLE RUBBING OF SALT INTO THE BASEBALL WOUND — On this date, Saugus School (next door to where the IHOP is on Bouquet) defeated Newhall School, 17-3 in an indoor game at the Saugus gym. A player for the Saugusites composed this poem: 

Newhall, you were defeated, 

Newhall, you are so blue, 

But don’t think we bear ill feelings; 

For we sympathize with you. Go back to the town you came from 

And tell the folks that wait, 

That the Saugus team plays baseball, 

But found it out too late. 

JUNE 29, 1934 

FREWS ONE & FOUR — One of the valley’s most influential citizens of the early 20th century died 90 years back. Tom Frew I was born in Dingwalo, Scotland, in 1858. He worked as a blacksmith in Michigan, homesteaded near Yellowstone, moved to Wisconsin where he met his bride, Eva Lilly Tiffany. They would eventually have 10 kids. The Frews moved to Newhall in 1900 and Tom I opened up the blacksmith shop that would be an anchor to downtown Newhall for the next seven decades. And just earlier this year of 2024, in January, my dear, dear pal, Tom Frew IV, made the effortless trek to heaven. Tommy was 94. 

RETURN TO SENDER? — Rural mail carrier T.H. Kornelissen got fed up with one aspect of his route. He made a public notice in The Mighty Signal, demanding that people clean out their mail boxes on a regular basis. He added an extra please that they rid their postal addresses of black widow spiders. 

JUNE 29, 1944 

A SAD, SAD MOMENT — He made 100 films and is still considered one of the motion picture industry’s giants. But poor Bill Hart’s fragile body in this parenthesis continued its decline. While attending the funeral of Betty Rogers, wife of his friend and fellow cowboy, Will Rogers, Hart collapsed, overcome by grief. 

WEIRD DARN WEATHER — Here it was, almost July, and the cold snap continued in the Santa Clarita Valley. Farmers up Sand Canyon reported their potato crop had blight from the rare June freeze. Wonder if they blamed it on global warming? 

ON THE FRITZ? — Fritz Traun, Newhall’s one-time world champion rodeo cowboy, was fighting overseas in the Pacific. He came home on leave and reported an odd incident. While he and his fellow soldiers spent most of their time worrying about getting shot by the enemy, sometimes it was just as dangerous being in camp. Traun recalled setting up an impromptu metal bath tub in camp over a fire. The troops were going to use the hot water to clean their rifles. They went off to do some other chores while the water heated. Soon, there was a terrific explosion. Seemed they built their campfire over a large unexploded Navy shell buried in the ground.  

JUNE 29, 1954 

NOT TOO BIG A POOL FROM WHICH TO DRAW — One thing about The Mighty Signal? We’re always eager to help. On this date, a slight man, ramrod straight, wearing a big white mustache and monocle, came into this newspaper’s world corporate headquarters back when we were in downtown Newhall. Col. Archie McLean was 90 and had worked on building the Chilcoot Pass bridge in Alaska in 1897. He wanted to start a sourdough society of ex-Alaskan 19th century gold miners and adventurers who happened to live in the SCV. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood ran a front-page all-capitalized call for ex-Yukon rough-housers to contact the paper if they wanted to join the colonel’s club. 

CATCH AND RELEASE — You don’t see this anymore, but it was a regular feature in the SCV. A half-century back, two buses, several station wagons and a helicopter were used to round up 50 Mexican nationals who were working the fields and ranches here illegally. They were taken back to the border and released. 

ALL ACES — Some of you old-timers remember that stately gentleman, Ace Cain. He dressed like a Kentucky plantation owner (or Col. Sanders of fried chicken fame) in white three-piece suits and his patented straw hat. He ran the Rocky Springs Ranch up Sand Canyon. It had a picnic grounds and man-made lake, stocked with trout. Folks went up there to fish and relax. There were stories that in the evenings, if you knew the right password, you could go up there to get, ahem, feminine companionship by the hour, if you get my metaphorical drift … 

JUNE 29, 1964 

ONE OF OUR FORGOTTEN AND GREATEST CITIZENS — On this date, the valley held a special surprise party for historian A.B. Perkins. The lovable collector of ancient Santa Clarita data was honored on a special “A.B. Perkins Day.” Perk was a member of the old Newhall Men’s Club, which later became the chartered Newhall Chamber of Commerce in the 1920s. He owned the valley’s first water company and pretty much wrote the book on the saga that is this valley. But there are many other things that old A.B. was behind. He helped get a road through from Happy Valley to Newhall (Market Street, today). He brought electricity to Happy Valley. Perkins perhaps best captured the life of an aging historian when he quoted a line from a play: “But when Old Age crept up on them and Youth had lost its charms, King Solomon wrote the Proverbs, King David wrote the Psalms.” 

SIGNAL GOES TOPLESS!! — An informal survey was taken by The Mighty Signal. The question, asked of local women: “Would you wear a topless swimsuit?” Unanimously, the answer was no. Mrs. Winthrop Fowler noted: “They’re fine for little children, but not for me.” 

JUNE 29, 1974 

GIMME A BUCK’S WORTH — The most popular gas station in the valley 50 years back was the Mohawk on Bouquet Canyon Road. While gas prices were skyrocketing to around 63 cents a gallon around town, Mohawk was selling regular at a whopping 20 cents cheaper. Why? Mohawk pulls most of its gas from out of American ground and was under price regulations, plus, their refinery was up the road in Bakersfield. They also did a whopping business on volume, selling about 100,000 gallons a month. I’d do chimpanzee backflips to fill up everything from lawn mowers to tractors to Priuses at 43 cents a gallon … 

THOUSANDS DON’T SEE GERALD — The valley continued to prepare for the arrival of Gerald Ford. The vice president was scheduled to speak at CalArts on Aug. 12. They expected around 10,000 to attend. The local schools were asked to donate the transportation so their students could attend. As I’ve oft mentioned before, Ol’ Gerald never made it to the speech. That morning, he would be sworn in as president of the United States after Richard Nixon had resigned in disgrace from the Watergate Hotel break-in and scandal. 

JUNE 29, 1984 

WHEELCHAIR ROAD RAGE — A young paraplegic driving with a suspended license led police on a wild chase through the streets of Newhall and beyond, driving on the wrong side of the freeway and causing multiple car wrecks. The man hit speeds in excess of 110 mph. When finally captured, the crippled speedster gave no resistance. His answer to why he led the rampage was simple. He already was wanted for past drunk driving arrests and had nothing to lose.     

AN AGE-OLD WAY TO MAKE MONEY — On this date, a huge counterfeiting ring was busted in Canyon Country. A neighbor was suspicious of all the chemicals being brought into the home and thought it might be a drug lab. The toxic materials were actually for printing and cleaning plates for bogus $20 bills. 

KA-BIG-TIME-BLOOEY — Boy, I would literally not go near this pile for all the tea in China. On this date, professional fireworks engineer Stuart Miller was getting ready for Newhall’s annual pyrotechnics display on the upcoming Fourth of July. For a publicity photo, he sat atop a stack of one million fireworks. Boy, if a stray spark hit, old Stuart would be having himself a Wile E. Coyote moment. 

MORE OUCHIES ON GASOLINE — We often cry about the high cost of petrol. Sometimes, there’s a good reason. Texaco and Sun Oil both announced that after investing $24 million and drilling 35,000 feet into the Santa Clarita soil, they came up dry looking for oil. A spokesman for the joint project said that it would have taken them over a century to bring back a profit from the semi-dry wells. So, they abandoned the project. 

THE SANTA CLARITA ASSOCIATION OF ORANGE PEOPLE — One of the landmarks of the 1980s was a new type of vanity: the indoor tanning salon. On this date, Golden Tans, the first such business in Canyon Country, had its grand opening. 

SAY CHEESE!! — We no longer do this, but there used to be these giant, federally-subsidized cheese and butter giveaways held at the Senior Center. Folks would sometimes walk away with 20-pound blocks of the high-cholesterol products and sometimes, they weren’t the needy. A couple of local restaurateurs were spotted in line. One of the owners (of a high-end eatery) noted: “Poor people really don’t have any initiative. I do, and that’s why I’m here.” 


From those glimmering lights ahead, that’s our present-day exit of Santa Clarita ahead. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate sharing these summer mornings with you. Catch you in a week and we’ll figure out some new history trails to explore. Until next Saturday — the only place in the universe where Time Rangering is available, ye Mighty Signal — I wish 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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