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September 26
1876 - California oil industry born as CSO No. 4 in Pico Canyon becomes state's first commercially productive oil well [story]


Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, Mar 2, 2014

darrylmanzer021014Rain. Lots of rain with a little bit of lightning and thunder. We also had rocks and mud dropping or flowing on our roads and hillsides. Even our river had water in it. Glorious rain.

The smell of just-washed sagebrush is something that lets me know I’m in my hometown. Sometimes it doesn’t get better than what we just had the past three days.

Friday night I was in the little town of Acton at the northeast end of the SCV. Crown Valley Road had become a river. I was in my Jeep and made it through. By the way, it might be about the closest thing to a car wash my Jeep has had in the last six months. Jeeps just look better with a little dirt and mud as decoration.

For many years I’ve stated that I knew of no deaths occurring in Mentryville or Pico Canyon during the oil boom years. This week I found out I’ve been wrong. It seems an oil worker – they were called miners back then – died on the job, and later, the father of Alec Mentry died in the canyon after walking to Newhall. His body wasn’t found for 12 years. So maybe the ghost stories could have some basis after all. Naw … if so, we’ve got to call Ghostbusters.

For those of you who want to have a tour of the old place called Mentryville, the Santa Clarita Community Hiking Club has asked me to lead one May 3. It will start at 8 a.m. (or 0800 for us former military types) at the parking lot across the creek from Felton School. More on this as it nears.

Mentryville in Pico Canyon, 1885-1891 | Click to view

Mentryville in Pico Canyon, 1885-1891 | Click to view

I also see an old argument about the color of the buildings in Pico Canyon-Mentryville has resurfaced. First let me state, once again: the barn, schoolhouse and chicken house were not painted red until the 1970s. They were gray or, in the idiom of the day, “buff.” Recently an old picture showed the schoolhouse to be a dark color. It wasn’t red. A black-and-white photograph won’t show the color.

But many photographs show dark-sided buildings and homes. Just what was the color? Well, paint was expensive. It also was difficult to transport. Since most of the structures in Mentryville were built of redwood, there was no reason to paint them. Also, many folks knew those same houses would be moved to another oil field, so the places weren’t painted at all. The redwood darkened quickly, and thus the color in the pictures is just … dark.

An example of a dark-sided and unpainted building was the Wolcott barn that was lost in the 1962 fire. It was unpainted redwood. It looked dark brown.

The old foreman’s shack on CSO Hill above the CSO No. 4 oil well was also bare wood. Dark brown redwood.

An important building such as Mr. Mentry’s home or “cottage” was painted, and that can be seen in the photographs. Later, when the current 13-room cottage was built, it was painted the “buff” gray just like that found on ships of the Navy in later years. As a side note, battleships of the U.S. Navy were painted white until 1907.

History is strangely dynamic. I remember when I first found that out. It isn’t just a collection of dates about people, places and things. History is all about people and how they acted and felt and loved and hated. It is a record of cultures past and present.

So when I find out something new or different about a subject I thought I had a vast knowledge of, I’m humbled by a new piece of information that has a significant impact on my former beliefs.

Click to read

Click to read more

Like finding out that Alec Mentry probably died of typhoid fever and not a “kissing bug.”

… or learning the Alec Mentry’s father died while returning from Newhall to Pico Canyon – AND that it was 12 years before the body was found.

… and that another worker died on the job in the oil field.

Heck, I’ve just learned the early oil workers were called miners. I was a miner once. From 1962 to 1965. Right after that, I became an Indian and then a Matador, followed by being a sailor.

Now I’m just retired, with more time to learn more about what I should have known years ago.

Well, maybe I did know a lot of this history. It just wasn’t as important then. Not when there was Jane, Cheryl, Kathie, Diane…

You get the idea.

But I never heard about ghosts and deaths and the like. Guess I just didn’t pay attention to the rattling chains and odd noises. I thought that was normal.

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Tuesdays and Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

 

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2 Comments

  1. Looks like I’m going to be doing some ghost hunting! Lol

  2. Looks like I’m going to be doing some ghost hunting! Lol

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