Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Taking the Escape Ramp to Castaic
Published in The Signal, 8-28-2005.

Darryl Manzer, 2005     Funny, how one connects everyday events, items and foods with memories that were presumed forgotten. I have such times. Often.
    I can't open a can of Campbell's soup, or buy a frozen turkey or a bag of frozen strawberries, without remembering life in Castaic.
    That those foods would trigger such memories might seem strange to some, yet they do. When I couple those memories with news stories about the various accidents on Interstate 5 north of Castaic and how they stop traffic, it's almost impossible to get them out of my head.
    Way back when, I-5 wasn't even a dream. It was Highway 99 that connected southern and northern California up the long middle of the "Golden State." Then as now, trucks and trailers loaded with just about anything struggled north, shifting into ever lower gears to make the grade. Likewise, coming south, other trucks and trailers roared past Castaic at high speed, as they had just been released from the grip of the steep mountain grades and winding curves of the old highway.
    Not far north of town on the west side of the road, there was a truck "escape ramp." It was for use by southbound trucks that had lost their brakes and turned into runaways. The theory was that a truck could take the escape ramp and get mired in the soft sand and gravel, slowly coming to a stop. The ramp worked well.
    We in Castaic always knew when a truck had used the ramp. First, the southbound traffic would become almost nonexistent. Next, the fire trucks from Station 76 would speed up the highway, sirens blaring and red lights flashing. The fire trucks would be followed in a few minutes by at least one ambulance. A tow truck or two might be called in after that. Then a few Castaic residents would follow the parade up the hill. Really, we couldn't wait until next week's Signal to learn what had happened.
    Trucks that ended up on the escape ramp seldom had their drivers injured. The same cannot be said of the loads in the trailers. Many of the trailers tended to disconnect from the tractor and tip toward the highway, spilling contents onto the road. That's when the residents of Castaic really had a field day.
    Most folks lived in Castaic then because of the cheap housing, low taxes and, of all things, cheap water. Everyone had a large garden, and some folks even raised a few head of beef on the small plots they owned. Castaic Union School even raised cattle for the school lunch program.
    Money was tight for just about everyone. The Rainbow Grocery would run a "tab" for most folks and wait for your payday to collect. No interest. Just being a good neighbor.
    So when a truckload of frozen turkeys, five-gallon cans of frozen strawberries, bales of hay and cases of Campbell's soup spilled from a truck on the escape ramp, folks rushed up the road and helped clean off the highway. It was just being a good neighbor, too. Actually, the insurance companies agreed, since they usually couldn't salvage the goods and didn't want to pay a whole bunch for the cleanup. Everyone was a winner.
    I think some of the goods went to feed the prisoners at the honor farm — now known as the Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center. I know lots of stuff came to our house. If you didn't go yourself, some neighbor would stop by with whatever had been salvaged and drop off your "share."
    Much like folks in Key West, Fla., and the outer banks of North Carolina who salvaged cargo from wrecked ships, the folks of Castaic became their inland cousins.
    What our freezers didn't hold, we usually took to our meat locker at Newhall Ice Co. They rented freezer spaces. They also sold ice and meat. Some folks at The Signal may remember it, since the newspaper office was nearly next door back then.
    I'm on a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-calorie, high-fiber diet these days. So this morning, as I was preparing my fruit smoothie (banana, frozen strawberries, non-fat yogurt, orange juice and low-fat milk), those old memories started to come back.
    At lunch, when I got out the "99-percent fat free" turkey and can of soup — tomato — all I could think of was Castaic. Instead of what was on the table before me, I seemed to smell the sage of the hills around town, hear the sirens and see those red lights from the fire trucks of Station 76.
    Of course, that was quickly followed by thoughts of a big, juicy hamburger at Tip's in Castaic Junction. Reality returned. Meals like that got me to the diet I'm on today. But I can't forget those strawberries.
    Enough about food. Time to go clean out the garage and discover new "treasures" that will evoke other memories of the SCV.
    I just never know what escape ramp my mind will take.

    Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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