There's no question that the Kern County Museum, like thousands of local businesses and nonprofits, has suffered greatly from a decrease in foot traffic and fundraising opportunities.
But sometimes it seems, despite COVID, that activities at the museum have increased as Executive Director Mike McCoy has led a much-reduced staff through one project after another, one acquisition after another.
There are plenty of intriguing stories, but one new project is a real doozy.
The restoration of a 108-year-old streetcar that crisscrossed the electric streets of early Bakersfield — through the presidential administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover — is in full bloom at the museum.
"It's a huge project," McCoy said of the effort to transform the old trolley from decrepit and dying to dazzling and delightful.
"The fact that Joe is doing the job is practically a miracle," McCoy said, referring to Joseph Moore, the Bakersfield contractor and journeyman carpenter McCoy hired to head up the ambitious project.
Moore is booked solid several months ahead, but McCoy credits his "squeaky-wheel" persistence for landing Moore, along with Moore's friend and fellow craftsman Michael Roussel.
In an interview Monday, Moore couldn't disguise his pleasure in working on such a project.
"We're trying to keep it to its original design," Moore said.
But rotting wood, brittle glass that needs to be replaced, ingenious mechanical details, curved moldings and more require care and skill.
"We are thoroughly enjoying it," he said. "But there's no doubt about it, it challenges your skills."
The roof is nearly complete, but Moore estimates it will take three months to finish the project.
Earlier this month, workers "unearthed" a bit of archaeology when they pulled the front windows from streetcar No. 10 and found a collection of artifacts.
It appeared motormen who had operated the streetcar had dropped or discarded several items down into the frame of the trolley. They found century-old medicine bottles, a whistle, silver hair brushes, tools and more.
One person called the collection a kind of time capsule.
And that's what they're trying to bring back to life. The trolley itself is a time capsule that traversed the streets that Bakersfield's 21st century residents still traverse today. But the people who rode those cars spoke differently, were dressed in different fashions and led lives that were less inundated by information.
And yet they had many of the same hopes and dreams for the health of their families, for finding the love of their lives and engaging in the American dream, the pursuit of happiness.
For decades it was known as Car No. 10, an electric streetcar that carried unknown numbers of Bakersfield residents from one side of town to the other on steel rails that crisscrossed the burgeoning city.
Later, when it was retired in 1933 from the Bakersfield and Kern Electric Railway, the trolley car was auctioned off and used, a la the Haggard family, as an addition to a local residence.
In 1981, it landed at the Kern County Museum.
According to research published by historian George Gilbert Lynch, the Bakersfield and Kern Electric Railway Co. was purchased by San Joaquin Light and Power. The infusion of financial resources meant the city's failing, run-down rail line was about to become new again.
New, heavy-gauge rails were set and six new trolley cars were delivered to Bakersfield in February 1912. The cars, 42 feet in length and 17 tons in weight, could hold 40 passengers.
"The six trolleys were numbered 10 to 15," Lynch wrote. "The first new trolley put into service upon the new first-class streetcar line, March 4th 1912, was old No. 10, the car on display at the Kern County Museum.
"Our No. 10 had a working life span of 21 years as a public carrier," Lynch continued. "Throughout her life she carried hundreds of thousands of passengers and after the open air seating areas were fully enclosed to afford more passenger comfort, Number 10 was used very often as a means of transporting school children."
Old No. 10 served the city well. Soon she will serve us in a different way, as a time machine of sorts that will transport us in a very different way to a very different place in time.