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Top of a fine June morn, o fellow riders into the outback of local history. Firm but gentle on those reins and into the mystic go we...

 

(PHOTO CAPTION: It would become one of the world’s most dangerous highways. On June 15, 1912, construction on the Ridge Route began. When it was first opened, the grades were so steep, big rig trucks could only climb up at a rate of 2 mph. Downhill was a nightmare as many braking systems for the bigger vehicles would break but not brake.)

 

WAY, WAY BACK WHEN

–––––––    Back on this date in 1851, Henry Clay Needham was born in Kentucky. He would later move to Newhall to start an ill-fated “dry” community here — a tough job in a valley that had many more pool halls and taverns than churches (zero). As a nationally-famed Prohibitionist, Needham ran for just about every office available, from California senate to the presidency three times.

–––––––    The Civil War had only been over for three years when the Soledad Post Office was founded on June 12, 1868. The birth was rather complicated. Soledad was this floating tent city that followed the latest gold or silver strike up and down the Santa Clara River and Soledad Canyon. The population would shrink to less than 100 and grow to over 1,000, depending on how hot the strikes were. In trying to establish a post office, the federal government noted that Soledad would have to establish roots and change their name. It seems there was a Soledad in Northern California and postal officials did not want to get the mail confused. Well. More confused. A federal official was talking with a store owner, Jim O’Reilly. At the time, there was a semi-permanent settlement halfway between modern Agua Dulce and Acton. The postal official asked O’Reilly on the spot to name the settlement. O’Reilly then saw his friend, Manuel Ravenna, a Genoan stage owner and businessman, walk by. And so the community was named. Up until the early 1970s, that area was still called Ravenna. It’s a KOA campground today. Ravenna still appears on many maps.

–––––––    John Kuhrts was a local rancher who kept an interesting diary about the Santa Clarita Valley in the later part of the 19th century. He noted that in July of 1887, he and John Searles took a big mule team from San Francisco through Newhall in 1887. Searles would later be attacked by a giant grizzly bear and nearly have his face torn off near Frazier Park.

 

JUNE 11, 1925

–––––––    This was one of the oddest and darkest days in local law enforcement history. On this date, nationally-renowned constable John “Jack” Pilcher died under the most unusual circumstances. The week before, he had hired on a rookie, John Seltzer. Pilcher, his son, Seltzer and constable Biddison were investigating a break-in at the old Gage Ranch, which was about 3 miles north of the Saugus Cafe. Robbers had taken doors and windows earlier and the lawmen were there to see if the thieves had returned. When the group got to the ranchhouse, they found no one there, but spotted a large lizard running into the house. Pilcher and Seltzer were trying to chase the reptile out of the bedroom. When Seltzer hired on a few days earlier, Pilcher lent him a revolver and old-fashioned shoulder holster. Both men bent over at the same time on opposite ends of the bed to see where the lizard was. That’s when Pilcher’s own gun fell from the loose holster, hit the floor and discharged. Pilcher was shot between the eyes and died on the spot. I’ve read recounts that the Ku Klux Klan paid for his funeral.

One wonders if there was some curse on the poor Pilcher family. A little over a year later, John Pilcher Jr. was trying to fix a flagpole at their home when the flag pole snapped at about six-feet from the ground. The young man fell, was impaled on the stake and died instantly.

Another odd happenstance: Pilcher’s old crime-fighting partner, Deputy Sheriff Ed Brown (no relation to the first Signal editor) was murdered about a year earlier in a shoot-out up Pine Street. Pilcher shot Brown’s assailant, local handyman, Gus LeBrun.

–––––––    The Petroleum Pioneers, a local group of oilmen, planned to build a park between present-day Beale’s Cut and Eternal Valley cemetery. The campgrounds were supposed to have an amphitheater, dance floor, bandstand and picnic and camping grounds.

–––––––    One of the weirdest weather patterns in modern history continued. We had a long series of rainstorms pelt the valley so very late in the season. It started in May and continued all the way into mid-June, with the valley being trenched and shaken with thunder and lightning.

–––––––    Lumber arrived for two more bridges to span the Santa Clara River. A big pile driver rolled into town to help make the new 200-foot-long wooden Bouquet Junction Bridge.

–––––––    Tom Mix starred in “Rainbow Trail” down at the Cody Theater in San Fernando. It was the sequel to “Riders of the Purple Sage.” Mix’s horse, Tony (a Placerita Canyon native) got second billing in the flick.

 

JUNE 11, 1935

–––––––    The 4th of July celebration in the 1930s was called Placeritos Days and the committee members were planning not just the parade, but the festivities. Some of the events included a buggy race (which they used to have here in the 1890’s 4th of July celebrations). Seems that by 1935, locals still owned a lot of horses but they didn’t want to race them. Another race involved boys and girls. They’d race to separate dressing rooms, exchange clothes, get dressed and run back. The committee also planned a baseball game and a variety of tennis and boxing matches.

–––––––    Eighty years back this week, James Braddock, the popular but huge underdog, knocked out Max Baer for the heavyweight title of the world. Like most of the country, locals were glued to their radios. Signal editor A.B. Thatcher commented: “Max Baer evidently didn’t Baer down hard enough in his fight.”

–––––––    Ted Cooke had a Beverly Hillbillies moment. He struck a major oil lake in Placerita Canyon and his two lone wells were pumping out 980 and 1,100 barrels of crude a day.

 

JUNE 11, 1945

–––––––    Germany had surrendered and all that was left was finishing the war with Japan. The Empire of the Sun had reportedly launched a series of balloons to ride the air currents into the Western United States. The Santa Clarita Valley was warned that it was a prime spot for the balloons to land and also told locals not to pick up or touch anything that resembled a balloon.

–––––––    On this date, the results were posted for the  bond issue to form the brand spanking new Wm. S. Hart Unified High School District. The measure was the most lopsided in the history of the valley, passing 432-2. In fact, the measure passed unanimously at the Castaic, Saugus and Sulphur Springs districts. The two dissenting votes were cast in Newhall. We’d snitch that Gladys Laney must have voted twice, but she’d get us good...

 

JUNE 11, 1955

–––––––    The Ice Man was scareth. A small cyclone set down in Newhall, ripping off the roof to Newhall Ice on 5th Street. Clarence Martin was working inside when he heard the corrugated roof began to strain and buckle. Then, he felt the wind being sucked out of his lungs. The whole episode was witnessed by a Highway Patrolman, who watched from his prowl car as debris and the roof lifted and flew across Railroad Avenue, landing on both the tracks and on the other side of them.

The wonderful small town suchness of this was afterwards, a cozy mob walked over to the manager’s house who was home eating lunch. When they informed him a tornado had taken off the roof, he calmly replied that after he finished his lunch, he’d mosey over to inspect the damage.

–––––––    It was the 1950’s version of the gold rush. Uranium mining was big in the SCV. Amateur hunters for the powerful mineral used to comb the hills, seeking instant wealth. One prospector nearly died looking for the precious stuff. On this date, an exhausted, delirious and nearly dead Thurston Day was found by a Sheriff’s Mounted Posse. His tongue was black.

–––––––    There were no junior highs or continuation schools. The local high school district had just one school: Hart. On June 15th, they graduated 72 seniors. Today, Pat Willett tells us the combined six high schools sent more than 3,000 into the world.

 

JUNE 12, 1965

–––––––    Just 10 years later, 290 seniors graduated from the only high school in town. Here’s some interesting stats from the class of ’65: one boy and three girls were already married. Two boys and 21 girls were engaged. That worked out to one girl in four from the graduating class was either engaged or married. Eighteen percent of the class went on to four-year universities and 40 percent entered junior college. Twenty kids went to tech schools and five more to business schools. Five girls out of the 290 indicated they would just stay home and keep house.

–––––––    The Agua Dulce Post Office moved on this date into the Vasquez Hay & Grain Store, next to Boston Hardware.

 

JUNE 11, 1975

–––––––    My list of what should constitute a death penalty seems to grow as the years compile. I might be sorely tempted to add the vandals who destroyed a 500,000-gallon water tank above Deane Homes (aka, Sierra Hills). A new water tank that size back then cost around $100,000 and you know who got stuck with the bill: the customers of Santa Clarita Water Co.

–––––––    The odds against this were staggering. Nonetheless, it happened. Two people were killed in two separate pistol accidents. A 34-year-old Sheriff’s deputy, who lived with his mother, was in the kitchen, cleaning his service revolver when it went off. A bullet went through his mother’s head. A few miles away, two Beverly Hills boys were target shooting in Texas Canyon. As the pair were headed to their car, a hair trigger of a pistol went off, hitting one of the friends in the back of the neck. He, too, died instantly. Ironic that these accidents occurred 50 years after the accidental death of Jack Pilcher. Odd, too, that Pilcher died close to Bouquet Canyon, near the scene where the Beverly Hills boy died.

–––––––    By 1975, there were three high schools in the valley. Nine hundred seniors graduated from Hart, Canyon and Bowman.

 

JUNE 11, 1985

–––––––    Thomas Wilson walked into the wrong saloon. On this date, the Granada Hills resident was thrown out of the Ramp II restaurant for being rowdy. He came back a few minutes later brandishing a shot gun. What Tom didn’t know was that sitting in the pub were 10 off-duty Sheriff’s deputies. They announced who were they were and ordered him to put the gun down. When he continued to wave the weapon around the crowded restaurant, he was shot by three deputies. He was taken to Henry Mayo Memorial in critical condition. He would later die.

–––––––    After nearly a year of delays, Safe Rides opened. That’s the local program where youths who have been partying a little too hearty can call and get a ride home. The service is operated by teenagers for teenagers. Still is, too. Great program.

 

You dear amigos take good care of yourselves and others. I do treasure these rides with you all and I vote we do it again next week.  Meet you back here under the warming glow of your Santa Clarita Valley Beacon. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!

 

 

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