We’ve simply got an epic Time Ranger adventure ahead of us today, saddlepals. The trail ahead is littered with villains, BUNCHES of snowstorms, birthdays, witches, more blizzards, movie stars, gunfights — heavens.
Put your left foot in the stirrup and for you veteran cowpokes, do it hands-free without spilling a drop of your yuppie cappuccino…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. NEWHALL, SIR! — While we’re stretching in the saddles, might as well wake the non-Signal/Time Ranger riding neighbors with a rousing and off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” On this date, Jan. 20, 1914, former Signal editor, owner and publisher, Scott Newhall was born in San Francisco. Scott was the most splendiferous rascal ever to stalk this valley, and those of you who didn’t know him surely missed about 12,000 circuses. Never been, never will be, a newspaperman like him. Fittingly, he upstaged both Halloween and the 1992 presidential election by making his transition to the Great Beyond…
WE THINK THAT DATE IS ALSO THE LAST TIME TOM FREW WENT TO CONFESSION — The second Catholic church in the SCV was dedicated on Jan. 17, 1915. The first one, of course, was the old San Francisco Mission.
JUST HAD DINNER THERE — Wish the Saugus Cafe a happy birthday this week. On Jan. 18, 1899, Martin and Richard Wood buy the Tolefree’s Eating House and change the name to the Saugus Cafe. It’s been pretty much open for business every day (except for a couple of closures during World War II and in the 1950s for remodeling and a slight move over on the foundation) since then.
HAVEN’T HAD A 5-STAR HOTEL HERE SINCE — The Southern Hotel used to sit just about exactly in the middle of today’s Main and Market streets and was touted in its day as one of the grand hotels of the entire Pacific Coast. It was around for only about 10 years, burning to the ground in 1887. One of the reasons why it was built was to entertain oil and mining speculators visiting the area to consider investing here.
THE BIG OIL FIRE OF ’06 — A scant 116 years ago, a tremendous fire raced through Pico Canyon, devouring everything from shrubbery to dozens of wooden oil derricks. Most (er, like, the derricks) were never replaced.
TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES — Here’s a name I’ll bet even you old-timers haven’t heard in a while — Tank Canyon. It was also called 14 Canyon and was an offshoot of Pico.
JANUARY 22, 1922
JANUARY IN NEWHALL: T-SHIRT WEATHER — C.F. Ingersoll came back to Newhall after 16 years. He had been living in Alaska. A couple of weeks earlier, he had been on a dogsled in 40-degree below zero weather, headed for Dawson and, eventually, back to the SCV. The Newhall winters in the mid-60s were a bit more tropical for Mr. Ingersoll.
CRIPES, BILL. PUTTING ON HEIRS? — Silent film star William S. Hart was making some improvements on his old log ranch house (the one he lived in before moving into the mansion). Hart added some indoor plumbing and a telephone.
WORDS WISE EVEN A CENTURY LATER TODAY — Signal Editor Blanche Brown was known for being bashful, but in this front-page small story, her law & order side came out. Quoth Blanche in The Mighty Signal: “Holdups seem to be the popular game on the canyon highway now o’nights. Mr. Highwayman, as we are well armed, you may meet your Waterloo.”
IN THE KEY OF R-RUPTURED FLAT — Blanche also commended the jazz band playing at the Hap-a-Land Hall, but added the caveat: “Boys, practice makes perfect.”
JANUARY 22, 1932
THE BIG SNOWSTORM — It’s rare when we get snow on the valley floor. It maybe happens only every 10 or 15 years. Seventy years back this week, not only was the Santa Clarita Valley drenched in the white powdery precipitation but most of California as well. For perhaps the only time in the century, it snowed in downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica had snow on the beach. Talk about not being used to snow, several people in the Southland were arrested for felony snowball throwing and vandalism.
WITCHIE WOMAN — Real estate agent Jessie Sackrider was renting out large, seven-room cottages in town for $30 a month. Jessie, by the way, was related to one of the women pressed to death at the Salem Witch Trials centuries earlier in Massachusetts. Jessie was a distant relative to former Signal Managing Editor Jeannie Feeney.
JANUARY 22, 1942
A HERO NAMED DONALD — Young Donald Westcott saved the life of a smaller schoolmate when he wrestled a mad dog. The dog didn’t get to the girl, but it bit Donald. He and two other students had to go through the painful Pasteur treatments of having long needles stuck in their stomachs.
AT LEAST THEY DIDN’T NAME IT ARTHUR CANYON — On this date, pioneer railroad man Arthur Weldon died peacefully in his sleep. He was 89. He helped build the Santa Fe Railroad through the Southwest, then came to work on the Newhall Tunnel in 1875. He retired in 1922 after helping complete the Hasson Tunnel in Chatsworth. Art was one of the founders of the local Masons Club. When Arthur settled here in the 1800s, he planted a eucalyptus sapling near his home. When he died, the tree was 125 feet tall and 14 feet in circumference. Oh. By the way. That’s where “Weldon Canyon,” aka old Highway 99, aka The Old Road got its name — from Arthur.
GOOD ONE, FRED — We were at war with Japan and Signal Editor Fred Trueblood was passing a joke around the Santa Clarita. Seems the U.S. and the Empire of the Rising Sun struck an agreement to divide the Pacific Ocean in half. The U.S. would take the top and Japan would take the bottom.
CRIPES. IT’D COST ME THREE BUCKS — More local wartime humor — the old Sand Canyon Cafe changed their menus to reflect the new government rationing. The menus noted: “Coffee: 5 cents. Sugar: a dime.”
HORSES ATTRACT BOMBS — The war also restricted the size of our world-famous rodeo. In the past, as many as 25,000 people would show up for the big events at the Saugus Speedway (back then, the Hoot Gibson Stadium). The army sent out an edict no crowds larger than 5,000 could form. The reason? A sneak attack like on Pearl Harbor, as the crowd might attract Axis war bombers or saboteurs.
JANUARY 22, 1952
OUR LOCAL MOVIE MOGUL MEETS THE BIG STUDIO HEAD IN THE SKY — The Dark Angel paid a visit to author, historian, filmmaker, actor, and local legend, Ernie Hickson. He died of uremic poisoning at his home on the old Placeritos Movie Ranch (today, Melody Ranch). He had been frail and in ill health for years. Ernie was born on Sept. 2, 1894, in Columbus, Ohio.
The future movie maker started hanging around backstage at the small local theater as a boy, then had several starring roles in high school. After that, he barnstormed with a traveling actors’ troupe, and while visiting Little Rock, Arkansas, he found his future bride, Bessie Hays, a singer and dancer herself. Ernie went west and joined the budding Hollywood film industry.
EH lined up with the new Monogram Pictures company and visited Placerita Canyon for the first time to film a Western. Monogram had bought some property in the canyon and built a frontier street. In 1935, Hickson bought additional land around the set and expanded it into a small Western set town. He was offered $100,000 for the property in 1950 but turned the offer down. It would later be purchased by Gene Autry and called Melody Ranch. Today, it’s owned by the Veluzat boys. The world-famous Cowboy Music & Poetry Festival used to be held on Ernie’s old movie lot.
OLD TESTAMENT FLOODS — The local fire captain, Pierre Davies, called it the worst flooding in the SCV since 1923. We had already been soaked by a series of storms the week earlier and 4 inches of rain in our valley (more in the hills) in a short period of time made many of the normally dry creeks look like the mighty Mississippi. Bridges were damaged, roads wiped out, businesses and homes flooded. Sam Kotnik, who had just scraped together all his life savings to build a chicken farm in Placerita Canyon, saw his ranch wiped out by the rampaging floods. The Saugus Post Office roof caved in. People were stranded in and away from their homes. A basketball game between Hart and Fillmore was canceled because the Santa Clara River crested its banks and covered the highway. A messy goop of oil, water and mud cascaded down from the Placerita oil fields. Adding insult to injury, work road crews, trying to repair Pleistocene-sized potholes, busted a 10-inch water main in downtown Newhall, further flooding businesses. After the floods left and the sun came out, residents saw that the entire valley was lined in the upper elevations by a beautiful blanket of snow.
A LITTLE CREATURE CALLED INFLATION — Records came out for construction in the SCV for the previous year. A total of 142 family dwellings were built in 1951 here. That compared to 119 houses built in 1950. Get this. For those 142 houses built, the construction valuation was a total — a TOTAL — of $718,125. That averages out to $5,000 a house. Interestingly, during the Depression, The Newhall Land & Farming Co. tried to sell the entire SCV. Asking price? Just $750,000 — and NO HOA’s…
JANUARY 22, 1962
ARE WE DUE FOR A BLIZZARD!?!?!?! — It seems snowfall in the Santa Clarita seems to fall in decades ending in “2.” We had the epic dusting in 1932 and 30 years later, on Monday, Jan. 22, 1962, we had between 6 to 30 inches on the ground — that’s ON the valley floor. Drifts up to 7 feet tall were reported in Lake Elizabeth and Gorman. The tinny Southern California mobile home roofs groaned under the weight of the wet stuff and many tree branches snapped. All roads in and out of the valley were impassable for a while and many folks in the upper canyons, under a yard or more of snow, were marooned.
The mercury dipped to single digits in some spots — during the morning — and helicopters airlifted food and supplies to a few outposts and searched for stranded motorists. A parking lot formed in Castaic, with 1,600 cars and trucks stuck there for several days. Katherine Hyde, who had a dog kennel that specialized in breeding great Danes, had to snowshoe out 2 miles to Highway 99 to call for help. Signal Publisher Scott Newhall heard of the marooned mutts and flew in from San Francisco to bring in dog food for the canines and had to crawl through a kennel window (with a wooden leg!) to deliver the food to the starving dogs.
Everyone seemed to love the white stuff as children and adults made snowmen all over the valley. One snowman, built on Arch Street, was of Bigfoot proportions and stood over 10 feet tall. One family was rather chagrined by the snow. They had just moved here from New Hampshire to get away from it and on their moving-in day, they were snowed on. Interesting tidbit, best as I’ve heard so far, the latest date that it snowed IN downtown Newhall was on May 30, 1924.
JANUARY 22, 1972
THE ARMY GOES GREEN — The U.S. Armed Forces opened up a recruiting station here on San Fernando Road (today, Main Street) and one of the first official acts was to hang an impromptu sign out front: “ANYTHING FOR ECOLOGY.” Seems the previous tenants had failed to water the tree out front and it died. Harvey Wilcox donated a new Hollywood juniper and Navy recruiter Glen Denuzzi and Marine Sgt. Ted Rostad promised to water it.
ROCK ROYALTY — On this date, Donna Craddock and Tommy Scarcello were married at the Tony & Susan Alamo Christian Foundation Church up Mint Canyon. Donna was the sister of the late rock ‘n’ roll star, Vincent Eugene Craddock. Of course, some of you rock historians might recognize him by his stage name: Gene Vincent. His biggest hit single (which is so old it should be in the opening “WAY BACK WHEN” section) was “Be-Bop-a-Lula.” Try saying THAT fast, 10 times…
BUY TWO SETS, GET A FREE THROWING AX — Dan Aykroyd used to do a skit on Saturday Night Live where he sold dangerous toys. Builders Emporium in Saugus did Dan one better. Despite community protests, they still continued to sell a toy called a lawn dart. They were actual 2-pound darts kids or adults would throw high into the air and when they came down, they’d stick in the lawn, or, in some cases, people’s heads. The Lawn Dart set came with the disclaimer: “May cause fatalities…”
NOW SELLING AT THE GIFT STORE — Here’s a crime you don’t see anymore. On this date, Saugus Swap Meet vendor Gary Stokes captured two local teens after they had stolen several 8-tracks from his stand. I wonder how long it’ll be before they’ll have an 8-track on display at the Historical Society.
JANUARY 22, 1982
ACTORS. THERE GO THE PROPERTY VALUES — A few Newhallians were wondering what all the gunfire was about on San Fernando Road. A high-speed car chase ended with one vehicle flipping over. A man got out and started popping off rounds from a sawed-off shotgun and he got dropped by the driver of the other car. Turns out they were shooting an episode of the old TV show, “The Fall Guy.” Footnote to that, the TV crew caused double trouble. They didn’t bother alerting anybody — the local sheriffs, the chamber, or anyone in the county — that they were shooting. So, several merchants called the cops when they saw what they thought were several heavily armed Hell’s Angels wandering up and down San Fernando Road. Sheriff’s deputies rushed over, ordered the actors to eat concrete, and cuffed them until the matter was straightened out. That’s a first — actors being first on the set.
YOU AIN’T DRUNK IF YOU MAKE IT HOME? — From the “Some Nerve Department” L.A. County enacted tougher drunk driving penalties and The Mighty Signal helped with the publicity. We got an angry call from a bar owner who demanded we stop, noting it was hurting his business.
MY OLD PAL — Tony “Dokus the Indian Boy” Mason used to be head photographer here at The Mighty Signal. His assignment 40 years back was to shoot the free cheese giveaway at the Community Development Center. Tony spotted one woman holding a 5-pound brick. He asked her to turn around, face the camera, and, you guessed it, say — “Cheese!”
Don’t forget to visit https://amzn.to/3rgijUr and pick up your copy of my latest SCV history book, “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America.” Leave a kind review if so moved. Good riding with you dear friends, neighbors, and saddlepals and I’ll see you back at The Mighty Signal hitching post in seven. Until then? ¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!”