About the Museum
Once upon a time in the mid 1920's over 7000 wooden derricks covered the landscape from Sunset (Southeast of Maricopa), through the Midway Valley, the Elk Hills to McKittrick and Reward, a distance of approximately 21 miles in Southwest Kern County. It was indeed a veritable forest of derricks. By the late sixties all these derricks except two were thrown. In 1974 Jameson #17 was scheduled to be torn down too. The local American Association of University Women and some dedicated people organized and with the Jameson Company donating the derrick and 3 acres of land, the West Kern Oil Museum, Inc. was born. Today that original wooden derrick standing over its original well, with all its cable tools intact, is a part of the Museum which has grown to 8 acres.
It seemed only fitting that a Museum be on the Westside of Kern County, for even today almost one half of all the oil in California comes from these Westside oilfields. The Midway Sunset field (the oilfield on which the Museum sits) is still the top oil producing field in the contiguous United States. Then, too, three of the giant oilfields of the U.S. lie within the Westside. They are the Midway Sunset Field, the Elk Hills Field, and the South Belridge Field. To be considered a giant field, an oilfield has to produce or be capable of producing 1 billion barrels of oil.
The Museum, run entirely by volunteers, is dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting artifacts, books, and equipment that tell the story of oil in California, particularly in West Kern County. The Museum tries to tell of the businesses, communities and people affected by that industry and is dedicated to increasing the public understanding and appreciation of the oil industry itself.
The story starts with the Tulumne Yokut Indians who lived here over 7,800 years ago, and who according to the Smithsonian Archeological dig in 1935, used the asphaltum, the oil from the seeps, as a glue, a trade item, and a waterproofing agent. It continues with the miners and the McKittrick Tar Pits. Not only did the Indians get some of their asphaltum from these tar pits, but the first Oil Company in the San Joaquin Valley, the Buena Vista Petroleum Company, started near here in 1863. What they were after in the 1860's was kerosene. In 1859, Drake's well located in Pennsylvania, the first well drilled strictly for oil, was drilled for kerosene, an alternative to whale oil which in the 1850's had become scarce. The Buena Vista Petroleum Company, 200 miles from the nearest railhead, and far from any settlements, did actually bring a distillery by ship from San Francisco, hauled it overland in spring wagons and for four years distilled kerosene and sold axle grease for wagons. They hauled these products by wagon to their agent in Stockton. This was in spite of the fact that from their hand dug wells, 1/3 of the material was bones. The kerosene produced was considered of excellent grade.
The start of the Midway Sunset Field dates from 1890. By 1915, one half of the oil in California came from this field, and California led the nation in oil production. The field became famous when the gushers started raining in. The Pritchett Act, passed in 1910 by Congress, stated (in simple terms) that everyone had to prove his claims, or the land would revert back to public domain. Oil had been classified as a mineral and therefore the land could be patented. The Westside contained a tremendous gas field, and so, as the producers drilled to prove their claims, gusher after gusher came in - 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 barrels a day. The most famous was the Lakeview Gusher which gushed for 544 days (a year and a half, at its peak hitting 90,000 to 100,000 barrels a day). Today, 48.9% of all the oil in California comes from the fields on the Westside of Kern County.
The story of the oil companies, of everyday life in the early oilfields and in the oil camps, as well as the story of oil itself are exhibited and interpreted. Outside one can press a button and witness a pumping unit produce oil.
The Museum, when completed according to the Master Plan, will represent an old time oil company camp set in the oilfields. In the 1910's and 20's, workers had to live near their work place. Hence, oil companies on their oil leases provided, besides an office and the various company shops and warehouses, houses for families, bunk houses for single men, a cookhouse and a recreation hall. Near every lease there was a bus stop for the school children.
The Museum is open three days a week from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Thursday through Saturday and it is open Sunday from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Tours are given both for school children and adults, and tours may be arranged by calling (661) 765-6664. The Museum is landscaped in native plants and special tours are given, pointing out particular plants and telling their uses by the Indians and early pioneers.