"The Swooper" — obscure vintage carnival ride
What could be better than finding a bunch of old carnival rides out in the middle of nowhere? I should point out that these photos represent our fantasy of what those rides might be — and are nothing like what we actually found.
"The Round-Up" — Remember this thing from the '60s?
In fact, what we actually found was nothing — not a single rusty carnival ride could be found within hiking distance of the end of Roscoe. But I'll fill in that part of the story momentarily.
High button shoes
In my neck of the woods, it's fair to say the Saturday morning parking lot pancake breakfast went the way of high button shoes. And if you get that reference, there's a good chance you're even older than me.
Chucko the Birthday Clown, aka Charles Runyon
But this was before clowns were recognized as evil, as they're widely perceived to be now. This isn't Chucko's mug shot, as far as I know, but if he had one it would probably look like this.
The Wienermobile in its "space age" phase, circa late 1950s
Speaking of wild times, the Wienermobile used to drop by the Ralphs parking lot too. Not the bright, shiny one they have out now, but the old retro one, which, like most things that are old, was way better.
The 1969 Wienermobile — one of the "wieneriest" years
I remember when it used to be commonplace to see the Wienermobile driving down the freeway, which almost never happens anymore. I wouldn't say I miss it particularly, but it's one of those "things that make me go hmmm."
Lasso phenom Montie Montana (Jerry England collection)
Back in the day the fun would sometimes continue even after we went to school. Famous cowboy Montie Montana — another Valley resident, like me and Chucko — came to Beachy Elementary one time and did rope tricks.
The Montie Montana visit almost made up for the two times I had to take fields trip to the opera, and saw "Die Fledermaus" BOTH TIMES. I've always wondered whose horrible idea that was.
Here's a little sample. Look, I'm grown up now, and can appreciate the opera ON SOME LEVEL. But in the fourth grade, not so much. I think this was what eventually drove me to rock 'n' roll. But I digress ...
Tilt-a-Whirl model — pre-rusted!
The old carnival ride trucks came in a number of variations, featuring Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, Tilt-a-Whirls and other rides. The one I remember best just had clunky old cars rumbling around on a small oval track.
Welcome to your childhood dreams come true ...
The car ride seems to be the hardest to find. I couldn't even find any photos of it — but I can vouch for it from personal experience: Not only did it exist, but it was a blast to ride, at least for an 8-year-old.
Ferris wheel model — in baby blue!
The trucks also came in blue. This one's the so-called Ferris wheel model, which carted around what had to be the world's smallest Ferris wheel — just four cages, but yeah, I suppose technically it's still a Ferris wheel.
Ferris wheel model in the more traditional red
I got so obsessed with the old carnival ride trucks a while back that I was trying to buy one, which was a really dumb idea. Fortunately, I couldn't find the clunky car ride version, and I dropped the plan.
Dayton Canyon in 2020: Bring on the cookie-cutter houses
Fast-forward a half-century and now they're developing the holy bejeezus out of Dayton Canyon. The bad news is they're turning another natural area into Lego-Land, but there's some good news too.
Today's Dayton Canyon: Two new roads extend west
With new housing comes better roads, and these days you can just drive out to places it once took all day to hike to. If you had a mind to, in 2020 you could search for old rusty carnival rides just by driving around.
The old farm in Dayton Canyon
The farmer, who appears to be dug in for now, got a new road out of the deal. Whether it will make up for having hundreds of new neighbors seems unlikely, but maybe the developers tossed him a few other perks too.
Two items of interest on the farm property
Here's the kicker: The farmer has at least two items on his property that are pertinent to our story. Both of them are super-old rusting heaps — and I'm not exactly sure what they are.
The Lakeside Park Carousel in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada
As it turns out, there's a famous carousel by the same name — the Lakeside Park Carousel. It's even on Wikipedia, so you know it's a big deal. But in this case, it IS just a coincidence.
Canada's Lakeside Park Carousel
The Lakeside Park Carousel is in Canada and has nothing to do with Chatsworth's Lakeside Park. Even so, imagine finding this thing out rusting in an old farm field. That'd be something.
Lakeside Park looking west from the Chatsworth Nature Preserve (Google Maps)
Meanwhile, Chatsworth's Lakeside Park, situated at the west end of the former Chatsworth Reservoir, rises uphill as it extends west from Valley Circle Boulevard.
Promo still for the William S. Hart movie "Three Word Brand," 1921 (Jerry England collection)
Sometimes you can catch a little bit of what would later become Lakeside Park in the background of old silent movies filmed at the Chatsworth Reservoir. The best example I've seen is this promo still for "Three Word Brand."
read more about the Kestrel by clicking here.
The same rocks, photographed on a recent visit to Lakeside Park
These rocks today are a part of the landscape of Lakeside Park.
"The Toll Gate" (1920): A cabin by the lake
Many other movies were also filmed around the Chatsworth Reservoir during the silent era — especially in the early 1920s. Another William S. Hart Western, "The Toll Gate," featured a cabin on the south shore of the lake.
The same ridge above Chatsworth Lake Manor (Google Maps, 2020)
The "Toll Gate" shot of the cabin is taken looking toward the north, and it's easy to match it up with the hills above Chatsworth Lake Manor — even though the two shots are taken 100 years apart.
"The Squaw Man" (1914): Alpine hikers on those same rocks?
I believe these are the same rocks where a group of hikers ran into trouble in the "Alpine sequence" from Cecil B. DeMille's "The Squaw Man," Hollywood's first feature film.
The "Alpine sequence" from "The Squaw Man"
I reported on the discovery of the Lake Manor shooting location for the "Alpine sequence" back in August 2019. Please click here to see an analysis of that historic movie shoot.
"The Toll Gate": Chatsworth's Twelve Apostles
A wider shot of the cabin in "The Toll Gate" reveals a Chatsworth landmark north of the reservoir: a distinctive line of sandstone boulders above Lake Manor, known to locals as the Twelve Apostles.
"The Man Behind the Gun" (1953): Chatsworth Reservoir in the background
Back when the lake was still a lake, it appeared numerous times in the backgrounds of movies filmed in the hills above Chatsworth.
Promo still for "Tess of the Storm Country" (1922): Mary Pickford at Chatsworth Lake
But the heyday for filming on the property surrounding the Chatsworth Reservoir was the early 1920s. Even Mary Pickford, who was famous at the time as "America's Sweetheart," showed up to prance around beside the lake.
"Tess of the Storm Country": Fishing village on the south shore of Chatsworth Lake
The bulk of the action in Pickford's "Tess of the Storm Country" takes place in what has been described as a "timeworn" fishing village. An elaborate set was built along the shore of Chatsworth Lake to portray the village.
Atmospheric shots of the lake and fishing village are featured, some of which employ the color tints that were in vogue in the early silent film era.
An oak tree emerges from the recently filled lake
We occasionally catch a glimpse of a large oak tree growing right out of the water. When the reservoir was filled, a process that was completed in 1919, they apparently just left some of the trees there to fend for themselves.
"Tess of the Storm Country": The view from the mansion
Much of the plot of "Tess" concerns relations between the "hill-toppers," who live in or near the mansion, and the residents of the fishing village below, whom the hill-toppers regard as a blight on their otherwise gorgeous view.
The Peninsula from the same side, as it appears today
It takes some doing to capture the Peninsula from the same angle in today's world, but I did manage to come pretty close by driving around what today is a suburban neighborhood just east of the dry lakebed.
Mary Pickford, as Tess, peers out the window of her house in the fishing village
Mary Pickford stars as Tess. Even back in 1922 she was reprising a role she had already played in the movies, in a 1914 version of "Tess of the Storm Country."
Full circle: A lone oak marks the return of the trees
As if in an act of defiance, the oak trees may be mounting a comeback. A half-century after the lake was drained, we can now find a few lone soldiers taking on the challenge of repopulating the dry lakebed.
Corriganville, Thousand Oaks, San Fernando, Bell Ranch, Pioneertown, Franklin Canyon, Oak Park, Paramount Ranch, Rabbit Dry Lake in Lucerne Valley, various parts of Chatsworth, and other old filming locations. You can see all of the "Off the Beaten Path" posts by clicking on the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.