Foof and boy howdy. We’ve a sometimes dangerous trek into the back trails of yesteryear, what with vicious attack dogs, cattle rustlers, one of the harshest op/eds ever to run in America.
C’mon, dear neighbors and saddlepals.
Hold the reins firm but not too tight. Tens of thousands of us are going to mosey into the mystic...
(PHOTO CAPTION: A lot of you remember Billy Barty, the little person entertainer. He started off as a child star and by 1937, had been in 102 movies. He also toured the country in a vaudeville act and appeared at Newhall Elementary on this date. If you want to get real specific, 3:30 p.m., too. Mr. Barty was actually born William John Bertanzetti in 1924. Believe it or not, but he was Mormon.)
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
• It would become one of the most significant books of the 19th century in that it helped launch a huge real estate boom in California. Author Helen Hunt Jackson stopped off at the Camulos Ranch on January 23rd, 1882, off present-day Highway 126. There, she interviewed Blanca Yndart, a young, rather short and plain-looking Tataviam Indian girl. From those sessions, Jackson would create one of the most powerful books of the 19th century and create a beautiful heroine. The book title? “Ramona.”
• Rudolph Nickel, store owner and newspaper publisher, founded the Acton Post Office on January 24, 1888. Back then, the Acton/Agua Dulce area had more folks living there than in the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley.
• Abraham Lincoln refused to make Edward Fitzgerald Beale Surveyor General of the United States, noting: “He tends to become master of all he surveys.” On this date, in 1858, before he was a general, Beale drove a herd of brightly-tacked camels through Los Angeles, en route through Newhall and the San Joaquin beyond. Beale had petitioned the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, to try an experiment using camels to patrol the vast stretches of California. Soon, the Civil War would start and Davis (who would later resign to lead the Confederate armies) and Beale would have other things on their minds. Besides. There were few cowpokes out here who had the patience or training to work with camels. Eventually, the Army would sell most of the dromedaries to zoos or private owners.
• John Gifford was known as the first citizen of Newhall. But it was George Campton who built the first house in Newhall. It was on 8th Street, between present-day San Fernando Road and Walnut. It burned to the ground in 1883, the same year the Newhall School went up like kindling. Campton, who owned the general store, rebuilt. The darn house burned to the ground AGAIN in 1891. Campton rebuilt, but this time went east of the tracks and just north of the Gifford house, which was near present-day Market and Railroad. Campton, by the way, was the on-again, off-again postmaster. The post was a political one and, being a Republican, he served when there was a GOPer in the White House and was out of that job when the Dems were in the Oval Office.
• Most history buffs recall that oil pioneer Alec Mentry first lived in Placerita Canyon. But few realize that same house would later become Cowboy Hall of Famer Andy Jauregui’s home.
JANUARY 26, 1927
• We got trouble. Right here in Santa Clarita City. On this date, Jarvis and Palmer lost a jury trial in front of Judge A.B. Perkins. The charges? Operating their Ridge Route dance hall without a license — AND — operating said dance hall after midnight. The proprietors were found guilty and fined $15 each.
• Now while those two boys earned a combined $30 fine, the Sullivan brothers were hit with a whopping $100 fine for picking holly in Bear Canyon.
• You know, you’d think that’d be one of the first things they’d teach you in Pilot School. On this date we had perhaps the most unusual plane wreck in our history. Captain Dick Bowman was making a landing at little Newhall International Airport during a storm and landed smack dab on top of a biplane left in the middle of the runway. The dubiously parked aircraft had been left by a pilot of a local mining company. Pilot Bowman, miraculously, suffered just a scraped nose. He was carrying the U.S. Mail, too.
JANUARY 26, 1937
• We don’t worry about this too much in the Here-&-Now Santa Clarita. But an epidemic of Range Paralysis struck the valley 80 years back. Nope. It has nothing to do with being in the saddle and frozen stiff. Range Paralysis struck chickens and was fatal in most cases. It was caused by the wrong diet in young chickens.
• The followers of Rev. Almee Semple McPherson were putting the finishing touches on a new Foursquare Church at Spruce and 13th Streets.
• Before Bermite occupied the spot near the Metrolink station on Soledad, the place was an explosives factory called Halifax. They weren’t blowing up too much or making too much things that blew up. They had a labor strike on this date.
• Spruce Street (today, San Fernando Road) was transformed into an ice skating rink. The fire plug by the Motor Stage Cafe literally cracked in half, sending a fountain of water into the sub-freezing night. By morning, it made a beautiful, but treacherous frozen lake. A lot of locals considered going skating, but no one out here had any skates.
JANUARY 26, 1947
• One of the biggest — if not THE biggest — issues of post World War II Santa Clarita were the hog ranches. Trash czars wanted to turn much of the valley into a giant slop farm where most of Los Angeles County’s refuse would be dumped. A special zoning ordinance was created to stop the farms, along with their hogs in the hundreds of thousands — from turning the place into one smelly dump. But, an offshoot of the plan was the “Z” word. In the past, the SCV was an isolated area where pretty much anyone with land could do whatever they liked on it. Zoning was one of the trade-offs — and perhaps the first chapter in an over-regulated valley.
• On this date, William S. Hart Jr. filed suit in Superior Court to block his father’s will. The silent film legend died in 1946, leaving most of his $1 million estate to the county of Los Angeles. “My sole object is to give what I own back to the public that gave it to me,” Hart pledged before he died. His only child, Bill Jr., claimed his dad was of “unsound mind” when he wrote the will.
• Brrrrr. The average low for this week, in downtown Newhall, was 27 degrees.
• One of the biggest hit songs in America was “Open the Door, Richard,” sung by the famous Jack McVea. That got locals wondering. There was another noted African-American musician who entertained mostly locally in the SCV. He was Satchell McVea. Turned out he was Jack’s dad.
• Someone stole all the coins from the March of Dimes jar at Rod Rose’s R & E Sweet Shop. The Signal — actually, owner Fred Trueblood — went after the unidentified culprit with the vengeance of a Shakespearean witch:
“But there is a kind of fate that levels these things up.
“We personally have no doubt that a few polio bugs are going to crawl into this louse’s spinal cord some day, and wither his legs and blast his body, and leave nothing but a miserable, shriveled pin head. The louse never had a heart.”
• The movement, at least here, was fervent to create Placerita Canyon State Park. One of the neighbors, Lloyd Earl, of the proposed acreage vehemently opposed it and got an earful when he tried to build a locked gate, closing off the 100-year-old Placerita Canyon Road. Lloyd, I believe, was either the owner or related to the owner of the old Earl Packing House in that area in the 19th century. The foreman of the meat house was stabbed to death at a dance by a lovely señorita. The road, by the Nature Center today, used to be called The Narrows.
• I haven’t counted, but I think we’re close to about a half-dozen cases where rail riders were either completely bisected or lost a limb when they fell beneath the wheels of a multi-ton steel beast. Carl Gillerstrom, 42, was the latest to be added to the list. Drunk and trying to board a train near the old Newhall Station, he slipped and his arm landed on the rail. The giant wheel sliced it completely off at the shoulder. They didn’t find his arm until the next morning — about two blocks away. They buried it behind the Sheriff’s Station, which, today, is the Canyon Theatre Guild parking lot. Space No. 13, if memory serves...
• It was sort of the beginning of the end. Wayside Honor Rancho had been a country club minimum — if that — security facility that housed minor offenders. On this date, the county began quietly adding a maximum security wing, bringing in old army barracks, fences and barbed wire. For the price of $100,000, they also threw in a guard tower.
• Did you know Harry Potter lived in Newhall? Yup. He was building a house on Arcadia.
JANUARY 26, 1957
• The previous year was a near-record drought. A surprise storm brought snow and ice to the local mountains and higher canyons and an inch of rain to Newhall. Already, the SCV had surpassed the 5 inches of rain that fell in all of 1955-56.
• Wouldn’t we all love to fill up at 1957 prices. A price increase hit us at the pump — about a half-a-penny. Gasoline was about 33 cents a gallon. Say it with me: “John could fill up his 25-gallon tank in his truck for just $8.25.”
JANUARY 26, 1967
• Hard to believe, we still had cattle rustlers here in the 1960s. (We had them up to the 1980s, too). On this date, beef thieves made off with three Holstein calves from a Bouquet ranch. In a separate incident, someone goatnapped a ruminant from a ranch near Lang Station.
• CalArts is still a sore spot with me. My best pal Phil Lanier and I applied for both application and scholarships. To this day, we’ve yet to hear a peep from them.
• There wasn’t a ribbon cutting. No one hardly knew it had happened. But on this date, north and south met in Castaic at the Feather River project. A giant tube lined the massive water pipe nearly 30-feet in diameter that would bring water from the north, bypassing Castaic Lake and into Los Angeles. Miners from all over America and Canada had been working 24 hours a day, five days a week and sometimes more, trying to complete the tunnel.
• If it wasn’t for an anonymous good Samaritan, Hazel Edington and Kelly More would have been dead. The pair had skidded off icy Bouquet Canyon Road down a 250-foot cliff and into the freezing reservoir. Injured and unable to swim, they were drowning when a man plunged in to pull them both to safety. He then drove off after rescue crews arrived.
JANUARY 26, 1977
• And while they’re at it, they should of changed Valencia Blvd. to Soledad Canyon. Saugus resident Jack Hutchinson tried, in vain, to get the Joint Road & Highway Committee to ease much confusion that has plagued the SCV for decades. Hutchinson suggested that San Fernando Road, which changes to Bouquet Canyon in midstream at Magic Mountain Parkway, be changed to Bouquet Canyon. Why? We have nothing to do with the San Fernando Valley.
• Boy howdy I sure hope this teamster had something with which to wash that down. A Mexican national truck driver didn’t make it out of the Castaic scales with his overload. Instead of dumping part of his cargo or warehouse it, he called for a second truck to lighten his load. That rig arrived two days later. In the meantime, the teamster just lived in his truck. By the time the second big diesel arrived, the load was a smidge lighter. The trucker had lived the entire two days off sardines. Wonder if they docked his pay for the difference?
• Col. Tom Mitchell, famous for starting the third-oldest school district in the county (behind L.A. and Acton) served in the Mexican-American War under Sam Houston with the Texas Volunteers. Remnants of the school were still around in 1976 and, in fact, a caretaker lived in the old Mitchell adobe. Alas, time and vandals took their toll on the old schoolhouse, which was founded all the way back in 1872 — with just four students.
JANUARY 26, 1987
• While the enemies of our municipal freedom were trying to scare us about breaking away and forming our own city, other governments who went before us said they were dead wrong. As the year began, locals were moving forward to get a proposal to put the creation of the City of Santa Clarita on the ballot. City managers, from Lancaster to Agoura Hills, all rebutted charges that in forming a city, citizens would lose many essential services. It was the opposite. Most cities had more fire and police services, more parks, more busses, pools, senior services — you name it — than under Los Angeles County.
• No editorial comment with this one. High density apartment developers Palmer brothers, Dan and Geoff, didn’t win any local points. They stopped payments on more than $500,000 in checks earmarked for local school fees. The payments were required before they could get a go-ahead to build a 41-building project. Soledad Elementary, by the way, found out the check bounced a few days after they deposited it. Ditto with a six-figure check cut to the Hart District.
• Jim Fritz, a postal worker for 16 years, was forced into retirement. He ended up losing his home, car and many of his possessions. His family, for financial reasons, had to split up. Despite several warnings to his superiors, coupled with two previous attacks, Fritz, while delivering the mail, was attacked by a vicious pit bull on Via Barra and ended up in intensive care at Henry Mayo. Various government agencies, especially the United States Postal Service, refused to help as the Fritz family lost everything. I’ve got a lengthy laundry list of people who should be horsewhipped in this case, from the dog owner to a bunch of bureaucrats...