Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Peter August Rubel

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Funeral Friday for Ranch Heir, Bullet Victim

Ventura — Funeral services will be conducted here tomorrow for the 22-year-old son of the owner of Rancho Camulos who lost his life yesterday in a grim game known as Russian roulette.

Services for Peter Rubel will be conducted at the Ted Mayr Funeral Home at 11 a.m. Friday by the Rev. W.A. Gilbert. Burial will follow at Ivy Lawn Cemetery.

A five-hour battle by a brain surgeon to save his life ended in failure at 5 a.m. yesterday.

Shot Himself

Some 7½ hours earlier, the young heir sat in a car at a Santa Paula drive-in café with three friends. As they watched, he spun the cylinder of a snub-nosed 38-caliber revolver containing a single bullet, placed the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

A bullet crashed into his brain.

In the car with him were Donald Lee Smith, 22, of Fillmore and two girls — Rena Jo Lively, 21, and Betty Lou Clifton, 17, both of Oxnard.

Son of Rancher

The victim was born in Los Angeles in 1935. He was the son of the late August A. Rubel, who purchased the famed Rancho Camulos in 1924 after making a fortune in gold mining in Randsburg, Cal. The elder Rubel was killed in World War II while serving as a volunteer ambulance driver during the invasion of North Africa.

The 1,500-acre ranch is part of a 45,000-acre grant obtained by the Del Valle family in 1839 from Gov. Juan Alvarado. The original ranch encompassed what are now the communities of Piru, Saugus and Newhall.

Until moving to Ventura recently, young Rubel lived in the 28-room adobe on the ranch, the place where Helen Hunt Jackson wrote [sic] the classic Indian love story, "Ramona."

The young man reportedly was planning a trip to Africa. He was a student at Cal Poly.

His mother is now married to Edwin Burger, former ranch foreman. Other survivors are a brother, Gerald, of Santa Barbara; and three sisters, Mrs. Natalie [sic, s/b Nathalie] Trefzger of Sacramento, Mrs. Shirley Lorenz of Mexico city and Mrs. Barbara Blatt of Washington, D.C.

Courtesy of Lauren Parker.

According to Triem & Stone (1996) — and to his two surviving daughters in 2013, Shirley Rübel Lorenz and Nathalie (Rübel) Trefzger — August A. Rübel was a New Yorker born in Switzerland while his parents were traveling there. (Despite the umlauts, he didn't speak German, according to his daughters.) He grew up on the East Coast and served with the American Field Service during World War I, driving an ambulance in France from the fall of 1917 until 1919.

Rübel attended Harvard University and came to Ventura County in 1922, first living in Aliso Canyon, four miles west of Saticoy, where he and his bride, the former Mary Colgate McIsaac, purchased a 400-acre ranch.

In 1924, Rübel also purchased Rancho Camulos (pronounced kə-MOO-lōs) from the heirs of Ygnacio del Valle. The Rübels moved to the property in 1925.

In April 1925, intent on developing his Aliso Canyon ranch into one of the finest bovine breeding farms in the United States (Los Angeles Times, 4/26/1925), August Rübel paid the highest price on record — $110,000 — for a 4-year-old Holstein bull named Prince Aaggie from the Berylwood Stock Farm at Hueneme. At the same time, he purchased the entire Berylwood herd (179 additional head) and gave his outfit the name "Billiwhack Stock Farm." The herd's manager, J.W. Snodgrass, came along with it.

"Billiwhack" was World War I Army slang for "the place where one hangs his hat" (Oxnard Daily Courier, 4/21/1925). It's a derivation of "bailiwick." Think of it this way: If something is not your bailiwick, it is not your thing, not your place, not something you're comfortable with. Conversely, if something is your bailiwick, or billiwhack, it is your place; as a physical location, it's a place where you're comfortable.

Prince Aaggie was California's undefeated champion and the world's highest yearly record butter bull. Thus his death from a twisted intestine in June 1926, just one year after his purchase by Rübel, sent shock waves throughout the livestock community and devastated his owner (Oxnard Daily Courier, 6/15/1926). Prince Aaggie was uninsured at the time of his death. Rübel had just spent an estimated $1 million on new reinforced concrete buildings, a modern refrigeration plant, refrigerated delivery trucks, and his livestock; and he had other improvements in the works when his prize bull died (The Piru News, 8/30/1928). He sold off the herd and shut down the dairy farm, which sat fallow for two years until 1928 when he sold the property to Ben Fratkin's Valley Dairy Co. of Los Angeles and El Monte. Fratkin reopened it and continued to operate it under the Billiwhack name until the early 1940s.

Rübel taxidermied Prince Aaggie's head and mounted it on the southern wall of the main adobe at Rancho Camulos, where he and Mary raised five children.

The AFS ambulance service was reactivated in 1939. American volunteers drove ambulances in France, North Africa, the Middle East, Italy, Germany, India and Burma, carrying more than 700,000 casualties by the end of World War II.

August Rübel returned to the AFS in 1942 and was killed in Tunisia on April 28, 1943, when the ambulance he was driving hit a German land mine. He is buried in an American military cemetery in Carthage, now a suburb of Tunis. (After the war, in 1947, AFS transitioned into a student exchange program.)

Mary Rübel married Edwin Burger in 1946, who continued as the resident manager of Rancho Camulos after Mary's death in 1968. Subsequently the ranch has been managed by descendants of August and Mary Rübel.

The Rübel family continues to own the ranch. In fact, only two families — the Del Valles and the Rübels — have owned Rancho Camulos since 1839, when it was granted by Gov. Juan B. Alvarado to Mexican Lt. Antonio del Valle as part of the Rancho San Francisco.

Today it makes a lovely setting for a wedding. The historic buildings are operated by the 501c3 nonprofit Rancho Camulos Museum, and they're open for tours on weekend afternoons. Rancho Camulos is located located just 10 miles west of Interstate 5 on scenic Highway 126. For more information visit

And fear not: Prince Aaggie's head is no longer on display.


August Rübel, AFS


Oral Histories: Mary Rübel Burger, Jaime del Valle, Glenn S. Dumke 1958


Shirley Rübel Lorenz Oral History 2002

Oral History 2008


Prince Aaggie 1920s


Billiwhack Dairy Can


Shirley with Bulldog ~1928


5 Church Bells 1920s


Fountain at Cocina ~1920s-30s


Shirley & Nathalie Birthday ~1931


Ranch Photos 1935


Garden Parties 1936


Del Valle Stagecoach 1938


Property Appraisal 1939


August's Library n.d.


Rübel & Carey Kids ~1940


Foreman Charlie Rycroft


August Rubel at Desk


Johnny Dingtoes


August & Gerald 1942


Double Wedding 1950s


Peter Rubel 1935-1957


Grave Marker, Baby August ("Little Boy") 2013

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