You never know what you'll find by delving into old newspaper clippings -- for me it's an adventure that often leads to unexpected pleasures.
Apparently Jan Gary feels the same way. Her research has turned into a reason to honor the man she credits with founding Oildale.
"We should honor this man -- he really got Oildale started," Gary said. "As far as we know this is the first statue in Oildale."
Andrew Ferguson is the man and Gary discovered his importance a year or so ago while leafing through old newspaper clippings in the local history room at the Beale Memorial Library.
"I was looking for a new project for us to do," said Gary, whose group was formed to create a more positive image of Oildale and recently sponsored two outdoor murals depicting its early years.
She discovered Ferguson's place in history in an undated news item headlined, "Founder of Oildale is called by death." (Subsequent research revealed he died in Bakersfield on Feb. 11, 1935.)
The article went on to say that Ferguson, a Canadian, came to Kern County about 1910 and worked as an engineer for Peerless Oil Co.
He bought a large amount of property north of Bakersfield, subdivided it and developed it as a residential property for oil field workers. His business was located on the present site of Standard Elementary School.
"He laid out all the streets and owned a feed and hay store on (North) Chester Avenue and Ferguson Street," she said. "He even had the first car in Oildale."
Gary has corresponded via email with one of Ferguson's descendants, who related a number of facts about Ferguson and as well as an amusing incident about the car that is part of family lore.
As the story goes, Ferguson got the auto by way of a trade with the previous owner, who wanted to exchange it for a vehicle that would be more suitable for work in the oil fields.
"The owner was looking to trade it for a team and wagon," she said. "The wheel base of the car and the wheel base of a wagon was not the same -- the roads were so rutted by wagons, it was almost impossible to drive a car."
The store's entrance and exit were designed as a sort of drive-through, allowing customers to drive their teams inside to load supplies.
One of Ferguson's sons hopped into the car to test drive it and drove the car in and out and around the building repeatedly.
"Some (observers) said he was just showing off because he had a car," said the descendant. "After awhile the car ran out of gas and stopped. Apparently (he) had no idea where the brake was or how to stop the car, so he went round and round till he ran out of gas."
A 1915 photo of Ferguson standing beside the car turned out to be the only image available to Christopher Folsom, the artist commissioned to do the statue of Ferguson.
"It's the first project I've done working from a photograph," Folsom said, adding that it's been a challenge because most of the subject's facial features are blacked out.
The artist used mild steel to make the statue, a type of steel that is more pliable and contains a low amount of carbon.
"I weld it and bend it and pound it till it conforms to the shape I want," he said, adding that the statue has a coating that protects it from weathering.
Ferguson's height is estimated to be about 5 feet 8 inches, but with the hat he's wearing and the statue's pedestal, the entire piece stands about 6 feet.
Folsom, 61, who lives in Bend, Ore., is staying with friends in Bakersfield while completing work on the statue. A graduate of Garces High School, he came here last year for his 40th reunion and as a gift, created two sculptures of the school's mascot, the ram.
Meanwhile, Gary said the Ferguson statue is being funded by a $20,000 grant from Chevron. It has been placed on business property owned by Terry Delamater at 200 China Grade Loop.
"Our group likes to beautify Oildale," Gary said. "We believe things can change."