Friends. Neighbors. Democrats. We have ourselves one epic trail ride through local history ahead.
I mean to tell you:
If you’re perusing this over breakfast (and I hope you’re not reading in church) you’re going to need more coffee.
Saddle up. The winds are just right to duck into the vortex...
(PHOTO CAPTION: The anniversary of the St. Francis Dam disaster of 1928 is just a month away. Thirty years ago, one of the heroes of the calamity, was Thornton Edwards. He was the first recipient of the Highway Patrol’s Medal of Valor.
He was the officer who got the call to warn residents that the big water project miles upstream had failed. Edwards hopped onto his big 4-cylinder Indian motorcycle (which he bought with his own money, as he did with his uniform) to warn residents downstream. He was called “The Paul Revere of Santa Paula.” As he was racing through back roads to warn farmers near the riverbanks, his own home was washed 60 feet off its foundation.
Despite his heroics, he quit the CHP when they wanted to transfer him to Sacramento a few months after the disaster.
The residents of Santa Paula made him Chief of Police.
A little trivia. Edwards also supplemented his income in the movie business — usually as a bad guy and had speaking parts as “The Evil Mexican” in several Hopalong Cassidy episodes.
Once, long retired, he was pulled over for making an illegal left turn in Inglewood. Edwards quickly started explaining who he was. The cop smiled and wagged his finger at the hero, telling him never to drive without his medal of honor again.
Edwards was still a vital, chipper fellow in 1987 — at the age of 92. He died a year later.
They have a statue of him and his motorcycle today in downtown Santa Paula. )
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
• Over the years, one creature on the endangered species list became rarer and rarer. That was the American cowboy. Buck Brown was born in 1903 and at the age of 74 was still a working cowboy in Sand Canyon. He grew up on the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and just hopped on a horse to cowboy around the country. By the time he hit the California line, someone had stolen his saddle and he rode bareback into the state.
Buck, born John Carson Brown, worked as a stuntman in the Westerns of the 1920s, sharing screen credits with a Hall of Fame daredevil, Yakima Canutt. He also trained horses for the silver screen.
Still a young man, in the 1930s, he had a job running cattle from Newhall to Toluca Lake for movie shoots. One day, he spotted an old-timer mending a fence on Newhall Avenue. Brown rode over to give the senior citizen a hand with a post hole. The old man asked: “You think William S. Hart will ever make any more pictures?” Brown shrugged and said he thought not. Later, he learned the man he had helped was Two-Gun Bill himself.
Brown moved to Newhall after that.
He earned enough money to buy his own spread and once sold a palomino to Clark Gable.
As the way of the West dimmed to memory, ol’ Buck had a curious resume. He was one of the last men in America to be able to handle a 20-horse, oxen or mule team.
In 1976, he would move out to the old Mitchell Adobe as a caretaker next to Sulphur Springs. His neighbor was Bob Anderson, son of the screen’s first movie superstar, “Broncho” Billy Anderson.
He still trained horses into his 70s. His big regret in life?
“I could kick myself for not buying up some of this land years ago,” Buck said of the oak-lined Sand Canyon area.
I’m not sure whatever happened to ol’ Buck. If any of you grizzled saddlepals in the Sand Canyon/movie business know anything, give a holler, puh-leaze...
• I can’t imagine being at a birthday party for a tall, stern little kid and singing “Happy Birthday to Atholl.” Most of us at some time during the week drive on the parkway that bears his name. On this very day of Feb. 11th, 1879, the most influential person of the 20th century in the Santa Clarita Valley was born in San Francisco. Atholl McBean was related by marriage to the Newhall family. He would end up saving The Newhall Land & Farming Co. from bankruptcy. He also kept the huge holdings together and began the vision of creating the planned urban community so many live in today.
Besides being CEO of Newhall Land, McBean had an impressive resume. He was president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, director of Pacific Telephone and board member of Crocker Citizens Bank, Pacific Mutual, Standard Oil and others.
After Newhall Land was devastated by the great St. Francis Dam Disaster and then by the Great Depression, at 51, McBean took over the company and turned it around.
It was in 1946 when McBean started studying the primarily ranch land in the SCV with an eye to develop it into a future suburbia. His business philosophy was to find the right person for the right job.
• Before the Civil War, borax was primarily imported and used for glass blowing and gold mining. There was a big find of the mineral north of San Francisco in 1856 and the Borax Company of California was formed. It took eight years for them to start operations. More uses for the mineral were found when industry started using it in the making of steel and iron.
• Speaking of mining, an international contingent of miners descended into Placerita Canyon after our gold discovery of 1842. There was G.F. Waseurtz of Sweden, Duflot de Mofras of France and John Bidwell of England mining here, along with Hispanic miners. In 1844, Andrew Anderson laid a claim to Placerita Canyon. He set up a cylinder-shaped machine. It was a yard in diameter. You shoveled in gravel and hand-cranked the beast. Gold would settle in the grooves. We know from Mr. Anderson’s diary that he pulled out about two pounds in as many weeks — or, about $28. It was almost easier to have a real job. Interestingly, Anderson’s hand-made machine was of the exact same design used in the ancient King Solomon’s mines.
A Francis “Borax” Smith found a huge deposit of the stuff in Nevada and, in just six years during the 1880s, he pulled out millions of pounds of the stuff. The mineral was carted to Mojave to railheads there by the soon-to-be-famous 20-mule teams (although some of them were as big as 60).
Smith founded the Pacific Borax Company in 1890 and started buying up land and mineral rights.
One of Smith’s employees was a clerk in his Chicago office. Thomas Thorkidson quit his soft job and headed for California. Up the road, near Frazier Park, he discovered a big deposit of sodium tetraborate decahydrate.
Odd twist of fate, he hired his ex-boss, Steve Mather, to help mine it.
Meanwhile, two gold miners, up Tick Canyon found a huge borax deposit. They quickly rode to Frazier Park and sold it to Thorkidson for $30,000.
In 1908, just north of present-day Davenport Road in Agua Dulce, Thorkidson formed the Sterling Borax Works and built a narrow-gauge train line that hauled ore six miles over to the Lang Station.
A small mining community of Sterling was founded and was operating into the 1920s.
Remember Steven Mather?
After he quit the mining business went on to become the first director of the National Park Service.
Thorkidson? He lived a playboy’s life, throwing lavish parties. A story was told he was so proud of his physique, at a black tie dinner, he stripped completely nude to show it to the ladies. He died, penniless, at 81 in a nursing home in La Crescenta in 1950.
FEBRUARY 9th, 1927
• The valley was struck by the bee bandits. Heinous honey heisters helped themselves to the hives of heroic harvesters. OK. Sorry. I’m done with the alliteration. Seriously though, the crooks made off with not just the honey, but the bees’ wax as well. Howard Lee and Mr. & Mrs. Turner of Acton were caught red-handed in — dare I say? — a sting operation of an apiary and no. That ain’t where they keep apes. The trio confessed. They made a pretty penny of their loot, too, selling the wax for nearly $300 and the honey and other items for another $700.
• If they would have tried this today, Gloria Allred might have shown up for the defense and someone would be out a million. Instead, Harry Galligan and Bill Coons wound up in Judge Perkins’ court for fighting. Galligan got the worst of it, and, according to witnesses, deserved it. Coons said it was worth the $10 fine and that was that.
FEBRUARY 9th, 1937
• A thousand-plus miles away, there was fearful flooding in the Midwest. The Little Santa Clara River Valley banded together to raise relief money and send it to the Red Cross. Our goal? A hundred bucks. We made it, too. Not bad for a village during the Depression...
• RE: The above — we made a good chunk of it as a big social event we put on called The Soledad Township’s Flood Sufferers’ Dance. And no. The dance step called the “Swim” wasn’t invented yet. Must have had everybody in the valley there at a quarter a ticket.
• We should have kept some of that money local. Same night the dance was going on, we had an epic downpour of nearly three inches in one night. Riverbanks overflowed and ranchers were stranded.
• The Soledad Hotel was sold to John R. Colburn and Johnny promised the food would be better. The entrepreneur proudly announced that he had hired “Women Cooks!” The Soledad used to sit where the Way Station is now. (Don’t tell Victor or Jose about the women cooks...)
FEBRUARY 9th, 1947
• Deputy Richard Brown joked that if he could organize a police line-up, he could probably identify the crook blindfolded. It seems someone up in Gorman stole a 200-pound anvil bolted down to an even heavier table. Brown said the culprit must have been “8-feet-tall and 4-feet wide.”
• The DMV announced that Los Angeles had surpassed the 1.5 million vehicles for the county. I believe we have that every afternoon at Soledad/Bouquet Junction.
• G.H. Sullivan was kidded for a new business he was starting around town. The tractor driver took an ad out in The Signal: “Post Holes For Sale.” He explained that he didn’t exactly just sell you an invisible hole. He’d come out to your place to dig them...
FEBRUARY 9th, 1957
• We had a pretty darn good snowfall in Newhall proper and more in the higher elevations. There was enough snow on the ground in town to make snowmen. Mrs. Gladys Dyck lost control of her Chevy when some knucklehead boys came speeding down Pico Canyon in the oncoming lane. A boy threw a snowball from the racing truck and it put a hole in her windshield.
• Newhall Land & Farming shocked the valley by holding a special public meeting at the Henry Mayo Newhall Auditorium (aka, the Hart High Auditorium on Newhall Ave.). Peter McBean and other execs outlined the company’s intention to build a giant, planned community — with thousands of houses, freeways, stores, parks, etc. — atop their farmland. Folks in the audience were oohing and ahhing when the Farmers predicted their urban community would hold as many as 70,000.
FEBRUARY 9th, 1967
• One of my favorite “B” movies, “Hot Rods to Hell,” was playing at the Mustang Drive-in on Soledad. It was the top of a double bill over Elvis in “Spinout.”
• Back in the swashbuckling great days of newspapering, The Signal’s Scott Newhall penned a rather unusual editorial. It was about the heated debate over building a Job Corps outpost in Val Verde. Some opponents suggested if it came out to their community, there would be an increase in not just crime, but venereal disease. Scott suggested that the community observe a moment of silence. He did so by leaving a giant empty space in the middle of his opinion piece.
FEBRUARY 9th, 1971
• Remember where you were 46 years ago?
The Sylmar Quake rattled the Santa Clarita, causing $5.3 million in local damage to 1,540 of the valley’s 15,000 permanent buildings. Mobile homes suffered the worse. About 70 percent of the SCV’s 2,200 mobile homes. One car, parked near Hart Park, was partially swallowed up by the earth. Signal editor Scott Newhall came up with chilling prose in his editorial: “The Earth for a moment played us false. We are suddenly a baby who has been dropped by its mother, and we resent it.” On the bright side, while the quake caused $1 billion in Southern California damage, it was just 1/100th the strength of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Care to guess who was hurt the most by the 1971 earthquake? Thatcher Glass. About $3 million clean-up bill.
One of the aftermath of the Feb. 9th earthquake was flight. Several hundred residents put their homes up for sale, pulled their kids out of school and moved out of the SCV, citing fear of the moving Southern California earth.
Another by-product of the quake were parking lot sales. Nearly every business in town was setting up tables, trying to get rid of quake-damaged merchandise, some of it marked down 90 percent.
• This quake, centered in Sylmar, caused $5.3 million in local damage to 1,540 of the valley’s 15,000 permanent buildings. Mobile homes suffered the worse. About 70 percent of the SCV’s 2,200 mobile homes were damaged.
One car, parked near Hart Park, was partially swallowed up by the earth. Signal editor Scott Newhall came up with chilling prose in his editorial: “The Earth for a moment played us false. We are suddenly a baby who has been dropped by its mother, and we resent it.”
On the bright side, while the quake caused $1 billion in Southern California damage, it was just 1/100th the strength of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
Care to guess who was hurt the most by the 1971 earthquake? Thatcher Glass. About $3 million clean-up bill.
One of the aftermaths of the Feb. 9th earthquake was flight. Several hundred residents put their homes up for sale, pulled their kids out of school and moved out of the SCV, citing fear of the moving Southern California earth.
Yet another by-product of the quake were parking lot sales. Nearly every business in town was setting up tables, trying to get rid of quake-damaged merchandise, some of it marked down 90 percent.
FEBRUARY 9th, 1977
• I still remember this game. On this date, the still new Saugus High basketball squad trounced one of the top schools in America — Rambam Torah, 86-37. Of course, the tiny private Los Angeles Jewish school was famed for their scholastic prowess, not their athletics. The team played not only in uniforms, but in yamikahs. I’ll never forget that one. Rambam’s (named after the famous 10th century Hebrew scholar) players — all of them — while the contest was going on and when they weren’t in the game, sat on the bench and did their homework.
• Dave “Chips” Bormann was perhaps the biggest One That Got Away as far as SCV athletics. A sophomore basketball phenom at Hart (where the Indians went 23-2), his father moved him all the way to Kentucky so he could play in a more basketball-y clime. The 6-10 forward was a jewel indeed. He would later play small college ball where he led the nation in scoring. Wonder whatever happened to the kid?
FEBRUARY 9th, 1987
• The backers to create a self-sufficient and benevolent empire were reeling from another blow. Director Ruth Benell and her LAFCO, the agency which can hold life-&-death power over creating new governments, chewed off the first big portion from the proposed city boundaries, eliminating Castaic and Pico Canyon. Residents of both areas had petitioned to be within the city limits.