The Time Ranger | Happy Post-4th, o’ Dear & Mighty Saddlepals  (2024)

It’s Fourth of July weekend and I was looking back at something I had written 20 years ago about spending Independence Day with my father:

“I frequently have this conversation with a person who has been my saddlepal for the longest in my life — my dad, Walt Cieplik.

“We frequently bring up current events and debate whether we should be in this country or out, left or right, yes or no. Sometimes, I have to just stop and look around.

“Dad and I have these discussions not in political prisons, refugee camps or cities under siege. We share our opinions, openly, in parks, nicely air-conditioned cafes or at the posh fitness club where we have memberships.

“No one stops us to see our papers. No one appointed me to throw pies at the rich, famous and powerful of this valley and nation. In most parts of the world, if I shared my heart and annoying viewpoints, I’d probably been blown up, shot or see my lifeless body floating down a croc-infested river.

“Heavens. Americais a great country. With all its faults and mistakes, America is a great country.

“I hope you pardon a rare outburst of sentimentality and gratefulness at living in this nation, founded by giants in 1776. Happy Fourth of July, dear fellow riders of this valley’s historical trails. Shall we all mount up and see where the dirt and mischief used to be?”

Twenty years later? Still so very nice to share this valley and country with you, dear saddlepals. Let’s see what waits for us ahead …

WAY, WAY BACK WHEN

HOWDY UP THERE, MIMI!!! — She’s up there in Newspaper Heaven now, with the Who’s Who of Signalites. But, on July 3, 1910, the bouncing baby girl, Ruth Waldo was born. The future Signal managing editor and gossip columnist MIMI would marry Scott Newhall and help lead this paper for a quarter of a century through this valley’s most exciting and controversial expansion period.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CASTAIC — A couple of years later, on July 1, 1915, the town of Castaic was founded. Despite many threats of being fired, I used to like to innocently point out to Ruth that she was older than Castaic.

WHITE GOLD — On July 4, 1876, at America’s centennial celebration in Philadelphia, a thick, opaque gooey substance was wowing crowds at the nation’s fair. Placerita white oil burned 100 times longer, brighter and cleaner than regular lamp oil. Folks couldn’t believe it just came out of the ground like that. There’s still an old well up the canyon in a secret location.

ONE OF OUR BEST SOULS — I’ve often carped that history is too full of bloated generals and gout-ridden politicians. On July 5, 1914, the good Rev. Wolcott H. Evans was named pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Newhall. He spent decades tending the weak and sick and consoling the bereaved. He even collapsed from exhaustion, tending to hundreds of the survivors of the St. Francis Dam disaster. Decades later, most locals don’t realize that two streets are named after Evans — Evans Avenue in Newhall and Wolcott Way in Castaic.

THAT CONTROVERSIAL BRUIN — On July 7, 1873, Canyon Country rancher John Lang shot one of the world’s largest grizzly bears near his home. History books were written about the monster that reportedly tipped the scales at 2,350 pounds. It would later be stuffed, mounted and donated to the state museum in Sacramento. There, it would become the model for a newly designed California state flag. As I always tell folks around the campfire, whenever you see the California flag anywhere in the world, that’s our bear up there. Recently, a letter from Lang himself in an old Los Angeles newspaper, The Star, shed light on the story. While several books and newspaper articles over the decades declared the bear’s weight as more than a ton, Lang wrote, in 1875, that the bear weighed in at a mere 1,600 pounds. There have been California bears, however, who have tipped the ton mark. There was also a local bear, the Piebald Grizzly of the Piru, that reportedly weighed 2,300 pounds.

JULY 6, 1924

SANTA CLARITA’S LIQUID HIGHWAYS — In 1924, the paving of roads was still more of a crafts project than science. The main highway out of the Newhall Tunnel had an ongoing problem: It would not exactly melt, but it would soften on hot days. Adding to the cartoon aspect of the road, when it softened, under heavy traffic, when someone hit the brakes, the road would curl up like a ribbon. Locals likened it to “driving over a giant washboard.”

FOR THE ‘BOIDS’ — One of the problems with living in a village of 500 souls is that you could get starved for entertainment. Case in point: Rudeen, the Entertainer. He was the guest speaker at the Presbyterian church. His forte? Bird imitations. How about that. A sermon AND bird whistles to put you to sleep.

NOTHING LIKE A WRETCHED LIVESTOCK DISEASE TO PUT A DAMPER ON A RODEO — An earlier Hoof & Mouth Disease epidemic helped postpone the annual May 1 rodeo in town. They held it on the Fourth of July in 1924, but there was a very small crowd. Several locals were beyond scared that they could catch the disfiguring malady. It’s very rare humans can catch the disease, which can result in smacking one’s lips, slobbering, disorientation, sore feet and, depending if you’re a mature boy or girl, poor milk yield.

JULY 4, 1932

THE BIG PARADE — It was 92 years ago that the first annual big Fourth of July parade was held in downtown Newhall. Except for a couple of years during World War II government-mandated closures, we’ve had a parade every year. It’s been historically one of, if not THE, biggest parade in the country. Sidenote? We did have smaller parades here in town prior to 1932, going back to the turn of the 20th century.

JULY 6, 1934

SO MUCH FOR BEING THY BROTHER’S KEEPER — It really wasn’t a good idea to try to evict Quiney McMillan from his property. In a complicated court case, an African-American church group claimed that McMillan was living on their land. McMillan, also Black, noted that he had written permission from the previous owner, minister of the church. A process server came to evict the 78-year-old man and he winged them with some buckshot. Quiney was arrested and released on $1,000 bail, which was raised by his friends who backed his claim.

HAVING A BEEF WITH NEWHALL LAND — No matter what you think of the old Newhall Land & Farming Co., they have a 1,000-mile list of good deeds granted to this valley over the decades. On this date, they donated ALL the beef for the Fourth of July barbecue, which served a couple of thousand folk.

PURINA GOAT CHOW? — Ah, the rural life. On this date, Joe Englebrecht was given a Billy goat that he didn’t particularly want. He set the creature out in the back yard to start earning its keep by nibbling down some weeds. Bachelor Joe did his own laundry and hung out two pairs of undies and his overalls, then went inside for dinner. Joe was pretty miffed when he returned to find the goat had pulled down both his shorts and coveralls and had eaten most of the good parts. Joe wrote off the episode to his own carelessness and went back in to finish dinner. That’s when he thought he heard a shotgun go off in the front of the house. Turns out the goat escaped and bit into the front tire of his Model T Ford. That was about all the Christian forgiveness he possessed at the moment and he took the goat out and shot it. Friends claimed Joe performed an autopsy and tried to see if his underwear was still intact.

JULY 6, 1944

JR. CAT BURGLAR — Teenager James Bray confessed to a series of burglaries, including five safe heists. Bray was part of a three-man/kid gang who stole thousands of dollars from here and the San Fernando Valley.

AND IS HE STILL OUT THERE TODAY, WITH NO PANTS? — The valley hadn’t been this stirred up since Pearl Harbor. On this date, a combined force of the Sheriff’s Department, the Highway Patrol, the Shore Patrol, the mounted posse, the Bermite special Army guard and some interested volunteers were combing the Santa Clarita for a Navy prisoner. He escaped from a passing train by climbing out of the latrine window. You’d think the sailor, who was serving a five-year-stint for desertion, wouldn’t be hard to spot. He was running around in just his underwear. Interestingly, word got out fast about his escape and all the housewives of the valley ran outside to yank their husbands’ and male family members’ shirts and pants off the clothes line. They never caught the guy.

BERMITE LIGHTS UP THE LOS ANGELES SKY — Over 75,000 people showed up at the Los Angeles Coliseum for a Fourth of July fireworks show. Bermite’s owner, Pat Lizza, was in charge of the show. Bermite was one of the country’s biggest ordnance producers for World War II, but the factory started in 1938 as a fireworks company. Lizza (pronounced, “Lisa,” like the lady’s name) was a fourth-generation fireworks maker whose family, interestingly, lived at the base of Mt. Vesuvius.

PUT ME DOWN FOR SIX RANCHES — It’s a shame we can’t bring back stuff from the past into the future. Consider this little ranchette up for sale: “22.5 acres, seven-room house, fireplace, patio, barbecue, two springs, 50 live oaks, well 100 feet deep, 6,000-gallon tank, barn, stable, servants’ house.” Asking price? $18,500.

JULY 6, 1954

SO DID THAT MEAN THEY GOT TO DRINK TWICE AS MUCH WATER FOR THE SAME PRICE? — Here’s a man-bites-dog story. On this date, a local utility company voted to cut rates — by half. Directors of the Newhall Water District discovered that residents of Placerita Canyon were paying too much. So, they cut their bills by nearly 50%. I know. I almost fainted, too.

TODAY, WE SHOULD CALL IT ‘MAINFERSPRUCE’ — For decades, the main drag of Newhall was Spruce Street. The county came through and unceremoniously changed the name to San Fernando Road, pert near without telling anyone. (Well. They tried, but the then-chamber president kept throwing away county meeting notices.) For a while, locals called the street: “Sanferspruce.”

JULY 6, 1964

‘BIG VALLEY’ IN THE BIG VALLEY — The grand marshal 60 years ago for our big parade was Peter Breck. He hadn’t made the hit TV show, “Big Valley,” yet, but was known for being the cold-blooded killer, Doc Holliday, on “Maverick.” (If you’ve never heard of the TV western, “Maverick,” don’t even think of making eye contact with me.)

GOING TO POT — On this date, Jon Newhall, son of owners Ruth and Scott, joined The Mighty Signal as an ad salesman. Jon had just graduated from Stanford. He would make his way up (or down) the ladder to editor and would be forced to resign after being arrested for cultivating marijuana.

JULY 6, 1974

BIGFOOT IN CANYON COUNTRY — On this date, Saugus resident Bob Curasi made a plaster of Paris model of a Bigfoot spotted locally. Curasi had been curious after a series of reported Sasquatch sightings in the SCV, including one by a pair of boys staying at a remote hog farm up Lost Creek Canyon. Of course, the teens were ridiculed after perfectly describing a 9-foot-tall Bigfoot, adding that he had been wearing a blue bell. But then, the boys’ story (save for the bell) was corroborated by a pair of young lovers who were parked up Plum Canyon and making out by the full moon. The young woman screamed when she opened her eyes in the front seat and saw a hairy face the shape of a bullet staring in through the windshield. The creature, she estimated, was between 9 and 10 feet tall. It ran away when she screamed. Curasi went out to where the couple had been parked and that’s where he found the bare footprint. However, it was only 10 inches long and six inches wide — unusually small for other reported Bigfoot tracks of creatures being reported as the same size. That sighting would launch a series of Sasquatch safaris in the SCV stretching into winter of 1974.

NO ROOTING FOR ROOT BEER — It was a sad, sad day indeed. On this date, the old A & W Root Beer stand closed and was literally moved off its location on San Fernando Road, across the tracks.

JULY 6, 1984

THE LAST SUNSET — Did he want that one, last, nice view? Post-life attention? Did someone set him up? On this date, the body of a suicide victim was found hanging from a lifeguard tower at Castaic Lake.

COCAINE BEAR — Forty years back, Dan Haggerty was released on bail from jail for cocaine possession. A couple of days later, he was at COC’s Celebrity Fundraiser Softball game. Haggerty was known primarily for his TV character, “Grizzly Adams.” When asked about the co*ke charges, Haggerty deadpanned: “The bear made me do it.”

Wonderfully in love with this valley and this everyday voice of America singing, dear saddlepals. Thanks for spending the morning with me. Looking forward to seeing you next week another Time Ranger adventure, and, until then — “¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!”

If you do love local history and reading about ghosts, myths and monsters, visit Boston’s bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com. Pick up JB’s two-volume set of “MONSTERS” on local horror and macabre …

The Time Ranger | Happy Post-4th, o’ Dear & Mighty Saddlepals  (2024)

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