23ABC Community Connection


Museum in Taft remembers the history of oil in Kern County

The West Kern Oil Museum was founded fifty years ago by a group of university professors who wanted to preserve this piece of California's heritage.
West Kern Oil Museum piece
Posted at 8:54 PM, Jan 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-02 18:38:58-05

The West Kern Oil Museum in Taft is preparing to celebrate 50 years of preserving the history of one of California's biggest industries: Oil.

According to Don Maxwell, Chairman of the Board for the West Kern Oil Museum, Inc., it all started with one oil well.

"It was started about 50 years ago. A group of six university women, they were all teachers, got together. This well behind us was gonna be abandoned, and they stepped in and talked to the supervisor and they stopped that from happening," said Maxwell.

In 1973, the West Kern Oil Museum was just a storefront in Downtown Taft, off of Main Street. Today, it sits on 8 acres of land and includes the history of more than just oil. The museum gives visitors a glimpse into Kern County of the past.

"We have a central museum, in which we have a Native American story of oil. We have OILI camp history. We have a building with old cars, Model T's and old oilfield equipment, tools," said Maxwell.

The backbone of the West Kern Oil Museum is the volunteers who donate their time to keep the museum open and running.

"'Cause of my oilfield experience, I enjoy the outdoors here with the rigs," said Greg Mudge, Director of Volunteers at the museum. "The wooden derrick and the Bender drilling rig."

The dedication of volunteers also helps the museum maintain free admission to the public while helping to share the history of oil in Kern County.

"Right now, we have about twelve steady volunteers. A lot of people don't know about the wonderful heritage here, and our volunteers love telling them," said Mudge, adding that while the history of oil may not be as glamorous as the history of some other things in California, it's an important part of the state's heritage.

Maxwell agrees, saying that understanding the history is the best way to plan for the future.

"History is always important to preserve because we have to learn about it. Not how it used to be, but how it evolved from that, being safer, being more cost effective," said Maxwell.

The West Kern Oil Museum's 50th birthday will take place on March 11, 2023, when the museum will hold a celebration to raise funds for the museum.