Weird California
Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

Coalinga Iron Zoo

Map Coalinga High School Mascot
Sunset Avenue, Coalinga, California 93210

Map Coalinga Iron Zoo
Fresno Coalinga Road, Coalinga, California 93210
(Location a Guess)

A Zebra in the Coalinga Iron Zoo
A Zebra in the Coalinga Iron Zoo

Coalinga Plaza
Coalinga Plaza

Coalinga is mostly known as an oil town. Situated west of Interstate 5 on Highway 33, as you drive north of town you will see fields of oil pumpjacks busy bobbing up and down doing their job. If you look closely you may see two zebras, one on either side of the road. And not the animal kind, but instead an oil pumpjack painted up like a zebra, merrily raising and lowering its head appearing as if it is grazing in the grasses of the oil fields.

These zebras are two of the few remaining animals from the Coalinga Iron Zoo. Conceived back in the early seventies by Jean Dakessian (now Jean Jones), the Coalinga Iron Zoo once was over 50 decorated oil pumpjacks. Jean moved to Coalinga in 1971 and opened the Cambridge Inn and Restaurant.

Since oil pumpjacks are occasionally referred to as "nodding donkeys" or "thirsty birds", she envisioned that decorating the pumpjacks as animals, would hopefully bring tourists in off of Interstate 5 with the intention of luring them over to her business. She approached Shell Oil Company and they allowed her to paint one, which she turned into a large red bird, the first of many to come. It was a large success, leading in 1973 to Shell allowing her to paint another 23 pumpjacks. Chevron, not wanting to be left out, let her paint 34 of their oil pumpjacks. Jean even had a contest to gather up designs for all the pumpjacks.

Coalinga Iron Zoo
Coalinga Iron Zoo
Coalinga Iron Zoo
Coalinga Iron Zoo
Coalinga Iron Zoo
Coalinga Iron Zoo

With well over fifty pumpjacks painted, a host of animals and designs "grazed" on the fields north of Coalinga. Now referred to as the Iron Zoo, travelers could see pumpjacks in such colorful designs as a turtle, ladybug, butterfly, horse, elephant, cowboy riding a horse, bumblebee, bald eagle, zebra, giraffe, ram, and even a clown.

Supposedly, eventually there was corporate concerns about the liability surrounding decorating the pumpjacks and thus no more were painted. Decades have since passed, and over the years many of the original Iron Zoo have ended up being decommissioned or moved further from the road and out of sight. Sadly it now appears that very few remain, and I was only able to find two zebras along Highway 33 north of Coalinga. There is a zebra on either side of the road.

Luckily there is at least one more oil pumpjack decorated. Coalinga High School took one and painted it up as their mascot, the horned toad. It can usually be found on high school grounds to the left of an entrance on Sunset Avenue, but can be moved around for parades, etc.

Coalinga High School Mascot
Coalinga High School Mascot
Coalinga High School Mascot
Coalinga High School Mascot
Coalinga High School Mascot
Coalinga High School Mascot


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Last Edited: 2015-11-15


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