Monday, 11 December 2017

I Have Always Known Them As 'Nodding Donkeys',

but they are apparently called pump jacks,

 formerly known as “Coaling Station A”, the town of Coalinga in Fresno County output changed to a different type of fossil fuel once the Coalinga Oil Field was discovered in the late 1880s, the subsequent oil boom peaked in the 1910s with pump jacks and steam injectors gradually replacing derricks, 

 Jean Dakessian Jones and her husband owned a motel that – due to the recent opening of Interstate 5 – was vacant more often than not, Jones knew she had to find some way to attract more traffic (literally) to their motel, inspiration struck in the form of the pump jacks, whose form & function lent itself to artistic modification. “I had never seen oil pumps like those,” recounted Jones, “and my imagination saw them as all kinds of creatures, I thought that if people came off the freeway they would see a painted pump, go a little farther to see the next one, and on and on until they made it to Coalinga and saw our wonderful and inviting motor lodge. It worked!” And with that, the “Iron Zoo” was born,

 Jones played by the rules and in 1971 she contacted Marshall Newkirk, site manager for Shell Oil in Coalinga, to her surprise and delight, she found an ally in Newkirk. “After I painted the first one,” explained Jones, “he ran it by the head office and they gave me the green light to continue.”

 not only did Shell approve of Jones’ plan, they even chipped in to cover the cost of the paint – no small expense considering the company owned 23 pump jacks, by mid-1973, Jones had painted all of Shell’s pump jacks,

 painting 23 pump jacks was a back-breaking endeavor for Jean Dakessian Jones; the thought of next making over Chevron’s 34 “thirsty birds” was a daunting proposition unless she applied some creativity, in the event, Jones organized a competition for local artists who submitted designs for one or more of the 34 available pump jacks, winners were welcome to paint their pump(s) but if they didn’t feel up to the task, Jones would step in and paint it for them, the contest galvanized the community: “Families came out on the weekends, even the mayor and his family painted one,” according to Jones,

 “The response to the project was overwhelming,” recalled Jones, “I never thought of ever getting any publicity for such a thing, I just wanted people to come down the road to our place of business.” As the Iron Zoo grew, word of it spread and tourism – practically nil up to then – got a welcome boost, Flickr member j4zberg stopped by to snap the bald eagle pump jack in action during a family vacation in 1974, 

almost one billion barrels of oil have been pumped from the Coalinga Oil Field since the 1880s and it’s estimated only six percent of the field’s original capacity remains, enhanced recovery techniques such as steam injection are only hastening the day when the field is completely exhausted, as such, a growing number of the Iron Zoo’s painted pump jacks have been shut down and disassembled,

the grasshopper above was one of the first to go, like the petro-economy, it seems these petro-pets are destined to go down in history, a great story of Jean Dakessian Jones and her husband fighting to keep their livelihood going.

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