William Surrey Hart was deeply troubled on April 5, 1945 and needed someone to talk to. He picked up the telephone and dialed the two-digit number of The Signal. Editor Trueblood answered.
"Fred," the Western star said, "I have a premonition, a hunch. Call it what you will, I can't explain it. Something is going to happen to Mr. Roosevelt."
Exactly one week later the President was dead.
Flags were lowered to half staff. Businesses closed. People wept openly, as if they had lost a dear friend or relative. The man who led the nation longer than anyone else was gone. Harry S Truman had a gigantic pair of shoes to fill.
In May, Germany surrendered, but the war was not over. A silvery spheroid silently wafted over the mountains and dropped into the Santa Clara River bed near Saugus. Army experts found it to be a Japanese fire-bomb balloon, released to float across the Pacific and burn down the forests of California and Oregon.
On August 14, 1945, World War II ended and the ecstatic citizens of Newhall went wild.
A sheriff's patrol car cruised down Spruce Street, its red lights flashing and sirens screaming. It was followed by a parade of cars sounding horns, people dancing in the streets, and shredded paper blowing with each gust of wind. Soon the boys would be marching home to a hero's welcome.
Discharged soldiers and sailors arrived just in time to find employment in a reborn oil industry.
Mentryville, in Pico Canyon, was practically a ghost town. However, a number of petroleum prospectors had been rooting around the hills for years. One of them, Gene Sherman, a brilliant if controversial geologist, convinced the Wilmington firm of O'Kane and Brian to drill Barnsdall Number 1 near Castaic on August 23, 1945.
At a depth of 1,780 feet they struck a meager supply of oil, about four barrels every two hours. Although it was finally abandoned, it had become the "discovery well" for the Castaic field. Soon derricks were growing up and down Castaic and Elizabeth canyons.
On the Jenkins Ranch, then owned by Anita Ruby Jenkins Kellogg, two wells came in on the same day, March 1, 1952. It was a million-to-one shot that made national headlines.
Homer and Russell Havenstrite struck black gold near Beale's Cut in 1949 and sold out to Royal Dutch Shell. The usually staid citizens of Newhall began drilling in their own back yards — with no results.
Into this scene of frantic activity strode a short, heavy-set man with shifty blue eyes, by the name of Milford Yant. No stranger to these parts, he had sold postage stamp-sized oil leases in Placerita Canyon during the late 1930s. Somehow he had run afoul of the law and skipped off to Nevada, just a step or two ahead of the sheriff.
(Actually the law caught up with him; see here — Ed.)
Now Yant boldly bored a hole in the ground near Placerita Canyon Road and Sierra Highway on one of his old leases, and guess what? He struck oil.
The original grants had, by this time, been lost or destroyed, so it became a no-man's land, the scene of what would be known as the "Battle of Mad Mountain."
Anyone who could beg, borrow or steal a drilling rig moved in and homesteaded the Yant territory. Wildcatters deliberately burrowed into other claims and squirted drilling mud into the faces of anyone who dared protest. There were shootings and battles between lumbering bulldozers that slammed into each other.
Local officials tried to sort out overlapping and conflicting claims, but order was not restored until large companies moved in and bought out the independents. To this day the area is remembered as "Confusion Hill."