Old Stuff from the Oil Fields
  (The vanishing outdoor oil museum of the San Joaquin Valley)


The Coalinga Iron Zoo - When you drive through Coalinga on Highway 33 and enter the oil fields on the north side of Anticline Ridge, you will encounter the so-called "Iron Zoo" - a collection of oil pumping jacks decorated as animals, insects and people. The zoo was created by Jean Dakessian, a local artist who arrived in Coalinga with her then husband Art around 1971 and bought the Cambridge Inn & Restaurant. She thought that if she decorated some of the pump jacks along the highway north of town, it might lure drivers off Interstate 5, lead them into Coalinga, and eventually to the door of her Cambridge Inn.

Jean approached Marshall Newkirk, who was one of the managers for Shell Oil in Coalinga, and got permission to paint one of the company's pump jacks, which she decorated as a big red bid. Jean's creation was such a success that the head office of Shell gave her the O.K. in 1973 to paint more. They even provided the paint, which enabled Jean to decorate another 23 pump jacks.

She then received permission from Chevron to paint their 34 pump jacks as well, so she ran a contest in which the contestants were asked to submit designs, and the winners got to decorate a pump jack of their own, with Chevron providing all the supplies. Soon the 'Iron Zoo' became a community project, and Jean was able to get more than 150 pump jacks decorated, which brought her brief fame as the 'Iron Zoo' was featured on TV shows and several magazine articles.

Jean Dakessian, who is now Jean Jones of Clovis, went on to paint murals at many businesses and for private homes all around Coalinga, including murals at the R.C. Baker Museum, Fat Jack's Diner, and a rendering of the 'Last Supper' at one of the local churches. Although her pump jack painting days are behind her, she did join forces with the local Boy Scouts to restore the denizens of the Iron Zoo after the 1983 Coalinga Earthquake. Sadly, time is taking its toll, and although there is talk from time to time of restoring the zoo to its former glory, the painted pump jacks of Coalinga are slowly disappearing.


The above four examples of some of the denizens of the iron zoo are borrowed from a slideshow that the R.C. Baker Museum of Coalinga used to have on their website at www.rcbakermuseum.com/IronZoo.html. Unfortunately, the website has been down now for the last couple of years, but if it returns you might want to check it out for some more info on this fascinating outdoor menagerie.