John Boston | King of the Gypsies & the SCV at War

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So how are all you saddlepals settling in on this new 2022 idea? New Year’s resolutions intact? Still sporting that steely-eyed stare toward the distant horizon of goals to be met, worlds to conquer — waistlines to be shrunk? 

Yeah. 

Me too. 

C’mon. I’ve got several thousand fine steeds outside, each meant to fit your personal temperament and I don’t mean that in any Chekhovian irony. 

We’ve a great day ahead. C’mon. Climb aboard, don’t spill lattes or designer morning swill on the ponies. It attracts flies. Which attracts lizards. Which attracts aliens from Area 51 who have no business being this far south. 

Shall we mosey into the mystic this fine morning? 

WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME  

I’D HOLD OUT FOR A BETTER NICKNAME — Ever wonder why Newhall Pass is called Fremont Pass? On Jan. 12, 1847, that rabble-rouser John C. Fremont and a company of fighting men passed through it. Fremont was up for surveyor-general of the United States later, but President Abe Lincoln nixed the idea, quipping: “He (Fremont) tends to become master of all he surveys.” Lincoln was talking about Fremont’s propensity to acquire large tracts of land for himself. Fremont’s best-known nickname was “Pathfinder.” The one he never liked was “Wooly Horse.” Fremont was the subject of the Confederate song, “Richmond Is A Hard Road To Travel.” Seems P.T. Barnum falsely used Fremont’s name to plug (no pun intended; much) his circus and claimed that Fremont, during his western expedition, had discovered a “wooly horse” from the Pleistocene Epoch. 

WOOLY WAS A BUSY GUY —  So the very next day, Jan. 13, 1847, Newhall chap Gen. Andres Pico (after whom Pico Canyon was named) surrendered to Col. Fremont in what historians call, “The Capitulation of Cahuenga.” There’s a marker on Highway 101 in North Hollywood. 

HANK’S LITTLE SPREAD — On Jan. 15, 1875, multi-millionaire Henry Mayo Newhall purchased most of the Santa Clarita Valley at a sheriff’s auction sale. Closing price? Not quite two bucks an acre for the 46,460 acres that make up much of today’s SCV. Figuring a really rough $50,000 per acre at today’s prices, had Hank kept his land and lived to be nearly 200 — well. He’d be darn rich. 

MOVING DAY — H.M. Newhall sold the land rights to Southern Pacific for a measly buck and his pals at the railroad allowed him to name a town after himself. In 1876, Newhall was founded — NOT where it is now — but where the Saugus Café is today near Bouquet Junction. I’ve read several reasons why — drought, wind, distance to Beale’s Cut — but whatever the final reason, the entire brand-new community of Newhall (named after Henry Mayo Newhall) moved down the road to around 6th and San Fernando Road. That exodus began on Jan. 15, 1878. About the same time, the little community with many names, located where Eternal Valley is today, did the same thing and moved to present-day Downtown Newhall. 

JANUARY 15, 1922  

BUILDING A BANK FOR PEANUTS — Pioneer Walton Young had a little extra cash in his pockets on this date. He sold his corner lot near the present-day corner of Main and 8th Streets. The 80- by 120-foot lot already housed a building. It was the general merchandise store owned by G.A. Butler. THAT building was moved south to make way for the new fireproof bank building. This wasn’t the first time Butler’s store moved. It originally sat facing Railroad Avenue and some of you might know it by its more famous name — Campton’s General Store. Eventually, the First National & Valley Savings Bank would be bought out by Bank of Italy, which would soon become Bank of America. Cost for building the new FN&VSB? About $6,000. 

LOVELY TO LOOK AT, DANGEROUS TO EXPLORE — A thick layer of snow blanketed the northern part of the SCV up to Fort Tejon. Back then, motorists had to travel on the very narrow, very steep and very treacherous Ridge Route. With their skinny tires, the newest of big rigs of the day, which could reach speeds of barely 5 mph going uphill, were sliding around on the ice. 

JANUARY 15, 1932  

FROM NIGHTCLUB TO MORGUE TO AA HALL — Remodeling on the old Masonic Hall, the former Hap-a-Land Hall, started on this date. The building had ceased being a community center after the St. Francis Dam disaster (when it was used as a morgue). The remodeling included putting in an attic, which is still being used today as The Rafters. In fact, the oak floor up there was the old dance hall in the Hap-a-Land. After the facelift, the building would become the new courthouse. It still sits on Market Street today. 

I THINK THE KIDS ARE GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER — This isn’t exactly local, but it appeared in your local Mighty Signal 90 years back. It was just a photo of basketball player Jack Stewart. The Signal listed him as: “Giant on Court Team” for the Alabama Polytechnic Institute’s cage squad. How big was Jack? Six-foot-five. 

JANUARY 15, 1942  

WATCHING YOUR DREAMS AND LIFE FLOW BY — Bob Cuenod was a successful businessman from Switzerland. His dream was to come to California and become a cowboy. For a few short moments, he lived that dream. Cuenod bought a spread in Castaic and a few days after living the Western life, he found himself chopping wood. He somehow managed to miss the kindling, sending his ax deep into his arm, severing an artery. With the loss of blood and infection, he died two days later. 

WORLD WAR BRINGS CHANGES TO THE SCV — Notice how hard it is to buy a new car or get parts today? In the early days of World War II came an immediate stoppage of auto making. Even if you wanted to buy a car, you needed written permission from the government. The Ford and Chevy dealerships in Newhall had a full stock of new cars that went unsold. We were the center of a major interstate and traffic was thinning out drastically with gas rationing and the closure of the national forests. Also implemented was a punishing new-car use-tax. Coca-Cola was rationed and the cost jumped 100% OVERNIGHT. Locals hoarded sugar before that could be rationed. Sugar, by the way, was used to make alcohol, which powered ammo-making industries. It took a ton of sugar to create enough energy to fire two shells from a 16-inch gun. 

READING THE WEATHER REPORT EVERY 20 MINUTES — As soldiers from various battalions moved into Newhall, many of them had trouble figuring out the tricky SCV winter. It was cold and snowing here in the first part of January. Then, a warm spell came through with the mercury hitting 80. Some of the servicemen from Montana and the Midwest had trouble getting used to the heatwave. 

TALK ABOUT THE GREEN POLICE — The blackout rule was in effect and you didn’t want to break it. The county of Los Angeles mandated a $300 fine or 50 — count them — 50 days in jail for leaving your porch light on after dark. Can’t see why you’d want it on during the day, either. 

THE SCV BECOMES A FORTRESS — The fear that the Japanese would attack was extreme and locals were prepared. Fire Warden Bill Frownfelter demonstrated to hundreds of locals how to dismantle and extinguish a variety of incendiary bombs. Worry was in this area of woods and oaks, terrorists would start massive forest fires. About 40 years earlier, a genius Chinese-American general wrote a prophetic military strategy book, listing the Top 10 Military Targets on planet Earth. The SCV made the list. 

JANUARY 15, 1952  

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY. NO. SERIOUSLY. — It’s been a scene replayed over and over in Placerita Canyon. Gene Linnens tried to cross the wash in his brand spanking new Studebaker and it washed downstream. Gene swam to safety and they found the new Stude a couple of miles to the west — full of mud with the motor still running. The valley was pretty much a lake. Early 1952 was ushered in with a storm dumping 10 inches of rain in five days. 

KOREA CLAIMS A VICTIM — On this date, Newhall Navy pilot Ray Kelly was shot down in combat over Korea. His parents owned the old Placeritos Ranch. 

GEORGE, KING OF ALL GYPSIES — George Stevens died up in Oasis Park on this date. In the next few days, locals were surprised when the valley started filling up with hundreds of colorful folks who came by train, bus, car  and wagon to mourn George and follow his funeral procession from Newhall into Glendale, where his coffin was shipped back to Chicago. George was the King of the Gypsies. 

JANUARY 15, 1962  

DIDN’T HAVE A LEG TO STAND ON — We’ve had several of these grisly accidents over the years. They play out pretty much the same. A hobo hitching a ride on the roof of a boxcar through Newhall was trying to avoid the thick plume of smoke. He tried swinging into the freight car, slipped and fell under the train. The terrible steel wheels amputated his leg below the knee. He lay on the tracks for nearly an hour before another locomotive pulled up. They rushed him to the local hospital and then on to Los Angeles. Amazingly, he lived through the ordeal. 

DIDN’T HAVE A STOOL TO STAND ON — An Arizona railroad man had just retired and moved to Newhall. Apparently, he didn’t know the lay of the land yet and went to have a late dinner. The 65-year-old former brakeman began to order supper, then noticed there weren’t any menus, set-ups, counter stools, cute waitresses, or waitresses, period. Seems the retiree was carrying a large load of invisible pipes (drunker than a skunk) and wandered into the 6th Street sheriff’s headquarters to order a turkey sandwich and beer. He had to wait for breakfast of hot coffee and doughnuts and slept off his imaginings in the overnight cell. 

I’M GOING TO HAVE TO CHECK IF MY PALS JOHN DUARTE AND JOHN HOBBS HAVE ALIBIS — Sheriff’s deputies pulled over a speeding car filled with jazz musicians. Turns out the car was stolen. Talk about suspicious circumstances. When the lawmen shined flashlights in the backseat, they saw a bunch of musical instruments along with some sawed-off handcuffs, pistols, ammo, a key to a Seattle police call box and — oh my — some rather saucy naked lady photos of the band’s lead singer. Turns out the car was stolen. Perhaps I should be kinder to my jazz pals, Hobbs and Duarte. They were but 11 at the time and had not been to Seattle yet… 

JANUARY 15, 1972  

SIGH OF RELIEF, IT’S SAFER TO DRIVE — Highway fatalities continued to drop. The new figures released showed 34 people killed in traffic accidents in 1971. That compares to 63 people killed in 1969 and 53 in 1970. As the valley population grew, so did drunk driving arrests. There were 510 taken into custody in 1968 and that rose steadily to 927 in 1971. 

THE BOYS BUT NOT GIRLS CLUB — Although girls were allowed, they were called the SCV Boys Club and on this date, they got a brand-new home. Well. Sort of. The club moved their headquarters from the old church on 6th and Newhall into the very old Pardee House, built in the 1880s. The Pardee House was bought by the telephone company and sat vacant for years until Bob Ross moved his club into it for a nominal leasing fee to the phone people. 

JANUARY 15, 1982  

DUMP THE DUMP — There were many happy faces around town. After a drawn-out and acrimonious fight for two years, the IT Corp. withdrew its application to build a 720-acre toxic dump near Sand Canyon. IT was facing a rejection of the project by the county and withdrew the plans, in part, as a ploy to see if they could refile at a later date. The dump was never built. 

THE NICKNAME SURE FIT — Yipes how time flies. Lisa Borges was named runner-up in the Miss California pageant. I remember Lisa lived up to her nickname of “Gorgeous Borges.” At the time, the Canyon Country model and actress was 18. I’m not good with math, but this was 40 years ago, which would make Gorgeous Borges — uh… Ahem. it’s a really nice weekend. Let’s just not fiddle with arithmetic… 

AS MAXWELL SMART USED TO SAY: “MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH!!” —  In the teeniest of technicalities, the move to recall Castaic school board member Jeff Davis was stymied. The recall committee needed just 270 votes to launch a recall election against Davis. The committee counted their signatures a reported three times and came up with 270. However, an L.A. County oversight committee’s recount showed only 269 signatures. A human counting error was blamed for counting names that didn’t exist and the special election went kaput — by one lousy signature.  

I surely thank all you dear people for the company. All those in favor of meeting back here at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post and going out for another trail ride in seven, raise your hands. No. Better put them down and just nod your heads. With the COVID masks, people’ll think we’re being held up. ¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!” 

John Boston’s new SCV history book, “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America” has just been released in print and e-book format. Visit http://johnbostonbooks.com/ OR — https://www.Alpha XR/John-Boston/e/B000APA0H8%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share to order your copy. Our goal? Everyone in the SCV owns at least 14 copies. 

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