Not on My Back 40

Jan. 13, 1907
Los Angeles

The Times takes a light, humorous look at the destructive wanderings of Eaton Wash: a docile stream, if not entirely dry, most of the year, turned into a churning monster by heavy rains.

“The little river that makes so much trouble lives somewhere in the fastness of Eaton’s Canyon during the summer months,” The Times says. “In the rainy season it always comes prowling out for a wild outing.

“Not having a respectable bed like other rivers, it comes bursting down from the mountains and goes wherever anyone will let it go.

“When the rains began this year, it stole trustfully-undiscouraged by its previous disappointments-down from the mountains.

“It sneaked on a pleasant-looking ranch in the valley. And the farmer found it there-as it covered about half his ranch-and rushed out with shovels and teams and turned it back on someone else’s ranch.

“And the ranchman who owns this second ranch on which it was driven came out in a rage and shook his fist, bellowing: ‘Here, come and take back your old river. It can’t stay on my place.’ And he said other things.”

The engineers of the Southern Pacific railroad built a massive culvert to protect the tracks from washing out. But another neighbor, Annie Adams, hired men to turn the fences on her 36-acre ranch into a barrier.

“The only way for the river to get on Miss Adams’ ranch was to jump the fence,” The Times says.

“Anyone familiar with the eccentricities [of the river] can guess readily enough what happened then,” The Times says. “That fine and elegant new culvert of the railroad company lasted about a minute.”

More men and teams of horses built a barrier of sandbags to stop the river. “It went. It rippled forlornly down the side of the high embanked track trying to find a hole through the sandbag dike-but nothing doing.

“Then it came to a long, hard, fascinating looking strip of road leading through the middle of the little town of Savannah. It turned down this road with a little gurgle of joy,” The Times says.

“And the things that it did to that county road is enough to make the county supervisors weep in anguish.

“It was a beautiful oiled road-smooth and flat and even. The river gouged out chuckholes as deep as a well. It made ruts in which you could drydock a ship. It ruined several hundred dollars’ worth of highway in less time than it takes to write it.”

Lawsuits followed and a committee was appointed to pick a course for the river. But none of the ranchers wanted the river on his property.

“In the end, the court will undoubtedly select a straight, direct route, with the proper angle and fall and slope from the canyon to the river, and order a right of way condemned-let it cross whose ranch it may,” The Times says.

Bonus factoid: The story uses the phrase “No. 23 skiddoo,” which I’ve always associated with the 1920s. Apparently the anonymous writer was ahead of his time.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

The Floods

Jan. 9-10, 1907

The worst storm in 23 years blew across Southern California with the force of a gale, dumping more than an inch of rain in Pasadena, killing an Orange County rancher, washing out railroad tracks, collapsing tunnels and leaving nearly every small ship in Santa Barbara sunk, driven ashore or pounded into kindling.

Floodwaters destroyed a railroad bridge under construction near Ventura, cutting off the Southern Pacific’s coastal rail service, and at Summerland, oil rigs along the shore were ripped to pieces. The San Fernando Valley was especially hard hit: The Times reports that a bridge over the Big Tujunga Wash was underwater and that the river was a mile wide and impassible. The roar of the Pacoima River can be heard two miles away, The Times says.

The Arroyo Seco tore out a railroad line and threw freight cars as if they were toys, carrying a torrent of trash and broken trees down from the mountains through Pasadena.

South of downtown, the Los Angeles River was at flood stage and threatening to destroy the 7th Street Bridge, where pedestrians were warned that they crossed at their own risk.

Many avenues were flooded from curb to curb and churning water threw aside heavy iron manhole covers and flowed from the storm sewers, turning streets (paved and unpaved) into rivers. Streetcars plying the flooded boulevards looked like ships sailing in canals and gallant conductors carried female passengers through the water to the curb.

A 75-year-old Santa Ana rancher was killed when the buggy in which he and his brother were riding was washed away as they tried to cross Santiago Creek. The horse panicked in the raging flood and the buggy overturned. Ralph Williams, who was visiting from the East, was able to grab a willow branch and save himself, but his brother Charles was carried downstream, where his body was eventually found.

“The fording of torrents on the hill streets has seemed fraught with peril,” The Times says, “but the thousands of hardy adventurers, who have braved the currents all live to tell the tale. None has been swept away to a watery death in the many deep lakes which were formed about the city.”

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)