22 September 2013

Even More Carbon Canyon History from The Champion

The third installment of Carbon Canyon history in the "Rolltop Roundup" column from Allen McCombs, publisher emeritus of The Champion has two aspects of the canyon's past that have been featured on this blog before.  One, however, has far greater detail in McCombs' column, this being the founding of Western Hills Country Club and the story of its founder, Shelly [Shelley] Martin Stoody, who made his money in manufacturing materials out of metal alloys, but was also a patent holder for items dealing with cattle and other animals.

McCombs related that Stoody created his "Double S" (Shelley Stoody, presumably) in the early 1950s to breed Hereford cattle and made it a success in short order.  Stoody, it was noted, looked down upon his domain "from his house atop the summit," which might well mean the house which sits surrounded by a few dozen palm trees that is on the hill directly east of Western Hills.

The "Double S" had a show ring, but also an air strip for his private plane.  Unfortunately for Stoody and his passengers, an attempt to land the plane on the ranch in late June 1961 was altered by a gust of wind and the Beechcraft plowed into the hillside a short distance from the strip, which was below his home.  Stoody and two passengers died instantly and the third passenger died later in the hospital.

After Stoody's death, the ranch was sold to a syndicate of physicians from Orange County, who paid $600,000 for the property and, in 1966, opened Western Hills.

A little research about Stoody yielded some interesting information about him.  He was born 20 March 1899 in Union, Ohio, just northwest of Dayton, and his father Charles was a carpenter and then a machinist and blacksmith who specialized in repair work.   By the time young Shelley registered for the draft in 1918 during the First World War, the Stoodys had relocated to Huntington, West Virginia, near the borders with Ohio and Kentucky, and Shelley and his older brother Winston worked as machinists for their father.

In 1921, Shelley Stoody, recently relocated to Whittier, opened up a welding company called Stoody-Rice, but soon took in as partners his father and brother and renamed the firm the Stoody Welding Company.   By 1926, the company was simply known as the Stoody Company, but Winston had become president, Charles served as vice-president and Shelley was the secretary and treasurer.  The elder Stoody soon retired but his sons continued to run the business with Shelley assuming the role of vice-president when his father stepped down. 

Initially, the business was built to supply farm and tractor repair services, but the developing oil boom in Whittier and surrounding areas led to a quick refocusing of the repair of drill bits for oil prospecting.  The firm operated for decades on Slauson Avenue near Sorensen in the southwest part of town and Shelley lived in comfortable homes in northwest Whittier and then on a hillside behind Whittier College.  By 1940, however, he had a $75,000 residence in the hills of what was then called North Whittier Heights, later Hacienda Heights.  After World War II, he relocated to a Palos Verdes Estates hilltop home, built in 1931, of almost 8,000 square feet on an acre lot.

In 1948, Stoody achieved some notoriety for buying a $25,000 helicopter for his commute from the peninsula to Whittier (cutting his travel time down from 1 1/2 hours by car to only 20 minutes by copter.)  He was, in fact, a longtime pilot, having been an early aviator in Whittier, where he began his flying career in 1926, and he had a private plane at the airport in Torrance when he moved to the PV Estates.  A Los Angeles Times article reported that he planned to build a helipad and hangar at his residence as well as at his business.

The increased wealth that allowed Stoody to live in Palos Verdes came from a patented process for more durable drill bits called "hardfacing," essentially creating an overlay coating of abrasion-resistant alloys welded onto the bits.  Two products, "Stoodite," which was the first cast hardfacing rods and "Borium" the first use of tungsten carbide (the Stoody Company had a tungsten mine in the Mojave Desert from the late 1920s) for hardfacing, were innovations by the firm, which also was a pioneer the "submerged arc welding" process, in which the molten weld and arc zone have a compound of manganese oxide, silica, lime, calcium fluoride and other materials to protect the product from contamination.  The financial windfall from his business allowed the entrepreneur to buy the 426-acre spread in Carbon Canyon that he called the "Double S" and Stoody also owned a cattle ranch in Nevada.

A Times article from 27 June 1961 provided further details of the crash, including the sad fact that his wife witnessed the tragedy from a window in their hillside ranch house.  Evidently, the plane circled the private landing strip several times, came in for a landing and then Stoody abruptly tried to pull the plane up before nosing into the hillside.  In addition to Stoody, who was then 61, the other passengers were Tom Leroy Brown, a 31-year old ranch employee who left behind seven children; 21-year old Arkansas cattle rancher John Starr; and 56-year old Melvin Kibbler of Norwalk, who died of his injuries several days after the accident.   Stoody left behind his wife, daughter and son and it is assumed that they sold the ranch to the developers of Western Hills.

As to the Stoody Company, it continued on with Stoody's brother Winston dying in 1967 and the firm relocating to the City of Industry in the mid-1970s.  There were three purchases of the company in the late 1970s through late 1980s, the last by Thermadyne, which moved the subsidiary to Bowling Green, Kentucky, a little more than 20 years ago and where it still operates (naturally, Thermadyne was acquired in 2010 by a private equity firm.)  Notably, in 2005, Stoody and the federal Environmental Protection Agency came to a $413,000 settlement over releases on degreasing solvents from its City of Industry plant, which was in a very large Superfund site within the city and surrounding areas.

The other anecdote shared in the column was one that was given extensive coverage here back in 2008, this being the strange story of the February 1958 manhunt and capture of Lester Dean Bonds, who killed an Ontario police detective at an isolated cabin in Soquel Canyon, near, McCombs wrote, the Aeroject munitions testing facility where the Vellano gated housing community and country club are now.  The detective was looking to search the cabin on the belief that stolen goods were concealed there.  Bonds, a Mississippi-born drifter who had been released from Patton State Hospital, a mental health facility still in San Bernardino, had broken into the cabin because he was homeless.  When the detective, named Grower, knocked on the door, Bonds grabbed a gun left behind and fired upon opening the door, killing the officer.  He then escaped heading north into Carbon Canyon, where the gun belt was found.

The version given by McCombs is not much different from that related on this blog, though the family that was startled to find Bonds lying on their sofa in his skivvies and smoking cigarettes he casually took from the house were spending their first night after having moved to Sleepy Hollow from Fresno.

As noted before, the head of the household Bill Squires calmly confronted the wanted killer, served him some coffee and offered to get him a beer from a local store, this being the old tavern and store where there are some apartments today at the eastern end of Sleepy Hollow on the south side of Carbon Canyon Road (this establishment had been opened by David Tidwell back in the 1920s.)  Once Squires got to the store, he had the owner call the police, returned home with the beer, threw Bonds' gun outside and, with his wife, engaged the murderer in conversation until authorities arrived.

Bonds was arrested without incident, was determined to be insane upon examination and was sent back to the Patton facility instead of standing trial.

Presumably, McCombs has more to tell of Carbon Canyon's history when the next issue of the paper comes out on Saturday.

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