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First off, bottom of my heart, thanks and a moment of silence for all those who served the country all these years. Appreciate all of you, from Afghanistan to wars forgotten, who stood tall on watch. Millions of us remember and appreciate you. Please don’t forget that.

That aside, welcome to our morning trailride through local history, you tens of thousands of saddlepals. We sure kick up a cloud of dust, don’t we?

This last weekend in May, we’ll be on the cusp of our saddlehorns, watching one of the most exciting baseball games ever played here. Then there’s the usual: a gangland lord of Val Verde; a water mogul nearly gets killed; a spectacular airborne train vs. truck accident; movie stars, drunks, hoodlums and gee-whiz material proving once again, we are the most interesting spot in the universe.

Come. Let’s mosey...

 

PHOTO CAPTION: • This Memorial Day weekend, I felt compelled to not let it pass without a reading from Lt. Col. John McCrae of the Canadian Army, who died before the close of World War I. Here is his timeless poem, “In Flanders Fields”  —

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Funny. I’ve read that dozens of times over the years. Until now, I never made the connection. I will. The year 2017 isn’t a banner year for the California poppy. Usually around this time, the hills are in riotous bloom with the state flower, especially in the Antelope Valley and beyond. Still. If you can, I suggest all you saddlepals steal a few hours and mosey out to the few poppies.


WAY, WAY BACK WHEN

For the historical record, in 1872, there used to be two Elizabeth Lakes, one named East, the other West. The waterway was also called Rabbit Lake for a while. Lake Hughes was named after the sheep herder, Patrick Hughes. Munz Lake and Munz Ranch Road was named after John Munz, who arrived in 1898 and started a huge cattle ranch spanning thousands of acres. John’s wife was named Martha and they had nine kids. I’m guessing John and Martha must have liked each other very, very much.

• For those of you looking for that valuable extra credit on your report cards, jot down these names. They are the names of old Tataviam villages from the northern part of the valley. From the Piru area: Kouung, Hufant, Etsent, Akauaui, Kashtu, Pi’idhuku and Kamulus. From around the old pre-dam Castaic Lake: Sabau; Auuapya and Kashluk. From near Castaic: Kashtuk and Tsawayung.

• Col.Thomas Mitchell was one of the most influential people in the Santa Clarita Valley. He arrived in upper Canyon Country on May 24, 1860 and lived the life of a hermit for a while, holing up in an old miner’s lean-to shack. He married a young girl named Martha and the two of them would build a great ranching empire. Their son, Frank, was born on Nov. 14, 1869 and was one of the first pupils at the second oldest school district in Los Angeles County and would grow to be a prominent rancher in the SCV. Frank Mitchell died on Feb. 13, 1951. The Mitchells still live in this valley today.

 

MAY 25th, 1927

• This was a milestone in local technology. The local phone company announced they had achieved “practically continuous telephone service” for the area. There’s a grand phrase from middle management. Translation to English: the phones worked 16 hours a day, including Sundays.

• Harvey van Norman, No. 2 man in the California Aqueduct project and after whom Van Norman Dam was named, was nearly killed in a car accident here. Up Mint Canyon, his car flipped. Van Norman suffered a busted jaw, arm and various contusions. Three other Dept. of Water  & Power officials were seriously hurt. Cause of the crash? They were speeding.

• They are rare but they do happen here. A Nebraska-styled twister touched ground in Mint Canyon, completely lifting the Arthur Brown gas station off its foundation along with a neighboring kennel. All dogs and mechanics escaped serious injury.

 

MAY 25th, 1937

• On this date, the Golden Gate Bridge held its grand ribbon cutting. Local Eugene Biscailuz, who was also the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, was there with his Mounted Posse, which consisted of several Santa Claritans.

• On May 24, 1937, Henry Krieg died. He had one of the most photographed ranches on the planet. Krieg owned Vasquez Rocks. Krieg once commented that despite living on one of California’s most breath-taking spreads, he never much noticed the beauty.

• School closed at Mary Logan Elementary. The little campus atop our highest point, Oat Mountain, is a bit of trivia. Oat Mountain was a cattle ranch stretching over into the San Fernando Valley. It was run by a multimillionaire named Orcutt who hired the Willett family to run the spread. They had three kids and the trek to and fro the ranch was a half-day. So, the millionaire pulled some strings and got the Los Angeles Unified School District to create a special school named Mary Logan (after Orcutt’s mother). Orcutt paid the teacher to live up there and teach out of his own pocket.

 

MAY 25th, 1947

• I don’t know how Bob Carlin lived through this. He crossed the tracks at the deadly Placerita crossing and was T-boned dead square by a speeding freight train. His pick-up truck was hit so hard, it flew 10-feet ABOVE the engine and landed 25 yards away. Carlin landed with his HEAD THROUGH the darn windshield. His head alone took 89 stitches. While he suffered back injuries and more than 100 lacerations, he lived through it. Carlin was working at Melody Ranch on a movie shoot and apparently didn’t see the engine racing toward him.

• The Hart District put out a bid for building new classrooms on their Newhall Avenue high school campus. Highest paid craftsmen were the electricians at $2.30 an hour. Lowest wage went to the various helpers and general laborers at $1.25 an hour. That’s ten bucks a day or $50 bucks a week. I remember making $1.25 an hour working in a machine shop and ranch work in the 5th grade. I got my first check for $35 and thought I was filthy rich.

• You’d think with his parents giving him a name like that, it was bound to happen. A cowboy just leaving the Biddick Ranch near the Big Lemon Cafe was struck by a speeding motorist on old Highway 99 and sent flying. The cowboy’s name? Hurlburt.

 

MAY 25th, 1957

• We used to have these boffo annual celebrations at Placerita Park with live bands, Spanish dancers, barbecue, drinks and 10,000 fun things to do. The Placeritos Days celebrated Don Francisco Lopez’ discovery of gold there in 1842 by the Oak of the Golden Dream and the subsequent gold mining operations there.  Thousands used to attend.

• The old LaSalle movie ranch near present-day Calgrove was supposed to be the site of a championship 18-hold PGA golf course and country club. Some developers temporarily owned the land and were going to build the Oak Valley Country Club. Memberships at $600 entry and $30 a month were pretty pricey for out here. It was never built.

• A mysterious fire at the Pratty Farm cremated 80 brood hogs alive in their pens. No one knows how it started.

 

MAY 25th, 1967

• College of the Canyons didn’t have a name yet. It didn’t have a place, either. One of the original campus locations was supposed to be at the 600-acre Saugus Rehab site up Bouquet Canyon. The land was actually owned by the City of Los Angeles.

• The 1967 Placeritos Festival had an unusual and popular attraction: a stockade. Folks were getting a kick out of getting their heads and hands locked into the stocks. It was a popular way of punishing prisoners.

• Just up the hill from Placerita, at Bear Divide, the Army hosted a rare open house and showed 400 locals their Nike missile base, complete with warheads. The long-range missiles, some of which reportedly held nuclear warheads, were stored in underground bunkers. The place is an L.A. county fire base today.

• Frank Godden was the controversial head of the Val Verde Improvement Association and leader of the then primarily African-American community’s water district. The Los Angeles mortician would sometimes show up at meetings with four Cadillacs filled with L.A.-area toughs and reportedly threatened anyone who went against him. One Val Verde rodeo star, Bob Scott, reported that several of his horses were brutally stabbed or beaten to death and that youths would pelt his home and ranch with rocks, bottles and bullets. Godden’s water district was rife with delivery and quality problems and some residents paid sometimes as much as ten times the amount of other SCV residents for their water.

 

MAY 25th, 1977

• It was one of the greatest baseball games ever played here. College of the Canyons was trailing 13-3 in the Southern California junior college championship game to Cerritos. The came back to tie the game in the 9th with a grand slam by Mark Nocciolo only to lose it in the 10th. Ouch.

 

MAY 25th, 1987

• I’ve hammered this out over and over in my history class about how a little-known bureaucrat could be perhaps the most influential, in a notorious way, person in City history. Ruth Bennell, head of LAFCO, the state agency which had god-like power over the formation of new governments in California, had been the center of frustration of locals trying to create Santa Clarita 20 years back. Now, she drew the ire of many powerful politicians. State senator Ed Davis practically wanted Bennell’s head when she refused to give his staff public documents. The same with county supervisor Mike Antonovich’s office and many other agencies. The Signal had to sue LAFCO just to gain access to public records. Bennell was responsible for doctoring records and cutting the size of the original city of Santa Clarita by more than half down to its present 40-square mile limit. Actually, I think I know why Ruth had it in for us. But, I’ll share that in my class.

• All right. All right. I’ll spill the beans. Here’s my theory on the evil queen of red tape. You see, we’ve been trying to form our own city or county since the 1920s. There was a movement in the 1960s to form a city of Newhall-Saugus (leaving out poor Canyon Country). We hosted a meeting at the Hart Auditorium and invited several Southern California politicos to attend. One of those was a young Ruth Bennell, newly elected vice-mayor of Pico Rivera. From Bennell’s comments, she didn’t think much of either our community or attempts at self-government. She was booed a few times and after one ribald remark, a local farmer threw a tomato at her on stage, hitting the politician. Hardly anyone is around who remembers that meeting. My theory was that for Ruth, revenge was a dish best served cold. About a quarter century later, in 1987, I think Ruth was just being peevish and did everything to get in the way of the forming of Santa Clarita. One small bureaucrat can make a difference...

• Oh. A little bit more trivia. Senator Davis’ young aide 20 years back? Hunt Braly, local attorney.

• The Vista Valencia Village Drug Store had an unusual item under their RX sign: a car. Vickie Lynn Makhlouta-Coon of Valencia was arrested for driving under the influence. After she had a parking lot argument with her hubbie, she gunned her car, lost control and plowed right through the wall of the pharmacy. No one was injured.

• It would become one of the funniest darn comedies of the 20th centuries. But it wasn’t too funny to residents in the upper Santa Clarita Valley. For three nights in a row, Paramount Pictures closed down Highway 14 to film John Candy and Steve Martin in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Because it was a state highway, not a cent went to local coffers.

Come back and visit next week here under the warming glow of your SCV Beacon. I’ll be waiting with another thrilling trailride into the yesteryears and history of this wonderful Santa Clarita. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!

 

(SCV Historian John Boston also writes The John Boston Report blog for your SCV Beacon. Don’t forget to check out his national humor, entertainment & swashbuckling commentary website — http://www.johnbostonchronicles.com/ —you’ll be smiling for a week…) — © 2017 by John Boston. All rights reserved.

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