Well a good Santa Clarita spring morning to you, saddlepals and saddlepal-ettes. See you’re all well-outfitted with those cute little chrome and Styrofoam latte mugs. April. Designer coffee. Tall in the saddle and poking the atmosphere with a delicate pinkie. Twenty-first-century life just doesn’t get any better.
We’ve a most interesting trek into the backtrails of SCV yesteryear. I’d like to tantalize that actors Will Smith, Madonna, rapper Jay-Z and the entire cast of Yellowstone will be riding with us this morning. Alas, they’re late sleepers and will be missing yet another of our infamous trail rides into SCV lore and history.
C’mon. Left foot in the stirrup, swing the right boot up and over, being careful not to bisect your pony as they have good memories. Shall we mosey in the many springs of peaceful climes?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
GOOD PADRE GARCES — One of local history’s toughest hombres was Father Francisco Garces. He was born April 12, 1738, in Spain and would wander through the SCV in 1776 smack dab in the middle of a war between Coastal Chumash and local Tataviam. In his diary, he noted the odd occurrence of the Santa Clara River rapidly flowing at night and dry during the day. Garces was an amazing specimen, hiking from San Diego and up into Santa Clarita, then walking — solo — through the San Joaquin Valley for several hundred miles. He’d also be the first Anglo to meet the Mojave Indians and his diary would later be published as “The Mojave Road.” He’d be the first white to travel the Cajon Pass. Poor Garces. Though a good soul, he suffered from the treachery and brutality of the Spanish soldiers. It ended up costing Garces his life and he was killed by the Kw’tsa’n Indians during the Yuma Revolt. More Padre G trivia? Garces was the man who named the Colorado River for the red clay along the banks.
UNLIKE IN THE JOHNNY CASH SONG, HE DID NOT HEAR THAT TRAIN A’COMIN’ — Santa Clarita’s famous newspaper publisher and oil magnate, Wallace Hardison, was killed in a trail accident when he did not see a racing locomotive and trailing cars. He died instantly at a crossing in Roscoe (renamed Sun Valley in 1949) on April 10, 1909. Hardison was involved in Pico Canyon oil exploration and had big headquarters in downtown Newhall. He’d hit it REALLY big in strikes in Ventura County. You may have heard of the petroleum company he started — Standard Oil. Hardison was also owner of the famous Los Angeles Herald newspaper, buying it in 1900 and losing money all four years he owned it.
THAT BLANKETY-BLANK SO-&-SO — I smile hugely at the thought of wishing I could yell, “DO-OVER!!!” Future Agua Dulce stuntman, mischief-maker, intellectual, rancher, dear friend, and horseman of questionable ability, Jack Williams Himself was born on April 15, 1921. I always liked to ask Jack how he fared so well in show business riding so poorly and often suggested duct tape to keep the legendary stuntman in the saddle. Jack was a Realtor in the SCV for years. He was enshrined on the Newhall Western Walk of Stars in 2005 and appeared in more than 300 films. Jack died in 2007, at the age of 85, having doubled for dozens of superstars and performing hundreds of stunts. Best yet? Jack Williams was darn good company.
APRIL 9, 1922
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROCKY! — On April 7, 1922, entrepreneur Albert Swall added another building to his Main Street empire. It would be the short-lived home of the Rock Bottom Grocery Company. Here’s some odd happenstance. April 7 is also the birthday of former Signal writer, Carol Rock, who used to write a column for us called Rock Bottom. I think someone needs to start playing vintage science fiction TV theme music on a kazoo…
A VACATION STOP-THE-PRESSES!! — Cross-country travel in a car was such a rare occurrence a century ago, it made front-page headlines in The Mighty Signal. Mr. and Mrs. Tom Lord of Salem, New York, passed through Newhall on this date. It took them 33 days to get here. They spent 31 of those days in hotels and only had to camp out twice. Cost of gasoline for the entire — THE ENTIRE — jaunt!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Not quite 50 bucks. While they had one flat, they proudly pointed out they made the trek on one set of spindly tires. “Knock on wood,” Mr. Lord kept saying, “knock on wood.”
APRIL 9, 1932
THEM SOFT, CUSHY, HIGH-PAYIN’ GUBMENT JOBS!! — Today, pundits, watchdogs and plain citizens sometimes complain about the big salaries many get on the public dole. The Signal was outraged that during the Great Depression, many Los Angeles County employees were pulling down seemingly exorbitant salaries, some of which topped the $6,000 a year category. A yearly salary of $2,500 was considered living high on the hog in the early days of the Depression.
APRIL 9, 1942
DARE YOU TODAY TO SAUNTER UP TO THE SHERIFF’S COUNTER IN VALENCIA AND ORDER TWO CHEESEBURGERS, SOME FRIES AND A CHOCOLATE SHAKE — Because of the war effort where common goods from silk to butter were rationed, you had to go to the sheriff’s office on 6th and San Fernando to get a permit to buy a new or used tire or set.
SELF-PERFORATING BERTIE — We notched another self-inflicted gunshot wound. This time, it was via a soldier. Pvt. Bertie Smith, guarding the Edison substation, shot himself a good-sized hole in the foot while loading his gun. On the DOWNSIDE, his foot reportedly whistled when walking barefooted. On the bright side, at least Bernie got off guard duty.
TOTAL BLACKOUT — A very loud alarm went off at Newhall Elementary, signifying a total, valleywide black-out would be coming. Residents had five minutes to pull every shade so no light leaked out or they had to turn their lights completely out. By 8:45 p.m. the entire SCV was, “…darker than the inside of a coal mine,” according to one Civil Defense warden. Not only did everyone kill their lights (for fear of attack by the Japanese), all traffic was stopped at Sandberg on the Ridge Route and in the San Fernando Valley. The only light reported in the SCV was from a campfire at a distant hobo camp. Last we heard, the Japanese didn’t bomb their encampment.
APRIL 9, 1952
HOW MUCH FOR YOUR WIFE? I BUY HER — Sometimes, even The Mighty Signal makes mistakes. On this date, lovely Mary Pittinger of Cherry Street offered one of her Guernsey bulls for sale in one of our highly effective classified ads. The typesetter forgot to type in the two keywords: “Guernsey bull.” The ad noted that, for $75, you could buy the comely Ms. Pittinger. Although some merry pranksters called and haggled at the price, Mary got several offers, plus, a front-page apology from this paper the next week and a free ad.
APRIL 9, 1962
WONDER WHAT WALT WOULD THINK OF RAINBOW DISNEY TODAY? — Walt Disney Himself paid a visit to the Hart Mansion on this date. The creator of Mickey Mouse was on hand to donate a herd of bison to the park. The burly critters had been roaming the pastures of the Disney Ranch in Placerita. Six cows and a calf were given a new home on the 258-acre Hart park, behind the 8-foot chain-link fence. The bison were recuperating after recently appearing in the Disney flick, “Sancho the Homesick Steer.” Don’t think I own that one in my video library…
APRIL 9, 1972
EVEN OUR MOUTHS WERE DRY — The long drought continued. Since Jan. 1, we had only 0.15 of an inch of rain. We were still heavily agricultural 30 years back and everyone from beekeepers to sheepherders was feeling the dryness.
NEW SIGNAL HEADQUARTERS — On this date, representatives from The Mighty Signal visited the Regional Planning Commission. Purpose? We were looking for a new world corporate headquarters for our offices. The proposed site was on Round Mountain, near Interstate 5 and the Valencia Industrial Center. The building, planned by this paper, was round and would have a panoramic 360-degree view of the valley. I heard that there was also a plan to install a giant, golden eagle that rotated atop. It was a grand and ambitious design. We also considered buying the old Saugus Elementary School campus and could have gotten it for a steal. We ended up building a rather soulless and unimaginative compound on Creekside Road that was recently torn down. And, of course, here we are, in the Valencia Industrial Center, on Avenue Stanford.
MOTORCYCLE GANG vs. SCLARITA — On this date, the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang was implicated in the theft of 14 pounds of C-4 from Bermite, the Saugus munitions manufacturer. C-4 is a powerful military, putty-like explosive. The C-4 was found during a drug raid in Sacramento.
APRIL 9, 1982
THE AIRLIFTING OF DOGS AND PEOPLE — One ongoing problem is communication among government agencies. On this date, the Department of Water Resources neglected to let the U.S. Forest Service know they were going to open the floodgates to the famous Piru Gorge just northwest of here by Pyramid Lake. Normally, water flows from the lake at around 30 cubic feet per second. DWR opened the gates to release seven times that amount, sending a flash flood through the canyon. No one told the various campers by the stream and 30 people and two dogs had to be airlifted and rescued after a rampaging wall of water washed over them.
AN UNPLANNED CHANGE OF CLOTHES — Four people visiting Wayside Honor Rancho were surprised when their lives were turned 180 degrees. They were arrested for trying to smuggle marijuana to inmates and went from visitors to prisoners in a blink.
LAYING OF HISTORIC TRACKS — Volunteers for the SCV Historical Society laid several feet of railroad track in front of the Saugus Depot. Someone noted the irony that all the workers were Caucasian and that the original local track layers were Chinese. The society also invited several members of the state Chinese Historical Society to be their guests. The visitors were an engineer, librarian, businessman and space scientist. Signal columnist Ruth Newhall noted, “Their great-great-grandfathers would have been proud.”
Through this miracle of time traveling, we’ve been gone but a few moments but have covered a couple of centuries. Seems to be a beautiful weekend in the here-&-now. Do enjoy it and do be most wonderful to one another during these trying times. You folks have a wonderful and peaceful weekend. See you in seven and until then, 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.