WEEKLY COLUMN

John Boston's Time Ranger: Our SCV 1-Ton Bear; Show Biz Advice from Will Rogers

Posted on: 07/04/2013 02:00

A happy 237th birthday to — well, I guess us, huh? Before the sun soars too high and the parade starts, best we sneak out of town for our Thursday ride into yesteryear. We’ve got an entire passel of Fourth of July anecdotes. Hold onto those reins and be ready to put down some instant distance —  we’ll be getting pretty close to a one-ton-plus Canyon Country grizzly bear.

There’s rattlesnake bite remedies, some show biz advice from Will Rogers, more on the closing of the Saugus Cafe and some pretty nifty background on Pierre Davies, perhaps the valley’s most famous fireman.

Shall we mosey into yesteryear?

(PHOTO CAPTION: Will Rogers, who had filmed many a movie here in the Santa Clarita, had some advice for actors trying to break into show biz on this date here in 1933: “Buy a good 12-foot rope, practice with it, and then if you don’t succeed, why, you can always stretch it over a nearby tree with one end around your neck.”)

WAY, WAY BACK WHEN —

–––––––   Back on July 4, 1876, people were oohing and aahing at the Philadelphia World’s Fair. They couldn’t believe that the pure white oil from Placerita Canyon in faraway Newhall was real. The amazing substance burned 100 times brighter and longer than conventional lamp oil. Frank Walker, owner of the Placerita property, used to use the stuff to power his Model T car, pouring the oil right into the gas tank. The car ran like a charm.

–––––––   The town of Castaic was founded on July 1, 1915.

–––––––   On July 5, 1914, the “Shepherd of the Hills,” The Rev. Wolcott Evans, started his long tenure at the Presbyterian Church on Newhall Avenue.

–––––––   On July 7, 1873, John Lang put the Santa Clarita Valley on the map forever. He shot a 2,350-pound man-eating grizzly bear in Canyon Country. In death, the bear was stuffed and ended up in a Sacramento museum, then a London museum, where it was reported used as a model for a new California flag. There is another story where another bear, Old Monarch, was trapped in Ventura and spent his days in a San Francisco Zoo, also possibly the model for the California flag.

JULY 4, 1923 —

–––––––   There wasn’t much of a celebration here by locals for the Fourth. But, lots of people from Los Angeles and various points of the compass drove up to celebrate Independence Day. Tourists came up to picnic in the various canyons and by the creeks. “The beauties of Newhall and vicinity are gaining in renown with the outside world,” wrote Signal editor Blanche Brown. That isn’t to say we did nothing. Local businessmen got together and came up with prizes for various events. They weren’t very imaginative. They were all either foot races or sack races.

–––––––   With all the out-of-towners here, there was a run on supplies. We ran out of ice cream long before noon on the Fourth of July, 1923. Also, every vehicle — and I mean pretty much EVERY vehicle — was stopped and searched for fireworks coming into the valley. Despite all the campers here, there was only one tiny brush fire caused by errant visitors.

–––––––   Later in the week, an Espee (Southern Pacific) locomotive caused a 250-acre brush fire in the fields between Newhall and Saugus.

–––––––   Thornton Doelle, manly man and forest ranger, reminded everyone that whiskey is the worst thing you can take after being bitten by a rattlesnake. (Whiskey would be the absolute last thing I’d think of taking if I ever got so unlucky to be nipped.) Interestingly, the preferred treatment of the day was a carefully measured syringe of strychnine. There was also the method of stopping circulation, lancing the wound above the bite and cauterizing the bite with nitrate of silver.

JULY 4, 1933 —

–––––––   Our second annual Newhall Parade (there had been a few earlier, but we’ve pretty much had consecutive parades since 1932) took off without a hitch. It had a completely different route 80 years back. Compared to where we launch in 2003, it was completely backwards, starting on Kansas Street, marching toward what is today Lyons Avenue to San Fernando Road, then winding back to Newhall Avenue and ending up on 11th Street. You’d need a map and guide dog to not get lost. 

–––––––   Besides the parade, there were a host of other events going on in the valley. In the start of the Depression, we were home to several California Conservation Corps camps. The CCC boys took time off from rebuilding and building our infrastructure to indulge in a little athletics. Hundreds of young men participated in camp boxing and wrestling matches, races, feats of strength and good old-fashioned baseball games.

JULY 4, 1943 —

–––––––   A big supplier of munitions during World War II, Bermite grew bigger, buying the 25-acre Neeler Ranch just to the north. They used it for flood control. It didn’t work. Bermite continued to be flooded over the years in the bigger winter storms until the Army Corps of Engineers came through in the 1960s and ’70s and put in flood control.

–––––––   You saddlepals will recall last week when I mentioned that because of supply and manpower shortages, the Saugus Cafe had to close its doors for the first time in 45 years. The cafe was originally called The Saugus Eating House and was situated in the Saugus train station across the street. Since 1900, it had been open 24 hours a day. When owner Laura Wood had to shut the place down at 10 p.m., June 30, 1943, she made a curious discovery. They had never locked the place in nearly a half-century. When it moved to its new brick edifice in 1916, they didn’t have a padlock or a place to hang one. Ms. Wood had to go out, buy one and have it installed.

–––––––   There’s never a good way to deliver this kind of information. On this date, the Moore family received a telegram and learned their young son, Albert, was killed in combat in the Pacific. His family were farmers in the Saugus area. His mother worked at Bermite during the swing shift.

JULY 4, 1953 —

–––––––   Our Fourth of July parade grand marshal a half century back was famed movie star and former local resident, Harry Carey Jr. His nickname was Dobe. He got it because his hair matched the color of the adobe roof of the Saugus ranch that still sits there at the mouth of San Francisquito Canyon. Our grand marshal just three years ago? Me. I’m still smiling fondly over that one…

–––––––   Pierre Daries retired on this date, after a 30-year-career in one command, Division 6. The battalion chief started with the county Fire Department in 1923. He and one other man made up the entire fire department for Newhall and their state-of-the-art gear consisted of his friend’s Model T Ford, some shovels, axes, rakes and wet sacks. Headquarters was at the bottom of Bill Hart’s mansion. In 1924, the crew was expanded to six men, but four of them only worked during fire season. It was 1926 when Pierre, or Pete as he was called, received his first fire truck — an old four-cylinder White model with a 600-gallon water tank. The beast had a top speed of 15 mph — empty. Back in the mid 1920s, the fire station was next to where the 76 Union Station is today at Lyons and San Fernando Road. The fire house moved to its present location on San Fernando Road in 1930 and added to the brand new building Pete had two new trucks and a few extra full-time men. Daries was there to help after the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 and the derailment of the Great Saugus Train Robbery of 1929. When he fought brush fires in difficult terrain, food and water were packed in by mules. Pete surely knew the backcountry of the SCV. His parents homesteaded, starting the 2200-acre Pine Tree Ranch in Castaic Canyon in 1886.

–––––––   They had a sale on cowboy hats at Bud Losier’s store — prices starting at $1.59. I think my pal Leon Worden is currently wearing one of those toppers.

JULY 4, 1963 —

–––––––   From the You’re Not Going To Pull That Out Of There With A Mule Department, on this date, Norman Rednock broke his ankle when his giant water truck’s parking brake broke and the vehicle rolled backwards into a deep ditch. Isn’t that a grand name? Norman Rednock?

JULY 4, 1973 —

N Tick Canyon is an historic road, made famous as the short cut used by legendary bandito Tiburcio Vasquez. As civilization advanced, the road was losing some of its rustic charm. Murderers were using it to dump bodies and low lifes were abandoning cars. It got so bad, residents couldn’t get to their cabins because of the pile of autos.

–––––––   Bobbie Trueblood, wife of former Signal publisher Fred Trueblood II and later, Mrs. Ed Davis, had her own parade. The Chamber of Commerce (boo, hiss) decided that the parade should be on the weekend of July 7 and 8. Bobbie, who was born in England, thought this was completely unpatriotic. She got her own county permit and stage a parade with 150 friends, dogs, horses and actual Fourth of July aficionados down San Fernando Road — ON the actual Fourth of July. She was the toast of the town, being carried down the street in a sedan chair by six manly bearers. Way to go, Bobbie...

JULY 4, 1983 —

–––––––   On this date, 30 years back, the Newhall Western Walk of Fame sign in front of Hart Park was dedicated. It’s still there today, but because of a threatened lawsuit by the Hollywood Walk of Fame, ours changed its name to Western Walk of Stars. The same day, the second was feted at the other end of San Fernando Road.

–––––––   History sometimes doesn’t change. Three decades back, the lament of the community was that yet again, there weren’t any bands in California’s biggest Fourth of July parade.

–––––––   Here’s something we’ll probably never see again. We had a Fourth of July Disco Contest on this date. Jackie Houston and Rick Thorne won first place.

–––––––

Hope you saddlepals have a wonderful Fourth of July and weekend. See you in seven with another exciting Time Ranger adventure, and, until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!

(John Boston promises one of these years, he’ll revive the old Worthless Sons of the Wealthy Landowners and ride again in our parade.)


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