WEEKLY COLUMNJohn Boston's Time Ranger & SCV History: Randolph Scott, Cougar Hunts & Giant Asses
Posted on: 02/16/2017 00:00
You’ll have to excuse me, but I am plumb enthusiastic over our trail ride. I think it’s going to be rather epic and unique.
Next to Buffalo Tom overturning a train in 1928, we’ve got the second worst train robbery in SCV history. That one happened back before World War I. Well. Our rasslin’ in it.
We’ve got an SCV farming lesson brought to us by none other than Julius Caesar and we’ll be riding carefully by to inspect half-Mammoth jackasses, cougar hunts and we’ll be saying howdy to — respectful tip of the hat — Randolph Scott.
I’d say let’s just stampede hell bent for leather through our Santa Clarita time vortex. But let’s just mosey. Even if you don’t fall off, there’s always the risk of losing a really good Stetson in the wrong dimension...
(PHOTO CAPTION: Bill Pine celebrated his birthday in Placerita Canyon this week in 1947. The movie producer was at the Placeritos Ranch shooting his epic Western, “Albuquerque.” The star, Randolph Scott, surprised Pine by walking into the commissary (Melody Ranch used to have a full-service restaurant on the site) with a huge silver tray. Lifting the cover, there was a cake the size of a donut. Scott brought the room to gales of laughter when he quipped: “That’s all the budget would allow.” George “Gabby” Hayes, the man who pulled his own teeth at an early age so he could get crusty old prospector roles was also in the movie, along with Mr. Wolfman Himself, Lon Chaney Jr.)
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
• My high desert friend and historian Dave Desmond reminded me of an anniversary that comes up soon. On Feb. 19th, 1915, there was a daring holdup of the Southern Pacific Owl train. Seven men boarded the northbound steamer at Saugus.
A few minutes later, two gunmen forced their way into the locomotive and held engineer F. Whyers and fireman T. Harvey at gunpoint. A few miles out of the station, the trainmen were ordered to stop and unhook the mail car. In a scene out of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” four mail clerks refused to open the locked doors. Shots were fired through the glass windows, but the clerks had barricaded themselves inside.
Unable to gain access, either by gunfire, sweet talk or TNT, the gang of seven disappeared into the Saugus shrubbery. When the train arrived in Mojave later, they found several sticks of dynamite that didn’t go off under the steps of the locomotive. The hapless criminals tried using firecrackers as detonators on the train.
Interestingly, two boys who had bummed a ride on a flatcar had been forced to jump off when the train robbers boarded. The boys had played horse shoes with the gang as they waited at the Saugus station and provided a detailed description of the men. Treated like royalty by the railroad, the lads enjoyed big, thick, juicy steaks and lots of pie.
Two other hoboes, after hearing the shots, bailed from the moving train, as did a brakeman, who narrowly missed death, twice. First, one of the gunmen tried to shoot him at point blank range then Harry Feltz nearly killed himself jumping from the Owl.
• They probably had a couple of boxes still left, but for the most part, the entire town of Newhall moved from around Bouquet/Soledad junction over to around where 6th and San Fernando Road is today. That was back on February 15, 1878.
• Smog may not be Los Angeles’s oldest institution, but it’s been around for quite some time. In a September 22, 1868 story in The Alta, a San Francisco newspaper, the writer comments about curious smoky valley. “The atmosphere has been so filled with smoke as to confine the vision to a small circumference.” Actually, Indian oral history used to call the L.A. Basin, “The valley of smoke.”
• On this very day in 1850, California was divided into the original 27 counties. Los Angeles County covered 35,000 square miles — or, about nine times its present gargantuan size. By 1910, the various counties were split and there were 58 counties. I always like to point out that me and Skip Newhall can name all of them.
• Not so way back, but some of you newcomers may not know that there almost were 59 California counties. Twice in the 1970s, local citizens tried to break away from the elephantine Los Angeles and form our own Canyon County.
• We used to have walnut orchards, especially along 126. The so-called “English” walnut was actually from Persia (today, Iraq). Caesar’s legions carried the nuts back from their wars and planted — in Europe and England. When Gaspar de Portola and Father Juan Crespi sauntered through Southern California in 1769, they made a laundry list of where the new California missions would go — including, later, a satellite to the San Fernando Mission, the assistencia or “Mission” San Francisco here at Castaic Junction. And the ancestors of the old Persian nuts would grow here in Santa Clarita. The last of the major walnut groves would disappear a few years back to make way for more profitable crops that could be quickly turned around. And soon, those fields too, will be condos.
FEBRUARY 16th 1927
• It rained and it rained and it rained, like it hadn’t for more than 20 years. A big, non-stop 4-day storm slowly moved through, dumping nearly 10 inches. That’s more than we get all year in some seasons. Creeks turned into raging rivers and erosion broke water mains. Only the farmers , ducks and school children were happy. Most of the schools were forced to close and some of them only had a handful — and we’re talking single digits here — of pupils.
• Before we had a regular theater (the American, in 1941) movies were shown at a variety of locations, including the Newhall Elementary Auditorium. Bill Hart’s friend, Mary Pickford, starred in the silent melodrama: “Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall.”
• For some odd reason, one of the oldest clubs kept the odd habit of referring to themselves in the singular for just about a century. The Newhall Woman’s Club held a costume dance at the Hapaland Hall (where the Rafters is today on Market). Folks came dressed disguised as their favorite silent movie star.
• Our icon, William S. Hart, was going through his controversial divorce with his wife, the teenage actress, Winifred Westover.
• Perhaps the most oft-repeated self-inflicted gunshot wound quote before the fact was “The gun’s not loaded.” Rancher John McAllister was cleaning his “unloaded” shot gun in the living room and his wife scolded him on the danger. He said it: “The gun’s not loaded.” It went off. At such close range, the brass button on his overalls was melted to his spine. Yup. He died.
FEBRUARY 16th 1937
• Big rains 90 years back in 1927. Big rains 80 years back in 1937. (Big rains last weekend in 2017!) Funny. ANOTHER huge four-day storm ground through. Both Highways 6 and 99 were temporarily closed. This one was more intermittent and dumped just four inches in as many days. Still. That’s a drenching.
• S.D. Dill, patriarch of the Dill family (his son started the first school bus in the SCV) celebrated his 86th birthday. Still very active, ol’ S.D. as a younger man was a logger in the redwood forests of California. The Dill family lived up Railroad Canyon.
• Frank Walker was an industrious soul. The Placerita Canyon rancher (whose homestead would later become Placerita Nature Center) started another business — harvesting rock. The white hard, chalk-like material pulled from various canyons was shipped into L.A. Heated to 2,500 degrees, it turned red and was used to make roof shingles.
FEBRUARY 16th 1947
• For some of you old-timers, you might remember some of the locals who appeared in the splashy color Western: Nick Nicoll, Chick Hannon, Ken Williams, Ed Jauregui, Fox O’Callahan, Harry Logue, Tex Palmer and Bill Nelson.
• One of the valley’s patriarchs, John Mitchell, born and raised in Canyon Country, died on this date. He was 71. His father, Tom, homesteaded in Sand Canyon in 1865 and built the graveyard that would house his descendants. The old Mitchell cemetery is still there, too, as is the old Ruiz family plot in San Francisquito — the last of the local private family resting grounds. John was a cattle rancher most of his life and also trapped mountain lions.
FEBRUARY 16th 1957
• Today, this might be music to some folks’ ears. The Board of Supervisors clamped an immediate freeze to building in the Santa Clarita Valley. All permits were halted. There had been a feud on the Board over the huge development of the Platt Ranch in the neighboring San Fernando Valley and a couple of supes were concerned about rampant, unplanned growth and graft. Hmpf.
• Another self-inflicted gunshot wound. This time, 10-year-old Michael Manhan shot off his big toe up Agua Dulce way. Tragic, isn’t it, the reality before, and the reality after, a fraction of a second in a wrong decision.
FEBRUARY 16th 1967
• I really had to shake my head at this one. I remember being a kid and my Dad and I flying back and forth up north on PSA. The local paper ran an ad for the company 40 years back. It cost just $11.43 to fly from Burbank to Oakland and $6.43 to fly from Burbank to San Diego.
FEBRUARY 16th 1977
• Was the Board of Supervisors more powerful than the State Assembly. A bill was introduced on this date to break up L.A. County into five sections. It did not pass. During the 1970s, locals twice tried to break away from L.A. and form Canyon County, a 1,000-square mile empire centered in Newhall.
• It was the beginning of the end and a beginning to a new generation of fast food, no-exercise kids. A year earlier, the state legislature passed a law making physical education a decision to be made by local districts. On this date, the Hart District began a move to disband mandatory P.E. classes.
• If you blurted out: “half-Mammoth jackass,” you might get a different response from different people. Charlie Rasmussen, who has a second home up there, might punch you in the nose. But to Sam Smiser, it brought a smile to his face. That’s the name of at least half a Missouri mule. The millionaire teamster moved here and brought his boyhood work — and dream — to the SCV. Smiser used to pasture his draft creatures along Interstate 5, near Lyons. Frequently, he or one of his teamsters (like trainer Denzel Cameron) could be seen riding a big mule team right through downtown Newhall and Valencia. We don’t see those kinds of sights around here any more.
• Muhammad Ali lost a big fight in Castaic 30 years ago. After throwing some unmentionable material at two Wayside prison guards, he jumped them. They pretty much took him to the mat and then some. Oh. By the way. Different Muhammad Ali. This one was a guest of our prison. His charge? Burglary and assault on a peace officer.
FEBRUARY 16th 1987
• How’d you like to be these people’s next door neighbors? On this date, rowdies did a drive-by of a Castaic house, shooting up a parked Cadillac and then breaking into it to steal the contents. Which were? A loaded Uzi submachine gun.
• Of all places to stage a media circus. The banks of the Santa Clara River at Indian Dunes were crowded with cameramen. The jurors to the multimillion-dollar “Twilight Zone” trial were inspecting the site of the 1982 helicopter crash. Actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed during the middle-of-the-night filming. The Superior Court judge refused to allow the explosion to recreated on the site, but allowed the jurors to tour it.
• From her 180-acre preserve way at the other end of the Santa Clara River, near Acton, actress Tippi Hedren held a press conference. The star of “The Birds” and “Marnie” was trying to limit hunting cougars in the wild. Boy howdy. The cougars sure could have used her around here about a century earlier.
• Little did Three L Development Company know when they closed escrow on this date that 20 years later, there still wouldn’t be a single house on the 1,000-acre piece of property they bought. Three L bought Bermite and, for years, has been cleaning up the former munitions plant to build a housing project called Portabella. Funny. Never thought of it before in those terms. Portabella is a mushroom and they used to make mushroom clouds at Bermite.
• How’d you like to be a defendant at the Valencia Courthouse? A temporary judge was sitting on the bench in small claims. Her name? Vicki Doom. Yes. Judge Doom. Even more odd? The day she presided on Friday the 13th, 1987...
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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POEM OF THE WEEK
The Twilight Turns
By James Joyce
The twilight turns from amethyst
To deep and deeper blue,
The lamp fills with a pale green glow
The trees of the avenue.
The old piano plays an air,
Sedate and slow and gay;
She bends upon the yellow keys,
Her head inclines this way.
Shy thought and grave wide eyes and hands
That wander as they list -- -
The twilight turns to darker blue
With lights of amethyst.