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April 20
1874 - First train out of L.A. to reach new town of San Fernando; Newhall 2 years later [story]


Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

darrylmanzer_blacktieOne of my favorite memories of a summer rainstorm in the SCV is from about 1957. I was sitting on the porch of our home on Church Street in Castaic, looking southwest at the ridge tops. I was watching lightning strikes on the ridges and rain pouring down in the same places. The wind brought the wonderful smells of high desert landscape … sage and mesquite with a just washed smell I can’t forget.

Yesterday late afternoon in Acton, a good, old-fashioned “frog drowning” rain along with lightning, thunder and wind came roaring through town. More than an inch of rain in maybe a 35-minute period. And then it was over. As quickly as it started, the rain moved on or just plain stopped.

Our local history tells us of a rainstorm in 1938 that flooded most of Acton and sent a rather large flash-flood down the Soledad Canyon. There are pictures of a submerged Acton along with the rodeo grounds at Saugus (Saugus Speedway and now the Swap Meet). I’m sure there were some bridges out and even the railroad was affected. It was a huge storm with flooding all over Southern California. In fact, it was one of the reasons the Los Angeles River was encased in concrete. Had to control the floods.

Structures in Acton wash downriver in the Great Flood of March 2, 1938. Click image to see more.

Structures in Acton wash downriver in the Great Flood of March 2, 1938. Click image to see more.

Here in California, we face an environmental conundrum. If we get a lot of rain, the brush on our hills and mountains grows lush and wonderful. That brush becomes fuel for wildfire when the rain stops. It happened in 1962. We had lots of rain and even some snow. There was nearly a foot of snowfall up in Pico Canyon at Mentryville, with maybe eight to 12 inches of snow in Newhall. Summer came and it was hot and dry. Sure enough, the fires started. One began near Hasley Canyon in Castaic and burned all the way to the San Fernando Valley – right through Mentryville. Another started just north of Placerita Canyon at the old Circle J dude ranch and was the cause of Melody Ranch burning down. That fire also kept burning over the hill to that lesser valley south of us.

The fall of 1962 also had a lot of rain, and the seeds planted to have something cover the burn areas germinated and grew. Deep, green plants that our cattle loved. Only those plants caused the cattle to have extreme gas. That was the time I learned how to use an instrument called a “troll car” (I think) to put a hole in the cow and relieve the gas pressure. It was a large tube about a half inch in diameter with a sharpened, pointed rod that went through the middle of the tube.

I was taught how to place the tube and punch through the left side of the cow where it was bloated. One would then stand at an arm’s length away from the instrument and pull the rod out of the tube. This allowed the gas to escape and thus save the cow. Yes, the gas pressure could get so bad, a cow could die from it. The one rule when using it was to stand well off to the side.

Fire and rain, or rain and fire, are both a blessing and a curse. We’ve had bad droughts before, and fires followed. Just like a well-oiled clock.

The fire that destroyed Melody Ranch in 1962 also burned through the hills and took out the administration building at Olive View Sanitarium. Click image for more.

The fire that destroyed Melody Ranch in 1962 also burned through the hills and took out the administration building at Olive View Sanitarium. Click image for more.

One reason old Henry Mayo Newhall was able to buy most of the SCV at rock-bottom prices was because of a drought that had driven the previous owners into bankruptcy. There is some evidence that the Tataviam Indians may have practiced a little “slash and burn” agriculture to help some beneficial plants grow more proficiently. Makes sense to me. That technique is used by indigenous peoples all over the world. So fire caused by man has been around our valley for hundreds and hundreds of years.

In the long and great history of our valley, it is the events like rain, snow and fire that have shaped and defined it over the years. Often times, man was not involved at all. Other times, and too often, man is involved. So far this year, CAL FIRE reports there have been about 4,800 wildfires – about 1,000 more than usual. So far in 2014, none here in our valley has grown to overcome the firefighters’ efforts to stop them.

When wildfire comes to our valley, all of our other problems seem trifling. Billboards weren’t a problem for the fires in the past; they just burned quickly and helped spread the flames. Those structures were mostly wood back then.

Wildfire also stopped trains by burning bridges and trestles.

You know, I find it ironic that the 1962 fire that burned through Placerita Canyon was caused by spontaneous combustion in a pile of horse manure and straw that had come from stalls and corrals. It was a “dump” that caused the fire.

I know that watching fire surround Newhall in 1962 made many of us think the world was ending. It was so scary.

We don’t need that again. Be careful out there. With all we hear, read and see about wildfire, I saw a man in a car last week who threw out a cigarette out the window. I was about to call 9-1-1 with the license number to report it when a sheriff’s  vehicle went around me and stopped the gentleman. I think he got a special award from the deputy.

If convicted, I hope the judge throws the book at him. I think it would be fitting for him to clear brush for the county. Maybe for the next 10 years.

Justice must be swift and sure for folks like that. Don’t you agree?

 

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. His older commentaries are archived at DManzer.com; his newer commentaries can be accessed by clicking on his byline above. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

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1 Comment

  1. Linda Pippin says:

    I agree. Clearing brush for the county would be fitting. He can start with my property in Acton.

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