Flock of sheep on the Newhall Ranch, Castaic Junction area, in the vicinity of the future Valencia Industrial Center and Magic Mountain amusement park. Note the truck in the background. 3.5x5.5-inch BW print.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jones, great-granddaughter of Samuel Duran, who lived and worked on the Newhall Ranch from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s.
Newhall Ranch: Agribusiness 1930s-1960s
Atholl McBean dragged the rest of the Newhall family kicking and screaming into the 20th Century — in 1930. Son-in-law to Henry Mayo Newhall's only surviving son (William Mayo Newhall), McBean was recruited from his eponymous San Francisco ceramics firm, Gladding, McBean & Co. (of which he remained chairman until 1953) to save the sprawling Newhall family empire from financial collapse.
The turn of the century had seen the family-run Newhall Land and Farming Co. sell off sections of its several ranches up and down the state to make ends meet, and haphazardly lease portions to share croppers with little to show for it.
Determined to "convert each acre of land to income," McBean "ended leasing and began to do (the company's) own farming" and "severely curtailed further land sales" (Rolle 1991:150).
To retire the company's mounting debt, it would have to diversify. "During 1933," Rolle writes (pg. 149), "beef prices dropped as low as three cents per pound; at that price, it was cheaper to buy calves than to breed them. The company turned increasingly to fattening yearlings acquired elsewhere, and constructed a large feed mill for that specific purpose. By 1940 it would begin to feed cattle for other ranchers as well. Eventually some twenty thousand head of cattle annually entered feed lots on the Newhall Ranch. Additional benefits of the feed mill system came from the processing of orange peels, ordinarily a waste product. Steer manure too was recycled to fertilize ranch citrus orchards."
McBean borrowed $250,000 from the Crocker banking family (Gladding, McBean's business office was in the Crocker building in San Francisco) to drill new water wells, buy pumps and tractors, and place more land under cultivation (ibid.). In 1935 he hired eventual company president George Bushell [cq] to take charge of farming operations and hired more competent farm supervisors to implement a comprehensive strategy for the Newhall Ranch.
Meanwhile in 1936, Dee Gallion and his young family — wife Mabel, daughter Edna and sons Dean and Jay Dee — left the Dust Bowl and came to California, arriving May 14 at the Newhall Ranch, where Dee Gallion was hired as an irrigator. "He knew nothing about irrigation," Ruth Newhall writes (1992:136). "It wasn't necessary in Missouri. But he was ready to work. He had to work twelve hours a night, six days a week, for a dollar a day, standard farm labor wages.
"Gallion and his family were installed in a railroad section house next to the tracks at Castaic Junction. There was plenty of land around the house for cows, pigs, chickens and vegetables to feed the family. He would never leave; he would spend the next 54 years of his 82 years on the Newhall Ranch."
Another mid-1930s arrival was Samuel Duran, who worked alongside Gallion constructing reservoirs and operating the new irrigation system. According to family members, Duran (2-19-1903 — 1-19-1970) had come from the Grass Ranch in Oxnard with his wife Emilia (Appelzoller) and their six children. They lived in a company ranch house on the Saugus-Ventura Road, now called Magic Mountain Parkway, right about where a Bob's Big Boy restaurant would open in 1972. (Unlike Gallion, Duran would move on in 1962 or '63, first to King's Ranch in Bouquet Canyon, then to Lancaster and finally back to his native New Mexico.)
Not long after Gallion's and Duran's arrival, a new assistant to McBean decided to go into the sheep business, and Gallion was put in charge of it. "We had twenty-five thousand sheep in there, where the industrial center is today," son Jay Dee remembered (Ruth Newhall, ibid.).
But by the end of World War II, irrigated crops were supplanting sheep-raising in importance, and the number of sheep had fallen to 1,500. Rolle writes (1991: 150-151): "Hog production was also gradually discontinued following a severe hoof-and-mouth epidemic and a decline in the price of pork. New dairy and alfalfa processing operations took the place of these earlier activities. ... Eventually the company marketed twenty-three different crops. A grove of one hundred and fifty acres of oranges planted on the Newhall Ranch in 1913 was increased to almost six hundred acres during the 1930s. Both the Washington Navel and Valencia varieties were introduced farther up the hillsides of the valley. These new citrus stocks had long since replaced the unpalpably sour fruit once grown by the mission fathers. In 1948, acreage that was not warm enough for citrus was planted with walnut trees. By 1955 the company harvested 550 acres of walnuts and established a mechanized dehulling plant."
While all of this was going on, McBean also was finding success where the family had found little to none in the past: with oil.
That's another story, but for purposes of this story, in 1947, McBean, who had access to Bethlehem Steel via his relationship with Mellon Bank, saw potential in becoming a supplier of steel pipe for petroleum companies and other scarce steel products such as barbed wire fencing for local ranchers. Jim Finch, first in a long line of company-hired graduates from Stanford Business School (which McBean endowed), was placed in charge of the new builders' supply store, called Ranchers' Supply, which operated out of a large warehouse at Castaic Junction.
Ruth Newhall writes (1992:154): "A short time later, a new building, with several small offices, was built next to the Ranchers' Supply office and warehouse. The company's ranch headquarters began to take on the appearance of an office, with a receptionist out front. Castaic Junction became a kind of capital of the Newhall Ranch, the center of administration and planning."
In 1947 McBean signed a lease with Tip Jardine, a restaurant owner in Hollywood, to operate a brand-new restaurant at Castaic Junction, complete with a Gladding, McBean red-tile roof — the first of four restaurants "Tip" would operate on the ranch.
That same year, the company board of directors authorized McBean to spend $10,000 on engineers to plan a water company and a residential subdivision.
"For several years," Ruth Newhall writes, Castaic Junction "was the place people in the company assumed would be the center of a town, the strategic crossroads where Highway 126, the road to Ventura on the coast, met California's backbone, Highway 99" (ibid.).
Development plans progressed (yet another story, but for our purposes here): In 1965, the profitable cattle-feeding pens were shut down. "It was the first major sacrifice to development. Future homeowners could not be expected to live downwind of 17,000 steers" (Ruth Newhall, pg. 212). Besides, the cattle pens, and the roller-coaster hills behind them, were well suited for an amusement park.
"The abandonment of the feed pens did not mean the end of the cattle business," Ruth Newhall writes (ibid.). "In 1967, there were 18,000 cattle on the various company-owned ranches" — which totaled nearly 150,000 acres in California. "Furthermore, a new use had been found for 450 cattle on the Newhall Ranch. Instead of the polled (hornless) Hereford or black Angus that had become standard stock on the ranges, those 450 were Texas longhorns."
Each of those longhorns earned the company $5 per day as TV and movie extras.
Further reading: Where Once Were Cattle by Ruth Newhall.
JN4902: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph courtesy of Jennifer Jones.