Certainly trust all y’all Western Irishmen and Irish wannabes had a warm and pioneer-esque St. Patrick’s Day. In honor of the great saint who sadly got attached to excess drinking, we shall direct our ponies to eat a bit of green grass and pause reflectively while chewing.
Oh. A contrite confession and amends. Seems last week I inadvertently noted that Opie Tucker founded the Record-Press. He didn’t. Pat Onorato did. Also, making the record straight, Jackie Storinsky founded the Potpourri/Clarion. My sincere apologies for the bothersome detour of error, saddlepals. It was my horse’s fault.
Well. The soul cleansed thusly, shall we set off on another time ride through local history?
This wonderful Saturday morn, we’ve plenty of old vistas to explore — cops, pistol fighters, actual war games at Melody Ranch, overturned tractors and a local farmer who gave everybody the raspberry.
I mean like — in the spectacular plural.
Got an amazing story on the St. Francis Dam Disaster, too. Come. It’s moseying toward yon time…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
LAST REQUEST? I’D LIKE TO DIE OF OLD AGE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH — On this very day, March 19, 1875, 1:35 p.m., the Mexican pistol fighter, womanizer, and road agent Tiburcio Vasquez was hanged in San Jose. Story goes, his last word on the gallows was, “Pronto.” Me, I’d prefer if I were to be lynched, there would be little pressure around the noose and I could stretch the ordeal out for 30 or 40 years. His hideout in Agua Dulce, Vasquez Rocks, still carries the bandit’s name. Interestingly, he owned three houses in Santa Clarita and walked around town in the alter ego of a respectable horse trader.
MARCH 19, 1922
MIX-ING UP YOUR ENTERTAINMENT — On this date, the old Newhall Opera House was showing off the work of a local actor. Tom Mix starred in the silent flick: “The Foreman of the Bar-Z Ranch.” Yup. It was a Western. At the time, if Tom Mix wasn’t the most famous person on the planet, he was in the top 5…
HAD SOME FOR BREAKFAST. FEEL CHIPPER. — Farmers started planting fruit trees on a large scale in the Soledad Canyon area. Agriculturist Logan Goodknight planted around 600 fruit trees on 139 acres. That was next to their large vineyard and strawberry farm, which held around 10,000 plants. The Goodknights were wise beyond their time. They also planted thousands of black raspberry plants. Recently, in our 21st century, a report was released that moderate consumption of black raspberries cut down prostate cancer by about 50%. That’d be in lab rats. Not humans yet.
PRIOR, LOTS OF SCV HOUSEWIVES WERE WALKING AROUND TOWN WITH REALLY POWERFUL RIGHT FOREARMS — Womenfolk (have to check with legal if we can say “womenfolk” in these PC climes; oh well; they’re out to lunch; it’s going in…) were abuzz about a big sale at San Fernando Hardware. For $25, you could buy something called The National Motor Washer. It was basically a wooden tub with an electric motor attached to a ringer. The motor replaced the hand crank. Surely must have been a lot of women walking around with really powerful right forearms up until the new machine…
MARCH 12, 1928
DAMMING FACTS — When the St. Francis Dam burst on this date, it was later noted by local historian Jerry Reynolds that 12,441,647,600 gallons of water escaped down San Francisquito Canyon, killing around 500 people. Reynolds noted there were 130,446 cubic yards of cement in the dam and the reservoir covered around 600 acres.
A RATHER SIGNIFICANT BAD DREAM — My absolute favorite story about the St. Francis Dam Disaster came from a film star, Harry Carey. He owned a huge ranch up San Francisquito Canyon that sat smack dab in the flood’s fury. A couple days before the St. Francis burst, Carey was in New York City, doing a Broadway play. He later recalled getting a call from the medicine man of the tribe of Indians who lived on his spread and did everything from work the restaurant and resort to herd cattle. His Navajo friend confessed that he had a horrible disaster dream the night before and that he’d be taking the entire tribe of around 100 Native Americans back to Arizona — immediately. That dream saved the lives of all of Carey’s friends and employees.
MARCH 19, 1932
ONE ADAM 12. ONE ADAM 12. SEE THE MAN . . . — This was a red-letter day for the local Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Newhall chapter. On this date, the first radio was installed in a local patrol car. The way it worked was Capt. Stewart of the Newhall HQ would teletype a message to downtown Los Angeles dispatch and they’d broadcast it from L.A. to the patrol car in Newhall. It also sure saved the local cops a pants-full of nickels they carried around for payphones. The local constables would stop every 15 to 30 minutes on their patrols to call the 6th Street headquarters to see if anyone had called with an emergency or to report crime or dispute. Back then, our little station had a 1,000-square-mile territory to patrol, up to Frazier Park, over to Chatsworth and including the entire Antelope Valley.
MARCH 19, 1942
OKAY. WE WANT SNOW IN MARCH!! — Mid-March and the SCV was blessed with a dusting of snow all around the valley at about the 2,000-foot level. That included places like Sand Canyon, upper Bouquet and San Francisquito. It didn’t stick long, but made the place look like Switzerland for a bit.
ATTENTION AND TURN TOWARD YOUR GOOD SIDE — The Placeritos Movie Ranch, which later would be Melody Ranch, was used for actual, real Army maneuvers 80 years back this week. Remember. This was during the early days of World War II and the Santa Clarita Valley was one of the top military targets on Earth because of us being the hub of a wheel of roads, oil, gas, water, electrical and phone lines. Cut off the SCV and you effectively controlled Southern California. Anywho. Around 200 troops from the 3rd Battalion used the Western lot to practice war games and no. The soldiers didn’t have fancy six-shooters in holsters…
MARCH 19, 1952
FARMING? IT CAN BE A MIGHTY DANGEROUS BUSINESS. — In the case of Harvey Myrick, it was a fatal one. Myrick was using an old tractor to remove some irrigation pipe from the Santa Clara River. He maneuvered the old Minneapolis-Moline tractor into the stream. As he started to locomote out and up the bank, the tractor flipped over, pinning Myrick underneath. He drowned in 2 feet of water.
PANCHO & THE PIGGIES — World-famous lady aviator and Antelope Valley dude ranch/cafe operator Mrs. Florence Lowe Barnes, aka “Pancho” Barnes, stood tearfully before the Newhall magistrate on this date. She was fighting a traffic ticket. Seems Pancho was driving through Newhall with three 500-pound hogs in the back of her Studebaker pickup. Pancho was pulled over for driving with her high beams on. Pancho tried to explain to the officer that she had to have the high beams on because the hogs were weighing down the truck in the back and the regular lights weren’t working. Pancho refused to sign the ticket and was arrested. She demanded a jury trial in the Newhall Courthouse, got it, lost, and was assessed either a $40 fine or eight days in jail. Pancho said it was a matter of principle and wouldn’t pay the fine. Judge MacDougall said she could either appeal or show up in 30 days with a set of pajamas and a toothbrush to start serving her eight days. She ended up paying. A small part of Pancho’s life was saluted, many years later, in the movie, “The Right Stuff.”
MARCH 19, 1962
TODAY? THAT’D JUST COVER, WELL. WE JUST WON’T GO THERE — A whopping school bond passed for Hart High, allowing the district to raise $2.5 million for future expansion. The final tally? It was 1,228 votes for, 395 against. Of the seven precincts within the district, Val Verde was the smallest with just 47 votes cast.
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA — Local businessmen broke ground on the valley’s first luxury apartment building. The huge complex (huge by 1962 standards with 39 units) had a sun deck, rec room, and swimming pool — all fairly new amenities for apartments in the SCV. The place still sits there on Newhall Avenue today. It’s called, “The Californian.” One of the glamor features was a huge waterwheel at the entrance. It was a really neat waterwheel, too. Problem was, it was also an attractive nuisance (kids used to climb up it). It was also a magnet for pranksters. Practical jokers would dump soap suds in it and a sudsy foam monster would be slithering a block down Newhall Avenue.
MARCH 19, 1972
TOO BAD FOR YOU. YOU MIGHT LIVE IN RATSBURG. — On this date, the county engineer ordered that several abandoned gold mines in the Seco Canyon/Galaxy Highlands areas of Saugus be eliminated. One thing, kids were exploring the dangerous holes, and for another, some residents were worried that their homes were sitting essentially on Swiss-cheese foundations. That area of Saugus, by the way, used to be called, “Ratsburg.” It seems around the turn of the 20th century, Newhall Land foreman Jon Arnett would ride up on horseback to collect the monthly rent from the miners. When they spotted him, many would scurry into the mines — “like rats.” Arnett started calling the tent and clapboard shack mining community, “Ratsburg.”
SECOND-BEST SPORTS HISTORY IN ALL OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION. EASTERN, TOO. — My best friend, Phillip Lanier was hired 50 years ago as sports editor of The Mighty Signal. On March 15, 1972, Phil wrote his first newspaper column, “Sports Editor’s Corner.” It was about sports and the rites of passage of young men in the Arunta tribe of Australia. Señor Lanier is a darn fine writer, still.
MARCH 19, 1982
PENNY-WISE BURGLAR — A second-story man broke into a one-story Valencia home and made off with a big Sparkletts water bottle filled with 15,000 pennies. That’s gotta be like, uh, almost — we’ll send out a query to accounting for a total. Must have been a pretty strong robber, too.
MORE FUN WITH NUMBERS AND CROOKS — Two more prisoners escaped from Wayside on this date, making the total for the week a staggering 10. If one were to extrapolate to the ridiculous extreme, that would mean 520 inmates would escape every year.
Well. That about brings us full circle to the highly overrated here-&-now. Surely appreciate these rides with you dear friends, neighbors and saddlepals. See you back here at the hitching post of The Mighty Signal for another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then? Be kind to one another and enjoy this lovely Spring. Vayan con Dios, amigos!
Check out John Boston’s new SCV history books — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America,” Volumes 1 AND 2 at johnbostonbooks.com/.