The Newhall Oil Refinery That Never Was - William S. Hart vs. Milon J. Trumble

William S. Hart

Milon J. Trumble (biography cover)

William Surrey Hart (1864-1946) was best known as a silent film star of westerns. From about 1915 to the early 1920's he dominated western films. He became a major film star, making over 65 movies. His last major film was Tumbleweeds in 1925. After that film, he retired to his mansion in Newhall, California. Hart had purchased the ranch and land in 1921 and proceeded to build a 22 room mansion. In his will, he gave the property to the County of Los Angeles for public use. Today, it is known as William S. Hart Park and is open to the public.

Milon James (known as MJ) Trumble (1879-1931) was a world famous inventor from about 1915 to his sudden death in 1931. He has at least 70 patents to his name and was reportedly the first inventor to have registered patents in every country of the world. His continuous refinery patents, defining the "Trumble Process", made him a rich man in 1915 when the Royal Dutch-Shell Company bought them for $1 million. Trumble also received many patents for his work with oil shale. Today, he is virtually unknown. However, author Ann Mauer has written a biography which can be obtained here.

In late 1928, Trumble applied to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors for a permit to build an oil refinery in Newhall, California, on Lot 40 of the St. John Subdivision (see maps below). This would put it east of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks and within 500 yards of the entrance to Hart's ranch.

When Hart found out about the refinery, he was not happy. He sent a letter of protest to the board of supervisors on 12/17/1928. Hart told the board that if the plant is built, it will ruin his ranch property. The minutes for the meeting of 12/17/1928 said:
"This being the time regularly set for hearing on the application of the Newhall Refiners, Inc., for permit to establish and operate Oil Refinery at Newhall, and due notice of said hearing having been given as required by law, said matter is called up; a protest by William S. Hart, is presented; and on motion of Supervisor Wright, duly seconded and carried, it is ordered that further hearing herein be continued to Monday, December 31st, 1928, at 10:00 o'clock a.m."
On December 31, 1928, Hart attended the meeting and vigorously protested the construction of the refinery. A report had also been prepared by the county health officer. The minutes for that meeting said:
"This being the time heretofore set for further hearing on the application of Newhall Refiners, Incorporated, for permit to erect an oil refinery on Lot 40, St. John's Subdivision at Newhall, under the provisions of Ordinance No. 1494 (N.S.), said matter is called up, a report by the county Health Officer stating that the refinery referred to would cause a public nuisance and be detrimental to the public health, - is presented; J.A. Kidder and Dr. Pomeroy are sworn and examined; Whereupon, on motion of Supervisor Shaw, duly seconded and carried, it is ordered that said application be, and the same is hereby denied.
Hart had won and Trumble had lost. Unfortunately, the permit does not seem to exist in the archives of the Board of Supervisors. Even more unfortunately, Trumble died in 1931.

(Note: Ordinance 1494, New Series, was the basic zoning law of the county of Los Angeles containing the procedure for obtaining a special permit sought by Trumble in an unincorporated area of the county. It was first adapted on September 12, 1927.)

Los Angeles Times 12/18/1928

Los Angeles Times 1/1/1929

Bakersfield Californian 12/18/1928

Bakersfield Californian 1/1/1929

The Signal 1/24/1929

The Signal 5/16/1929

1921 map section showing Lot 40 of the St. John Subdivision in yellow (from Map of the Piru - Simi - Newhall Oil Fields, California State Mining Bureau, 1921)

Enclosed in red at the top is Lot 40 of the St. John Subdivision. It is just north of the Newhall Metrolink Station. Trumble probably wanted a site near the railroad to minimize transportation costs. The Hart Mansion is enclosed in the circle almost directly south of Lot 40. Below, and to the right, of Hart's mansion is the Pioneer Oil Refinery. In 1928, it was just an old, abandoned, site and would not be restored until 1930. (From Google Maps)

From closer up, the Hart Mansion is circled at the bottom and lot 40 is at top. Today, lot 40 is vacant and looks like it has always been vacant. (From Google Maps)

This is from the hike up to the Hart ranch. The large building in the distance is the Newhall Metrolink Station. The refinery would have been just past the station. There were no large trees on Hart's property like there are today, so he would have had a clear view of the refinery from his living room, which certainly would not have made him happy.

From ground level, the Metrolink station is on the right. Lot 40 is on the other side of the south fork of the Santa Clara River, on the high ground. Refineries used water, but the Santa Clara River is dry most of the year, so another source of water would have been needed.

Milon (not Milton) J. Trumble spends $20,000 for patents in 93 countries, just about every country in the world (From the Bakersfield Californian of August 22, 1916)

Trumble did not just work on oil or oil shale. Here is a description of his one-man submarine (From the Syracuse, New York, Daily Journal of January 17, 1917). Trumble also had patents for improvements to a gun (#1359295), a sound reproducer (#1432139), and a bottle holding and locking device (#1227220).