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There Is An Iron Zoo In The Oil Fields Of a Small Town In California

Situated 190 miles south of San Jose, California, the small town of Coalinga is mainly an agricultural community with Chevron and Aera Energy operating the town's only oil field. As you drive north towards the town, Coalinga's oil field will come into view. You will see several oil pump jacks busy bobbing up and down doing their job. Now if you look closely, you will see animals — zebras, giraffes, and horses— not the usual kind, but pump jacks painted like animals. Each rooted to its own spot, these iron animals merrily raise and lower their heads as if grazing in the field. Here is the unique story behind it. 

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    The Coalinga Iron Zoo was created back in the 70s by Jean Dakessian, a local artist who arrived in Coalinga with her husband and opened a restaurant and inn.

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    She thought that if she decorated some of the pump jacks along the highway north of town, she might successfully lure drivers off the Interstate and into Coalinga and eventually to the doors of her new business. Since oil pump jacks are also referred to as "nodding donkeys" or "thirsty birds", it didn't take too big of a leap in imagination to arrive at her concept of the Iron Zoo.


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    Jean approached Shell Oil Company and they allowed her to paint one, which she turned into a large red bird.

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    It received so much attention that, the head office of Shell gave her permission to paint another 23 pump jacks and also provided her the paint. Then Chevron asked her to paint their 34 pump jacks as well, so she ran a contest for designs.


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    Soon the Iron Zoo became a community project.

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    "Families came out on the weekends, even the mayor and his family painted one. The response to the project was overwhelming," Jean said.


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    At its peak, the Iron Zoo had over fifty decorated pump jacks

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    Jean Dakessian's Iron Zoo received national recognition from television and newspapers, even featuring on Ripley's Believe it or Not book.


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    But sadly, that was a long time back...

    Iron

    Over the decades many of the original derricks were decommissioned and turned to scrap while others were moved further from the road and out of sight. Only a handful of Jean's iron animals now remain. They are old, faded and rusted.


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