BY DENNIS MCCALL, Contributing writer
As Taft celebrates its 100th anniversary with the ongoing Oildorado Days festival, one of the major players is the West Kern Oil Museum, located at the southwest corner of town beneath its signature 106-foot tall wooden oil derrick.
Volunteers at the westside's most popular tourist attraction have gussied up the place with new exhibits that take visitors back to those pioneer days. Although a vast majority of the relics on display date back a century, it is one that reaches back a million years that has the museum folks busting with pride.
West Kern Oil Museum
1168 Wood St., Taft. 765-6664.
During Oildorado Days (now through Oct. 24): Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Regular hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday
The newest addition is a saber-toothed cat like the predators that roamed the area during the last Ice Age.
"We're really excited about this," said Agnes Hardt, director of volunteers. "So many people have no idea that we have something that's so important. It's a very important part of our history. I think it's really important that people in this area know what they've got out there at McKittrick."
She's referring to the McKittrick tar pits north of Taft -- the burial ground for more than 30 kinds of Pleistocene animals that were trapped, perished and preserved in oil seeps that formed more than a million years ago.
"There are a lot of bones that were discovered in McKittrick that are now on display at the La Brea Tar Pits (in Los Angeles), and, it's all because of our oil," Hardt said.
Animals identified from bones found in the McKittrick tar pits include the Columbian mammoth, ground sloth, giant bison, mastodon, deer, antelope, elk, horse, two kinds of camels, saber-toothed cat, several kinds of bears, mountain lion, fox, a musk ox-like animal, skunk, badger, weasel, coyote and a lion-like cat.
Nearly 60 different kinds of birds were found in the McKittrick tar pits, including predatory birds such as vultures, eagles, hawks and falcons. Waterfowl also was discovered, suggesting a lake was nearby.
The California Institute of Technology and the Los Angeles County Museum conducted excavations at the McKittrick site in 1925, 1926 and 1928. Another excavation was made in 1949. All of the artifacts uncovered in McKittrick were taken to Los Angeles.
The museum's saber-toothed cat is on loan from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
"We are very fortunate that they would allow us to have this cat," Hardt said.
The cat actually came from the La Brea tar pits and for the last seven or eight years has greeted foreign visitors coming through the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX.
Hardt said she has been assured by Dr. John Harris, chief curator of the Division of Vertebrate Studies at the L.A. museum, "that this is the very same species that is documented to have been discovered in the McKittrick tar pits."
Hardt said the museum is planning a contest to give the cat a name.
The museum will be holding its Boom Town Days in conjunction with Oildorado. It will be open all 10 days of the celebration with special exhibits, entertainment, old-timers registration and barbecues.