A warm and Western February morning to you, dear saddlepals. It’s a glorious day for a time ride through local history, and, this morning, we’ll be inspecting all sorts of interesting vistas, from unusual uses of condor feathers to the rare Santa Clarita moose. If I had any brain scientist friends, they’d call it Alces alces Americana SClariticusicus.
We’ll take a peek at the valley’s first semi-pro baseball team, epic rainstorms and a dramatic swift water rescue, not to mention an alleged riot at a junior high, and a big snowball fight.
Nothing like that satisfying creak of the saddle and the company of good friends, is there? C’mon. Hold on to your hats as we duck into the time vortex and less complicated times…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
REMINDS ME OF THE PUNCHLINE TO AN OFF-COLOR BRITISH JOKE, WHICH WE WON’T JOLLY WELL SHARE. — We’re still in the midst of trying to restore the giant condor to its natural habitat in the rugged mountains north and west of here. Back in the 19th century, local miners used to shoot the giant condors. They used the huge hollow feathers to store gold dust.
MOVING DAY — The original town of Newhall was founded where today’s Saugus Café sits — in Saugus. It completed its move to around where 6th Street and Main is today on Feb. 16, 1878.
SCHOOL STARTS — The Mint Canyon School District was founded on Feb. 12, 1879. It would merge into Sulphur Springs School District in 1944. If Walt Fisher has any overdue library books, now might be a good time to peacefully turn himself in…
FREE AS A BOID — On Feb. 15, 1870, Soledad Canyon turned from a private toll road to a free county and state road. And yes. It was dirt. This old Indian and game trail was “discovered” by Lt. Robert Williamson while on a road and railroad survey expedition (ordered by U.S. Secretary of War/ future Confederate commander-in-chief Jefferson Davis in 1853) in 1856 and for many years, was called Williamson Pass after the young U.S. Army officer. Williamson was also the bloke who discovered our local anchovy, the spiny stickleback.
FEBRUARY 12, 1922
ELECTRICITY AND WATER? WE’VE DIED AND GONE TO MODERN HEAVEN. — On this date, the burgeoning community of Happy Valley (the neighborhood today just south of Lyons) joined the 20th century. Southern California Edison announced they would bring electricity to the new development of houses and small ranches. This coincided with A.B. Perkins modernizing the delivery of water to Happy Valley. Until 1922, our valley’s first historian used a large gasoline-powered engine to pump water to the houses. He later switched to an actual power plant.
OILY-OILY OXEN FREE-EEEEE — That famous Placerita Canyon white oil began surfacing after the recent rains and people were out with buckets, scooping the stuff up. It made its debut at America’s Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 and was famed for being able to burn 100 times longer than regular oil. (There’s still some left in a well in the park, at a secret location.) Another by-product of the rains was more gold washing down the creek. One resident pulled out a nugget worth about $30 in 1920s money.
YUP. IN THE DEAD OF DARN WINTER! — On this date, Donald Wood formed the valley’s first semi-professional baseball team. The Wildcats traveled from the San Joaquin to San Fernando valleys, playing other semi-pro teams.
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE — The Forest Service estimated that about 5,000 “auto-mobile machines” traveled up Mint Canyon to enjoy the snow. Several people were injured in minor car accidents. Several more were injured from snowballs and a few windshields were busted.
FEBRUARY 12, 1932
PAYDIRT! — The Walker family of Placerita Canyon fame installed a wooden washer on the creek, sifting gold from the sand. The Walkers took in $18 the first afternoon of operation. That’s a really great wage for a few hours of work during the 1930s Great Depression.
MIGHTY MERLE McVICAR, TO THE RESCUE!! — Young Walter Catlow had some brand-new rain boots and was eager to try them out. It almost cost him his life. The 6-year-old was at recess at Honby Elementary near the raging waters of the Santa Clara River. A 5th-grader, Merle McVicar, saw the boy fall in the currents, “…floating helplessly like a stick of wood.” Merle raced 200 yards downstream and dragged the little fellow out — safe, wet, a little water and mud in his lungs and minus not just his boots, but shoes, socks and half his clothes.
LINCOLN’S DAY RAIL SALE — The Southern Pacific offered a unique travel offer to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday. (Remember the good old days when we celebrated the men, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington? Now we’ve sunk to the P.C. Presidents Day.) The “Espee” (the affectionate term for Southern Pacific — “S” and “P”) had a special where you could travel anywhere in America on Abe’s birthday — for just a penny a mile.
NEITHER RAIN, NOR SLEET, NOR SNOW, ER, WELL. MAYBE RAIN SOMETIMES — We always wondered if former postal worker Bert Tysall’s boast was true. For decades, Bert noted he never missed a day of delivering the mail along his sometimes-treacherous route along the Saugus backroads. When he retired, Bert confessed. During all those epic Old Testament floods over the years, Bert couldn’t make deliveries on much of his route.
FEBRUARY 14, 1939
IT JUST NEVER PAYS TO APPEAR IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES — For the third time, Newhall Elementary School burned to the ground, this time on Valentine’s Day. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood was surprised to see a familiar face on the front page of our competition, The L.A. Times. It was his young son, Gus. A photographer for the daily talked the little boy to pose in front of the charred remains of his school as if he were dancing. Gus drew a whack on the behind from his newspaper father. Fred pointed out Gus wasn’t being punished for dancing in front of his burnt-to-a-crisp campus, but rather, for being on the front page of the downtown mass media outlet with the questionable ethics. Newhall Elementary burned to the ground the first time in 1890. It was on 9th Street back then. It burned down again in 1914.
FEBRUARY 12, 1942
IF YOU BRING BACK THE MOVIES, I’LL GIVE YOU A REWARD, NO QUESTIONS ASKED . . . — On this date, a special moving truck quietly rolled out of the Hart Mansion. It carried 19 carefully crated silent films of William S. Hart, made from 1917 to 1926. The films went east to the film library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Eight of the original films were literally cut up into pieces, for stock shots, after Hart and producer/friend Tom Ince broke up their partnership. Those lost films were “The Silent Man,” “Square Deal Sanderson,” “Wagon Tracks,” “Money Corral,” “Blue Blazes Rawdon,” “Wolves of the Rail,” “Riddle Gowne” and “Border Wireless.”
FEBRUARY 12, 1952
LOCAL PUNKS (and one hero) MAKE NATIONAL HEADLINES — Local CHP officer Tom Largent was in LIFE Magazine this week, 70 years back. Largent was one of the arresting officers in the famed “Baby Bandits” case in which a group of young boys stole several cars and went on a wild shooting spree through Newhall and Southern California. This was back in the days of No Monkey Business Law & Order. Teen punks and CHP’s Largent, along with his partner, Joe Green, reached speeds of nearly 100 mph through the SCV. Largent emptied his service revolver into the back of the fleeing car, then borrowed Green’s piece and emptied that into the fleeing vehicle. Check out the ages of the boys: The driver was 11 and the rest were 12, 13, 11, 11 and — 8. The latter lad? The 8-year-old? He had been recently arrested in Bakersfield for falling off his bicycle — drunk. The boys made off with a paltry $12 in the last robbery and it made The New York Times. I’ve been telling you guys for years we’re the navel of the universe…
FEBRUARY 12, 1962
IT RAINED SO MUCH, AQUAMAN WAS OUR HONORARY MAYOR — It poured and poured and wouldn’t stop. A five-day storm dumped — check out these insane numbers — 14 INCHES in downtown Newhall — EVEN MORE in some of the higher canyons! That one-week total was more than double the entire year’s rainfall from 1961. From Castaic to Canyon Country, residents were either marooned or unable to get home. Bridges washed out, water mains broke and huge chunks of roads were simply washed away. One lot in Arcadia Street was turned into a lake where kids made wooden rafts and rowed back and forth.
FEBRUARY 9, 1971
A WHOLE LOT MORE THAN A WHOLE LOT OF SHAKING GOING ON — A 6.5 magnitude earthquake centered over the hill in Sylmar rattled the Santa Clarita Valley, knocking over walls and, in one case, swallowing a car across the street from Hart Park. The tremors temporarily shut off the SCV from the south and many had to get to work or Los Angeles and beyond by going through Fillmore. Some noted it didn’t take that much longer. The quake hit one minute before 6 a.m. and knocked me out of bed. Other folks not chained to their mattress as well. Interestingly, there had been a similar quake centered in Sylmar in the same spot, 202 years earlier.
FEBRUARY 12, 1972
ATTICA! ATTICA!! ATTICA!!! — On this date, the rumor speeding through Saugus was that there was a riot at Arroyo Seco Junior High. When reporters arrived, there wasn’t a riot, but there was a walk-out. About a fifth of the campus, or 200 kids, refused to return to class. They were staging a peaceful protest, demanding, among other things, that the tardy rules be changed. After two late slips, a student’s parents were notified. The kids wanted that misdemeanor upped to five.
MOOSES, SCHMOOSES. WHATEVER IT TAKES. — The Mighty Signal did an investigative report on vanishing wildlife in the SCV and California back on this date in 1972. Some long-forgotten Signal art director used an illustration of a bull moose to show the plight of the Santa Clarita’s endangered species. Technically, the guy or gal was right. If we ever did have moose in Newhall, they sure were extinct by 1972…
FEBRUARY 12, 1982
ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE MILK SHAKES — Former supervisor Baxter Ward passed away Feb. 4, 2002. But, 20 years before that, Ward was lightly roasted by Signal gossip columnist Mimi (Ruth Newhall) because he rarely showed up for any local functions in the SCV. The former KABC TV anchorman turned politician confessed he didn’t like attending the rubber chicken circuit. He had a delicate digestive tract and often literally lived off milk shakes.
Drat. Hate to let you people go. Well. Most of you people. You few troublemakers take a week to work on your shortcomings and horsemanship. (Kidding. Love you/Like you.) See you back here at the hitching post of your Mighty Signal newspaper seven days hence. Until then — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!”
Check out John Boston’s new, funny AND scary SCV history book — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America” at http://johnbostonbooks.com/.