A warm and Western howdy to you, dear saddlepals. Hope you survived last weekend’s Super Bowl Sunday intact.
We’ve a most interesting trail ride ahead, into the back canyons of Santa Clarita history, lore and legend. Grab your lattes, coffee and oddball oat-&-fiber morning beverages, find someone who makes you smile and ride next to them.
That vibrating orb of energy up yonder is our particular entrance to the grand yesteryears of the absolute best valley God carved on the planet, with due respect to all those other spectacular valleys like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Placerita Canyon. Shall we drift into the mystic?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
YOU MOVE ME, BABY — On Feb. 15, 1878, the entire town of Newhall moved from its original location at Bouquet Junction to around 6th Street. Interestingly, around the same time, another community trekked most of their buildings from the community of Andrews to the 6th Street area. Andrews was the old stage stop, hotel, saloon, store and small town located about where Eternal Valley is today. When I say, “moved,” I mean both little towns literally took all the boards, beams, windows, doors, dogs and cats, put them in wagons and rolled them up or down the road as the case may be.
FEBRUARY 19, 1922
THREE CHEERS FOR THE SCV!! — One thing I’ve always loved about this newspaper is how unrelentingly positive it’s been. Through wars, disasters, political disagreements, The Mighty Signal has been the best friend, spiritual advisor and cheerleader for things Santa Clarita. In her front-page column, Signal Editor Blanche Brown cheered up the town, noting that times were tough, but they were tough through countless small towns in America. “There are no panicky times throughout this section.” After listing all the blessings we had in Santa Clarita, Blanche further reminded her readers of an ancient truism still valid today: “…there is no time like the ‘present time.’”
THERE’S OIL IN THEM THAR HILLS! — A Signal front-page story pointed out that it was a local Mexican who first discovered oil in Pico Canyon, future home of the famous oil community of Mentryville. Romoa Perea was deer hunting when he spotted some thick, gooey substance bubbling out of the ground. He took a sample to J. del Valle, living at the Camulos Ranch a few miles west. He sent the sample to the oil magnate and geologist, Dr. Gelsich. This was in 1865, at the tail end of the Civil War. About five years drifted by before Gelsich and a few prominent locals got together to start a primitive spring-pole well. Thus began the historic Pico No. 4 — considered the birthplace of the California oil industry. It pumped petroleum daily for more than 100 years and was finally capped in 1990. Perea? He was given a share in the original company that would have made him fabulously wealthy. The deer hunter traded all his shares for a $20 gold piece and a large bottle of booze.
FEBRUARY 19, 1932
STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE — Locals were shocked to learn that one of the oldest buildings in Downtown Newhall was to be demolished. The SCV was home of one of the largest corporations in the world — Standard Oil of California. The building had been around since the town’s founding in 1876 and just turned into an unused dust collector. By 1932, Standard Oil was employing thousands, but only a few worked out of the Newhall HQ.
YAY FOR THE WET STUFF — A couple of weeks of fairly steady rain sure brought smiles to everyone’s faces. But the happiest souls? Our tens of thousands of oak trees, especially the white oaks. The rain had ended a stubborn drought and had done so in spectacular fashion. Our old record went all the way back to 1914-15 with nearly 25 inches for the season. Of course, the road crews weren’t too happy. The rains stopped work on the Highway 99 project and a few other road works throughout the SCV. Problem? Mudslides. Lots and lots of mudslides…
STILL THE SAME, 90 YEARS LATER — Signal Editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher note that the bloom comes off a marriage “… when the wife stops lowering her eyes and starts raising her voice…”
FEBRUARY 19, 1942
THINK THINGS ARE TOUGH FOR NEWSPAPERS TODAY? — Still in the Great Depression and just beginning our fight in World War II, the economic climes were harsh throughout America. Here, the SCV, the weekly paper had just four pages. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood actually traded fruits, nuts, dairy and vegetables from people who couldn’t pay their yearly subscription bill.
A CHILL IN THE DRAFT — World War II had just started with Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The local draft board, No. 175, added about 1,000 new names since January. That’s an amazing number, seeing what a small village of just a few thousand folk we were. Also though, the SCV was part of the Soledad Township then, whose borders went to Frazier Park, Palmdale, Ventura County line and Chatsworth.
NO HORSIN’ AROUND — The local Sheriff’s Auxiliary Mounted Posse started horse-riding practice every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Tom Frew III and Ed Hill provided the lunch, which was elk. Ed got more than a few accusatory stares and queries of: “Where did you REALLY get the meat from, Ed?” Seems Ed was the local mortician.
BE PREPARED — One of the tasks for the Sheriff’s Auxiliary Mounted was to visit out-of-the-way farms and ranches and remind the Truly Rural to keep on hand the following: firewood, blankets, water, extra food, extra warm clothes, bandages and, well. You know. Stuff farmers and ranchers out in the boondocks already had stored.
SURE WAS BUSY FOR A WEEK IN FEBRUARY — Besides all the WW2 prep, Santa Clarita was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of gold in Placerita Canyon by Francisco Lopez AND the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Los Angeles National Forest.
FEBRUARY 19, 1952
EVERYBODY SHOUT TOGETHER: “SO HOW RURAL WERE WE?” — We were SOOOO rural that the lead story in The Mighty Signal was about how to construct a “Doodlebug” from scrap metal hanging around the farm or ranch. For you yuppies along for the ride, a “Doodlebug” is essentially a divining rod used to find metal pipes. That was pretty important in ag-country with all the long-forgotten pipes buried everywhere. Oh. Neat trivia? A farmer could make one for 75 cents, less if he had the stuff in the barn. The Gas Co. was selling the same device for $185.
RE: THE ABOVE? — Hart High — STILL home of the Mighty Indians, no matter what the dullards on the Hart district governing board mumble — founded the very first Future Farmers of America at the Newhall Avenue campus the school year of 1941-42. Kudos to the local Lions Club. They always had a fund of about $300 to help youngsters involved with the soil to raise livestock or crops.
TOO MUCH JUICE — Young SoCal Edison lineman Walter “Skee” Lenart never made it home to his wife. A long string of copper wire became entangled in a tree, unraveled and snake-whipped into a set of high-tension wires. Walt was holding the other end. Poor kid screamed, started smoking, fell to the ground, got up and ran 5 yards before dying from a 16,000-volt shock.
AND DON’T CALL HIM CARROT TOP — Gary Yurosek of Yurosek Carrots, known later as Bunny Luv Carrots, earned the starting nod at first base for the Hart High Indians’ baseball nine. After Hart, Yurosek played football at UCLA as a guard. He got injured and, while healing, Yurosek was stung by the acting bug. He became a drama major and, from there, went on to become one of Hollywood’s hottest actors. You’ve probably seen Yurosek/Lockwood as astronaut Frank Poole in the film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” then as Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell in Star Trek’s second pilot episode: “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
FEBRUARY 19, 1962
ADIOS, DEAR ED & J.T. — Two of Newhall’s leading citizens, Ed Caldwell and J.T. Salmond, were killed instantly on San Fernando Road (Newhall Avenue today). A lone witness, a CHP officer, was coming the other way and watched them skid out of control and hit a huge cypress tree near 14th Street. The impact caused the car to be literally bisected and both were thrown from the car to their deaths. Both men were World War II vets and very active in the community.
A SMOOTH ROAD AHEAD — The CHP announced that in the far future, the state would be renaming Highway 99, all the way into the San Joaquin Valley. The Interstate 5 project had been launched in 1956 but the name “I-5” hadn’t been used much, if at all, in these improvements. When the new freeway called Interstate 5 was opened, cutting through Newhall and brand-new Valencia in 1972, Highway 99 hadn’t been used officially for years
ROAD STORIES COME IN 3’s —The Sylmar Mountain Rescue Team was the name of a crackerjack alpine rescue team. They were put to work in subfreezing temperatures one night to rescue two young teens. The boys were hiking and slipped on an icy boulder, plunging — get this — 1,100 feet down an Angeles Crest mountainside. The boys were found with surprisingly light injuries. Via ropes and muscle, they were pulled up by the Sylmar mountain rescue men.
FEBRUARY 19, 1972
THE JINKS IS UP — Newhall Water Co. prez Jim Jinks was perhaps the most unhappy person in town. He had just stepped in to manage a scandal-laced NWC and, first day on the job, discovers they levied a tax on their customers where the water users had no say or benefit from the secret levy. Worse, the supes created additional taxes and levies, funneling the money to private developers and investors. Couldn’t even spit on the rapscallions because there’s probably a water tax on spitting…
A WHOLE NEW MEANING TO SAW-OFF PUNK — Burt Smith was driving by a Sierra Highway shopping center and spotted his late-model sports convertible just where he left it. Small problem? There was a long-haired 20-something sitting in the front seat, smoking. Burt had his friend pull into the parking lot, climbed out and ordered the suspicious-looking character to vacate the car, pronto. The post-teen ignored him for a few minutes, then muttered, “Give me a second. I gotta get something out.” The lanky kid in the trench coat climbed out of the car, reached into the back seat, pulled out a sawed-off shot gun and then just moseyed off.
ONE OF THE BEST IDEAS OF ALL TIME — The State Highway Commission voted unanimously to outlaw any political advertising within 1,000 feet of a state highway or major thoroughfare. Geez. What a loss to culture, not having to see giant DMV mugshots of grinning politicians promising to get done what hasn’t been done 10,000 years before they arrived.
FEBRUARY 19, 1982
A DRAG STRIP? WHAT A WONDERFUL PLACE TO CATCH A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP — Of all places, mountain goat-rich Castaic was the choice to build a multi-million-dollar drag strip. Besides a stock car drag strip and miles of dirt bike motorcycle trails, the unnamed park would also feature a big RV shopping center and overnight camping park. Despite all the big talk, the drag strip/racing center sputtered rather than roared out of the gate and was never built.
RELAX. NO PRESSURE. — Santa Clarita was dragged kicking and screaming into the late 20th century, with all its newfangled lifestyles. The newest fad to hit the valley was “acupressure.” As Christine Jeannette, the SCV’s first licensed practitioner put it: “Acupressure is the Drano of life.” The new therapy essentially put undue pressure on places that really hurt so you wouldn’t hurt…
PERHAPS THEY SHOULD HAVE ASKED THE CITIZENS OF SAN FRANCISCO TO BRING THEM INTO THEIR PRIVATE HOMES? — Pitchess was still called Wayside but they had 86ed the kinder “Honor Rancho” part of the title years earlier. The county supervisors noted the maximum-security pen was bursting at its seams and passed a measure to spend another $73 million to expand the now Big-Time Crook facility to house another 1,100 convicts. The 2,800-acre Wayside already housed 2,066 jailbirds.
Well dear saddlepals? That swirling orb of light and energy up ahead is our particular exit to the present-time Santa Clarita. There’s a slight breeze going back to 2022, so hold onto your hats. Wouldn’t want any of you to lose a hat and have some back-canyon local be suspiciously fashionable. See you in seven days back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post. 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/.