Downtown Taft's imposing new centerpiece features tough-as-bronze figures that stand 8 feet tall and wear historically accurate, 1910-era dress.

The oil derrick they're seen laboring under completes one of the nation's largest bronze sculptures. Designed by a native son, it's believed to be the world's first monument to oil workers.

Impressive? County Supervisor Ray Watson said it humbles a certain Parisian structure that occasionally gets attention.

"It's a little shorter than the Eiffel Tower, but I can tell you," Watson said, "it's better. I've been there."

More than 1,000 people showed up in hot weather and scarce shade to witness Friday's unveiling of the Oilworker Monument, a project conceived of four years ago and funded by $1.2 million in private donations, including large gifts from Chevron and Bakersfield-based Aera Energy LLC.

Ilene Wilson, a lifelong Taft resident with 85 years under her belt, called it "the greatest thing I think they've ever had."

To her it brought to mind relatives, especially her dad, who moved his family to Taft from Bakersfield in 1921 to work in the oil fields.

"They've done a fabulous job, I tell you," she said. "Worth everyone's time to come and see."

Local politicians were on hand as the monument was dedicated to the people of Taft and the generations of oil workers whose labor has fueled the nation.

"The key is energy, and you who make it happen," said Assemblywoman Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, who is running to represent the 18th Senate District.

Friday morning's event marked the start of Oildorado Days, which this year celebrates Taft's 100th birthday. The festivities are to extend over the next week and a half with concerts, an attempt at the world record for the most pizzas produced in 24 hours, and various hair contests.

The audience at the dedication saved their biggest applause for the man who created the sculpture, Benjamin Victor, who was selected for the job after a nationwide search. Born in Taft, Victor and his family moved when he was young to Bakersfield, where he graduated from Foothill High before going on to Northern State University in South Dakota.

Victor thanked the many artists and artisans who labored behind the scenes, including the staff of L.E. Sauer Machine Co., the St. Louis company that fabricated the monument's cable tool rig and equipment. He also thanked prominent Taft oilman Fred Holmes, whose historical oil knowledge guided Victor's detail work.

"I called and bent his ear every time I had a question," Victor said of Holmes, who served as the project's historic chairman.

Victor added that his mother, Joyce Victor, jokingly threatened to disown him if he didn't get this particular commission. He said that's why he worked so hard to get it right.

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