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Old Highway 399, Part 6: West Side Highway in Maricopa and Taft (CA 33), Old US 399 in Taft and Ford City, Taft Highway (CA 119)

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In this part we will pass through the bustling municipalities of Maricopa and Taft on the west side of the southern Central Valley, darting between the oil wells dotting the rich petroleum fields, and finally leave CA 33 behind in Taft to continue the West Side Highway proper into the northern Valley.

Considering Maricopa was our destination for the first five Parts, despite its charm the actual small city is strangely anticlimactic. Incorporated in 1911, the name seems to have been borrowed from the Arizona Indian tribe for the railroad terminal the city grew up around, although specifically why the name was chosen is unclear. Dusty and sunbaked, Maricopa still cheerfully clings to existence south of the oil fields it heralds. The modern city has 1,111 residents [2000].

Between Maricopa and Taft, CA 33/old US 399 passes through the southern end of the amazing Midway-Sunset Oil Field, which we talked about briefly in the last Part. The largest oil field in California and the third largest in the United States, since its discovery in 1894 it has produced almost 3 billion barrels, and is still estimated to have over 580 million more. The famous Lakeview Gusher Number 1, at right, is part of this field and blasted sky high for over a year; an old alignment of US 399 passes it which we will travel.

CA 33 will also reach the city of Taft in this Part, splitting off along its original West Side Highway alignment and leaving us to continue along CA 119 to our terminus in Bakersfield. Taft was originally established as Siding No. 2 along the Sunset Railroad, then a branch of the Southern Pacific, serving the oil industry and importing drinking water for the field workers. Townspeople chose the town name of Moro, but the Post Office demurred, saying it was too similar to Morro Bay, and the railroad inexplicably named the town Moron. Presumably this was pronounced differently, possibly Morón, with the accent on the second syllable, but the town name quickly became unpopular and after a disastrous fire in the 1920s the remaining residents seized the chance to rename themselves, this time Taft after 27th President and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft. As one might expect, oil and petroleum are Taft's chief industry today, with over sixty individual companies working the nearby wells, and the Oildorado festival held regularly every five years in town. For a time, Standard Oil of California (modern Chevron) had their corporate headquarters in Taft to be close to their holdings, leaving for Concord in 1968. The modern city has 6,400 residents [2000].

Leaving Maricopa we will resume the continuation of LRN 138 into Taft, where we split off onto LRN 140 for the remainder of our trip into Bakersfield. We will also meet two known old alignments of US 399 into and through Taft, and we will travel both of them in this Part as well.

[CA 33 and CA 166 signage, 1948 and 1963.] West Side Highway (CA 33)

The CA 33/CA 166 junction, this time from the east. Originally CA 33 continued east with CA 166 to US 99, where it terminated near Mettler, and north with US 399 to Taft, where it branched off along the present routing. This routing, which existed until the 1964 Great Renumbering, is shown at right. This seems to have been a later addition, as it does not appear in 1948 but does appear by around 1955.

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CA 166/CA 33 co-signage west of the junction.

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Flashers and a clapboard closure sign sit on the way back to Ventura, but we'll be going north again now.

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First CA 33 shield north of the junction.

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Distance signage looking back as we enter Maricopa; notice that the control city for CA 166 is Los Angeles due to Interstate 5, and the directional-tab-as-distance-sign use we saw at the end of the last Part.

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Sleepy, charming downtown Maricopa, a little taste of sweetness in the dusty oil fields.

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The local park and museum.

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Distance signage leaving Maricopa, with our first advance signage for Bakersfield.

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Just out of town we come to our first old alignment of US 399, Petroleum Club Road. Also note the signage for the Lakeview Gusher. We turn right to begin ...

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Fork 1: Petroleum Club Road (Old US 399)

Petroleum Club Rd is a county road, although inconsistently marked.

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Old yellow stop sign on one of the facing turn-offs.

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NB Petroleum Club Rd/old US 399.

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Marker for the old Lakeview Gusher #1, a picture of which is in the introductory blurb. The name comes from the old Lakeview Oil Company, which with the Union Oil Company started local operations in 1909 but their drilling only turned up natural gas pockets and no oil. On 14 March 1910 their drill passed the 2,440' depth level and suddenly exploded as a huge gush of oil blasted through the well casing and shot up to the surface; the massive backpressure destroyed the entire derrick. Until it was brought under control, the gusher fountained over 90,000 barrels a day at its peak and a total 9 million barrels over the 18 months it ran unrestrained as pop-eyed crews tried to contain it with makeshift dams and channels. Miraculously, the gusher never caught fire during the time it was open. Believed to be the largest recorded such gusher in the United States, the Gusher is now State Historic Landmark No. 485.

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North of the Gusher, Petroleum Club Rd wends its way as a non-descript highway up to its terminus south of Taft.

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[US 399 and Petroleum Club Road, 1956, 65K.] Fork 2: Modern CA 33

US 399 and later CA 33, however, subsequently occupied this straightened bypass routing cut through the hills. It was bypassed in 1956; both bypass and original alignment can be seen in the image at right taken shortly before the bypass opened, facing north towards Taft in the distance (click for a 65K enlargement in a new window). Because this realignment occurred prior to the 1964 renumbering, the postmiles for later CA 33 are not realigned (here, PM 13.00). For some reason the image was not published until 1958 in California Highways & Public Works, which was a couple of years after the fact.

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Power substation. Oil isn't the only energy flowing around here.

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Taft city limits.

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PM 15.

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A view of the oil pumps busily slurping over the ridge.

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Entering Taft.

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Picking up our old alignment along Petroleum Club Rd.

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The old Sunset Railroad tracks, now torn out.

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However, a remaining mark of US Highway 399 still appears on the abandoned control shed. This is the only evidence of US 399 I have still found existing in the field.

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Advance signage for CA 119.

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PM 0.00 for CA 119. CA 119 is continuous with this alignment and it is CA 33 that must branch off, consistent with CA 119 being the continuation of old US 399.

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Looking back at the Taft's oil derrick monument, we also see the marked END of CA 119 here. The other marked end is at the very end of Part 7.

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[US 399 in Taft, 1934.] Fork 1: Old US 399 in Taft and Ford City (Main Street, Sixth Street, Harrison Street)

Old US 399 in Taft is a little complicated as no discrete routing corresponds to it anymore, and there are very few detailed maps of the region to refer to for hard evidence. Nevertheless, we can piece together enough to fill in the gaps with reasonably solid conjecture. The map at right shows the well-demonstrated downtown routing, along with the old course of CA 33 which we will talk about in a moment; although there are no street names on it, the turns and the age of the area give us enough information to figure out what went where. On this map, US 399 approaches from the south, then makes a 90 degree turn out of town to the northeast, while CA 33 goes due north up another street and then leaves on its own routing northwest. Main Street and 6th Street match this older US 399 routing best, as we will demonstrate. It appears that as part of the 1956 realignment project that Taft was completely bypassed by US 399 on an expressway out of town, which is the alignment that CA 119 occupies now. There is one minor loose end we will talk about when we deal with modern CA 33.

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From Petroleum Club Rd, old US 399 went continuously onto Main Street into the old historic Taft downtown. That exact junction is no longer extant after the 1956 realignment.

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Instead, the closest thing to it is actually the intersection of Main St with CA 119, which is indeed the intersection the city of Taft marks for tourists. We turn left onto Main St.

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Notice that CA 33 isn't coming with us. More about that in a little bit. Instead, it continues around on the present-day West Side Hwy alignment into the modern Taft downtown. We continue straight ahead with Main St.

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Looking at CA 33 wending south back towards Maricopa, with another instance of directional-tab-as-distance-signage for Interstate 5. (I-5 isn't the only route that gets this treatment; I have also seen it in the area for CA 99. One of them is at the CA 166/I-5 interchange.)

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Entering old town Taft on Main St/old US 399.

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3rd St. Old town Taft is mostly small business and warehouses.

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6th St. This unassuming junction is actually rather important to us, as this was the original terminus of CA 33 on its way northwest towards McKittrick and the original deviation point of US 399 northeast towards Bakersfield. Refer back to our small vignette map above, showing US 399 shooting off northeast, but CA 33's original routing was a little more prosaic. Continuing along Main, it shoots straight due north, then leaves town to the northwest. The likeliest suspect for the connecting piece is 10th St, as Main St ends at it, even today. We turn right to continue US 399 along 6th and the beginning of LRN 140; LRN 138 follows with CA 33.

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6th St/old US 399.

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A block north we intersect modern CA 33 again. Although I have no direct evidence for the exact time it was moved, it seems reasonable to conclude that as part of the 1956 US 399 realignment (or shortly afterwards) that CA 33 was also realigned to eliminate the dogleg along Main and 10th and make the routing continuous. This "bypass" is indeed the routing it occupies now, on a straight-thru connection from the CA 33-CA 119 junction to its original routing out of town. Credence is granted to this theory by the fact that the CA 33 postmiles through Taft are not realigned, meaning the shift must have occurred prior to 1964, and there is no reason obvious to me for it to have occurred prior to 1956.

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Continuing on 6th St/old US 399 into north Taft.

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Passing by Taft College, the regional community college.

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I've heard of oil on my sandwiches, but this is ridiculous. (Across the street from the college.)

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The northern city limits of Taft are reached over the Sandy Creek bridge, now replaced by a more contemporary and less interesting crossing. From here we cross into Ford City, named appropriately for an oil-boom town after the Ford Model Ts that used to be ubiquitous in it. It has 3,512 residents [2000].

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Upon entering Ford City, we change from 6th St to Harrison Street.

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NB Harrison St/old US 399 through this more residential community.

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Leaving town.

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North of Ford City, Harrison St starts to curve east back to the later US 399/modern CA 119 routing, leaving the houses behind.

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Approaching the junction.

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The clincher for our theory of old US 399 is this two-for-one just before the intersection: a C-block, erected by the Division of Highways along state right-of-way until 1934 (see Joel Windmiller's comprehensive page), and, right next to it, a station+mile marker from the LRN era. Both of these highway accounting methods became obsolete with the introduction of the modern postmile with the 1964 Great Renumbering. For a C-block next to a current highway routing, see US Highway 395 Part 5.

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Junction CA 119.

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Fork 2: Taft Highway/US 399 Expressway (CA 119)

We rewind back to Main St for the later and much shorter US 399 realignment, here just north of the intersection, bypassing Taft to the east on an expressway now occupied by modern CA 119. This was the final incarnation of LRN 140.

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It's hard to call these junctions "exits" or "interchanges" except from the perspective of southbound traffic; northbound traffic has to wait and turn. On the other hand, the city of Taft would probably prefer that northbound traffic had already deviated off along CA 33 to visit the downtown business district.

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Harrison St and the merge of our two forks as we leave Taft and Ford City for our second-to-last leg.

One day I got bored while on my regular route through the Central Valley and decided to take CA 33 as far north as possible reasonable for my travel, so I'm going to throw some of those photographs in as a bonus in lieu of a future exhibit which I probably won't finish either. Let's have a little ...

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Bonus Stage: All the Way to END CA 33

CA 33 leaves Taft for little McKittrick, where it joins and then (here) splits with CA 58 on its way to Bakersfield via the "long way."

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Junction CA 46, old US 466, west of Lost Hills and Wasco.

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Kings county line.

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Junction CA 41 to Fresno and Kettleman City, the latter being my typical stop along I-5 for dinner.

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Junction CA 269 in Avenal, just south of the Fresno county line. CA 33 occupies a bypass alignment here; the original routing probably went up 7th Ave and left town on San Joaquin St.

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END CA 269 in Avenal.

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Fresno county line.

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In Coalinga, CA 33 has a southern "false junction" with CA 198. Although it seems as if we meet it here (by the shields), this is actually a truck bypass routing for westbound traffic; the "198 WEST" is a city street leading to a separate junction with CA 198. CA 33 actually proceeds along the right fork signed "198 EAST" to the actual junction.

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Overhead signage for the true CA 33-CA 198 junction. Notice the Interstate 5 signage again.

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Incidentally, CA 198 is no coastal shortcut -- it's a pretty gnarly drive from Coalinga over the coast ranges to US 101.

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North of Coalinga, CA 33 "joins" with I-5 in several places which I have decided not to place here for reasons of space; you've probably seen those multiplexed sections already. What most people forget is that I-5 was actually built over CA 33 in several spots, so I-5 is the alignment mooch, not CA 33. But what I promised you back in Part 1 is the other end of CA 33, and here it is, naturally at Interstate 5, just north of Vernalis where it was truncated from its original terminus at old US 50 in Tracy (modern-day 11th St, itself old US 48).

Continue to Part 7

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