Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Pico Canyon Boarding House Days, 1906-1915.
As I Remember Them.
By RUTH SAUNDERS ALBRIGHT, Edited by Phyllis Russell.
The Newhall Signal · Date unk.

In the early 1900s, the Standard Oil Company was beginning to introduce rotary-type drilling and they built a refinery that created an influx of workers who needed a place to eat. Bunkhouses had been built for them. Mr. [Walton] Young, the superintendent, and some of the executives from San Francisco asked my mother if she would take over and run the boarding house. She was to be paid the magnificent sum of $1 per day per man for three meals, or 35 cents for single meals. She was hesitant at first, as I was only three years old, but finally agreed.

We moved up to the boarding house, which was enlarged. It included a huge kitchen and dining room with long trestle tables and benches and four big bedrooms to accommodate the help, who were hired from Los Angeles.

There was also a cave dug in the side of the hill in back of the house. It held a huge, 100-pound ice chest where perishables were kept — ice being brought up from Newhall once a week. The boys also kept their barrel of bottled beer in the cave, which they replenished when they went to Newhall. We also had a large storeroom for cases of canned goods, barrels of flour, sugar and rice. Hanging under the roof, between the house and the cave, was a large cooler made of wire mesh and covered with burlap sacking, kept cool by constantly dipping water, in which we kept butter, milk, lemonade, etc.

We had a difficult time keeping help. Dad would go to the employment agencies in Los Angeles to hire cooks and waitresses. But when they found out what an out-of-the-say place they would be working, they said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

The ones we did get would be fine until their first paycheck ... they'd go down to Los Angeles on a binge and that would be the last of them.

One meat cook, an excellent one, bragged that Saunders [the writer's father] wouldn't make anything off of him ... and three steaks, roasts, etc., went down the creek. Our neighbors down the canyon saw all this good meat and told us about it, so he had to go. We bought meat by the quarter and he did the cutting.

Getting supplies was also a big problem. Dad went into Newhall once or twice a week for produce. There was a vegetable man who came up the canyon once a week with fruit and vegetables. I never knew his real name, but he was called "Old Still Bill." Once a month, Dad and I and sometimes Mother would go into Los Angeles to buy staples from Newmarks Wholesale Grocers.

During one period when the canyon was the busiest, there were 75 boarders, two cooks, a meat cook and three waitresses. With all the help, Mother had to get up at 3 a.m. to put up 35 lunches, as the men refused to eat the lunches put up by any of the help. The lunches for the night shift were made while dinner was being prepared. Breakfast and dinner were both substantial meals, as breakfast time was dinnertime for the night crew. In fact, I was a teen-ager before I knew steak was for any meal but breakfast.

As a whole, the men were quite satisfied with the food, although there were always a few complaints. When the executives dropped in to check and learned the quality of the food, they said, "If the men were not satisfied, they could leave."

It was a lot of hard work and drudgery for Mother, with none of the present conveniences ... not even electricity. Dad helped as much as he could. I was too little and couldn't even reach into the sink where the dishes were washed.

There was some fun, too ... picnics, tennis games and box-lunch socials in the big dance hall next to the schoolhouse. Everyone brought the children (there were no babysitters). When the youngsters got tired they were put to bed on two chairs pushed together.

In 1909, Mother was in the hospital but we were fortunate to get a big, healthy, hearty Norwegian cook and housekeeper named Mrs. Flynn. We still had our trouble with cooks, though. Once made such bad biscuits that the boarders took them out and decorated the trees with them for Mother's homecoming.

With the help of Mrs. Flynn, Mother finally got back into the swing of things. The field had quieted down again, and the work was being carried on by men who lived in the canyon. Unfortunately, Mrs. Flynn had married one of the workers, who was a heavy drinker, and she became an alcoholic. We had to let her go. By now we had only two boarders so did not need additional help running the operation until we left the canyon in 1915.


Excerpts from a letter by Ruth Saunders Albright to Carol Lagasse, who lived at Mentryville from 1966 to 1994.
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