Larson's Dairyland

Larson's Dairyland, April 3, 1990

Most everyone likes a good riddle and on Dec. 2, 1969, Californian reporter Bob Jones asked readers, “What has four legs, blue-grey eyes, is just like an 1,800-pound cuddly puppy, has a digestive tract like a king-size garbage disposal, but still has to worry about constipation?” The answer: Sam the hippo, of course.

Many remember Sam from his days at Larson’s Dairyland, but Sam had a pretty eventful life before he made his way to Kern County.

He was born in the late 1950s in Africa. In the early 1960s, he lived in Jungleland in Thousand Oaks before an unemployed construction worker purchased him after the park went out of business. Thinking he could make a fortune off of Sam, he quickly learned about the expense of feeding a hippo. In 1969, after shelters in Los Angeles and Orange Counties rejected Sam, he found himself up for sale once again.

This is when John Barber saw an opportunity for the people of Bakersfield. When he pur-

chased the 2-ton beast, he did so with the purpose of donating him to the Kern Zoological Society to give there plans to build a zoo – as the Nov. 11, 1969, Californian put it – a “beefy boost.”

As exciting as this new acquisition was, there was also one huge problem – where to put Sam. A perfect abode for a hippo was not something that was readily available. A suitable, although temporary, solution was found in an old abandoned pool at Hart Park. But he did not stay there long and he was moved to the old horse barns behind the Kern County Museum.

On Jan. 23, 1971, Sam was on the move again when Norman Larson agreed to take him. Sam’s heft and stubbornness, though, made his relocation a challenge. For four hours, members of the Kern Zoological Society tried to coax Sam into a double-deck livestock truck, but he would not budge. They tried to tempt him with food, but for once he was not hungry. It finally took a spray of water to get him into the truck. At 2:30 p.m. he finally made his way to his new home at Larson’s Dairyland. The plan was for Sam to stay with the Larsons for about a year but he ended up staying in his new home much longer than anticipated.

It was during his time among the dairy cows that Sam cemented his place into the memories of Bakersfield’s school children. As the main attraction of Larson’s Dairyland, he also became its mascot. Every day, children got to see Sam’s happy face on the cartons of milk that were served with their school lunch.

Eventually, Sam made his way back to Los Angeles and rumor has it he landed a starring role in car dealer Cal Worthington’s commercials. Sam might not have found his forever home in Bakersfield, but he did find one in the hearts of a generation that remembers his time at Larson’s Dairyland. 

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