The oil industry is an up-and-down business with more downs than ups of late, but you wouldn’t know it from all the gushing going on in Kern County’s oil capital of Taft, on the eve of the town’s every-five-years Oildorado celebration.
“Taft is not without its problems, but we’re small enough where everybody knows everybody but big enough to create an atmosphere of growth and prosperity,” said former mayor and civic leader Paul Linder, the 2015 Oildorado president.
The spectacle that is Oildorado Days reflects the affection residents have for the westside burg, a pride not uncommon in small towns but rare in this case for the sheer force of its depth and passion. This is no one-day street festival with food booths and a bounce house for the kids. Oildorado is a 10-day explosion of goodwill — car shows, parades, quaint western traditions, a petroleum symposium, concerts featuring national acts.
Even the marketing and merchandising is first-rate: They’re selling a special edition $75 Tommy Bahama embroidered Oildorado shirt along with more affordable T-shirts (no offense, Tommy Bahama), shot glasses, coffee mugs that resemble a 55-gallon oil drum, belt buckles and assorted tchotchke.
“We don’t sell little stupid trinkety things,” Linder emphasized.
Thanks to national press attention and enthusiastic visits by the late Huell Howser for his PBS travel series, Oildorado’s reach has gone global.
“There’s a YouTube video that we were watching of our whiskerino contest that had been translated into Russian. We really put Oildorado and Taft on the map five years ago.”
Even the Chinese saw an angle, snapping up the rights to oildoradodays.com and attempting to sell them back to Taft.
“But I noticed that it had lapsed,” Linder said, a note of triumph in his voice. “When they didn’t pay up, we jumped on it.”
Still, it’s the people of Kern County that make up the majority of visitors, about 50,000 in 2010, a huge Oildorado year because it celebrated Taft’s centennial anniversary.
“We believe that there’s a pretty substantial spike, not only in sales tax but in tourist-type dollars,” Linder said. “At the last Oildorado, several of the convenience stores ran out of beer and soda and the suppliers had to make special trips to restock them. The economic boon is huge.”
Oildorado has been a rather modest affair for most of its long run, but it was supersized for the 2010 celebration, and Linder doubts it will ever return to its humble origins. You can’t untap that well, apparently.
“The community won’t let us go back. They love what we’ve done, supported what we’ve done.”
The festival kicks off Friday with the civic luncheon, featuring local Assemblywoman Shannon Grove and state Sen. Jean Fuller. It will be at the luncheon that Oildorado historian Pete Gianopolus — who died in July — will be honored with a low-key tribute.
“Pete would not want us dwelling on his death,” Linder said. “At the kickoff, the civic luncheon will have an empty chair with his bolo tie with all the different badges on it.”
But with so many events over so many days, how should Bakersfield visitors plan their day trips? Linder recommends a visit to the Oildorado store, at 501 North St., the site of a now-closed Chevrolet dealership. The merchandise has been flying off the shelves since the hopping Oildorado hub opened last Thursday in the converted showroom, loaned free of charge by businessman Devinder Bains (there’s that civic pride again).
“We’ve created an Oildorado lounge there, where you can have root beer, listen to music and visit with friends,” Linder said.
A visit to Taft also must include a stop at the Oil Worker Monument, created by Ben Victor, an artist born in Taft who has earned an international reputation for his stunning sculptures. It was dedicated to great fanfare and with considerable emotion at the 2010 Oildorado Days.
Linder also noted the arrival of a vintage war plane, hot-air balloon lift-offs, the petroleum summit, featuring Texas business magnate T. Boone Pickens and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, who according to Linder, “has always been infatuated with the oil industry.”
The best chance to take in the most of what Oildorado has to offer comes next weekend.
“The big weekend finale kicks off with our grand parade. There’s the three-day music festival, Oilstock. I would say the 17th is going to be a huge day.
“(Visitors) can spend a day or spend a couple of days here and not spend a dime,” Linder said, “but we want them to leave a couple of bucks with us.”
Beyond the financial boost, the festival has left a cultural footprint far outside of Kern, the Oildorado president said.
“Anywhere I’ve gone in my travels, it seems like I bump into somebody who knows somebody or has been to Taft because of oil companies. It’s pretty renowned, I think.”
This article was written by Jennifer Self from The Bakersfield Californian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.