Wallace Melvin Morgan.

History of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; online

. (page 21 of 177)
Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; → online text (page 21 of 177)
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this theory by the assurance of a Mrs. Brown, who used an instrument in
detecting the presence of oil and minerals hidden in the earth. They tested
Mrs. Brown's powers by having her expert land in proven fields and checking
her figures against the logs of drilled wells, and finally they secured options
on a large body of land at prices based on its probable value for agriculture,
and began drilling two wells. The Liscomb well made the most progress,
and early in January, 1913, a reported strike of exceedingly light oil started
a miniature oil boom over all the territory between Wasco and the swamp.
If any oil was found in the Liscomb well, however, it was drowned by water,
and the well had to be abandoned. The Rambo well was a failure for the same
reason, and although one or other of these parties have been drilling almost
steadily throughout the year, neither has yet made a strike that the oil public
accepts as of any value.


Progress of the County From 1900 to 1913

The events of larger and more permanent importance which have trans-
pired in Kern county between 1900 and the summer of 1913, when this chron-
icle closes, range themselves under four heads : Development of the oil fields,
the beginning of a new agricultural development through the agency of
pump irrigation, a great advance in permanent construction in Bakersfield,
including a better class of dwellings, business structures, public buildings and
paved streets, and a steady improvement in civic standards coincident with
the transition of the county from a field of speculation and transient resi-
dence to one of investment and permanent homes.

First honors are due to the oil development, for it occupied the mosi
conspicuous place in the public interest and because, to a very large degree,
it made all the other developments mentioned possible. Because of theii
importance and for the sake of continuity in the narrative, the discovery and
development of the county's oil fields have been given a chapter to themselves
Second place in logical sequence belongs to the development of pump irriga-
tion and the new agricultural and horticultural enterprises which it opened

Development of Pump Irrigation

A history of the efforts of the first pump irrigators would be but a dreary
and disheartening tale. As other portions of this narrative have shown, the
waters of Kern river were early appropriated by the owners of the delta
lands that lie in the lower portion of the valley, leaving only the scanty
rainfall — averaging between six and seven inches per season — to wet the
equally rich lands along the mesa and the higher or more distant portions of
the plain. The efforts of the dry grain farmers demonstrated that the mesa
lands were not only fertile but easy to work. Many of the grain farmers
installed windmills to pump stock and domestic water, and the surplus was
used to irrigate vegetable gardens and small family orchards. This demon-
strated, first that good water wells were to be found in any part of the valley
or tlie mesas at depths varying with the elevation of the surface ; second,
that comparatively little water was necessary to make the soil productive,
and third, that on the higher lands the growing season was even longer
than in the trough of the valley, and the winter frosts were less severe. The
magnificent area of the dry plain and mesa lands offered a tempting prize for
successful pump irrigation, but the difficulties that faced the first experi-
menters were practically insurmountable.

These experimenters lived before the day of gas engine efficiency, and
suitable fuel for steam engines, prior to the development of the oil fields,
was not to be had. The steam engines used for threshing grain burned straw,
and some of the first pump irrigators lifted their water with these straw-
burners. Others used for fuel the sage brush which they cleared from their
land. Both methods were laborious, expensive and generally unsatisfactory.

The early pumps were inefficient, and when a fairly successful combina-
tion of pump and engine was effected the irrigator had trouble with his well.
The first wells were well suited to windmill power, but when greatly in-
creased drafts were made upon them by larger pumps great quantities of


sand were sucked out with the water, and presently the walls ot the well
near the bottom caved in, choking off the supply of water with quantities of
falling clay. Not a few of the early pump irrigators became insolvent trying
to construct wells that would not cave in, and the general pessimism as to the
possibility of obtaining water in any considerable quantities by this means

Simultaneously all these discouraging experiences were suffered in the
vicinity of Delano, at Rio Bravo, in what is now the Wasco country, and
on the mesa southeast of Bakersfield. Gradually the pump irrigators learned
to make the perforations in their casing so small that only the finer grains
of sand could be drawn through, and also to attach one pump to several wells
so that the suction on each well would be reduced.

A great boost was given to pump irrigation by a lowering in the price
of gasoline and distillate that followed their manufacture in the Ivern county
oil fields, and by the production of a light oil at Coalinga that could be used
in the gasoline engines without refining.

In the spring of 1902 pump irrigation had reached about this stage of
development and was being taken seriously by the people of Delano where
Ben Thomas, Frank Schlitz, R. \\'. Lockridge and several others were suc-
cessfully operating plants. At Rio Bravo, about this time, H. S. Knight was
making about the same progress, and the Kern County Land Company had
installed several pumps at Rosedale and Stockdale and was operating them
with electricity to supplement canal irrigation in dry seasons. But the new
means of irrigation made progress very slowly so far as practical results were
concerned and in the succeeding five years the area made productive by this
means did not materialh- increase.

Experiments at Wasco and McFarland

With the founding of Wasco colony in the spring of 1907 the success of
• an entire community was staked on pump irrigation for the first time in Kern
county. And the outcome for the first two years was full of doubt. Most of
the colonists were short of funds and had to make payments on their land
in addition to meeting their living expenses and the constant demand for
buildings, fences and implements that goes with the founding of a new farm.
For this reason the mutual water company which the colonists formed to
sink wells and install pumping plants practiced a frugality far in excess of
true economy. Second-hand pumps and engines were purchased, cheap ditches
were built, and the inevitable poor service brought hard times to the irrigators
and fomented one storm after another in the stockholders' meetings.

Despite discouragements, however, the sturdy Wasco colonists gradually
replaced their poor pumping equipment, laid cement ditches and conduits,
and in 1911, when the San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation began cover-
ing the farming districts of the county with transmission wires, they sub-
stituted electric power for gasoline. From that date the advancement of the
colony was very marked, and in a couple of years more it had come to be one
of the show places of the county's farming districts, outranking in attractive-
ness and evidences of prosperity the rich delta districts where cheap canal
water had been available for many years.

McFarland colony, founded a year later than Wasco, went through less
hardships in its earliest infancy because Wasco's mistakes were largely
avoided and better equipment gave good results from the start. To McFar-


land and Wasco, almost equally, is due the credit of having lifted pump
irrigation from the slough of doubt and discredit and made it generally recog-
nized in the county as one of the greatest factors in the county's agricultural

Development of the Citrus Belt

What Wasco and McFarland did with pump irrigation in the alfalfa and
deciduous fruit districts, the Edison Land & Water Company is doing in
the citrus belt. The company began sinking wells at Edison in the winter
of 1908, and planted its first orange trees in the spring of 1909. It was for-
tunate in possessing ample capital, and all the improvements were of the best
character and workmanship. Deep well pumps were installed and electricity
was secured from the power generating plant in Kern river cafion. An
abundance of water was obtained where a few years previous it was sup-
posed no considerable amount of water could be developed. The orange trees
did well from the start, and the following year many orange growers from
the southern part of the state became interested. In 1911 and 1912 the
acreage planted was greatly increased. The unprecedented frosts of 1912-13
checked planting at Edison as in every other part of the state, but the sum-
mer of 1913 demonstrated that the trees in the Kern citrus belt had suffered
no more than in the most favored citrus districts and that the full extent of
the damage would not exceed the loss of a year's growth of the trees.

Meantime pumping plants were being installed at intervals all over the
great belt of mesa land that stretches south and southeast from Edison, around
Delano and all along the high sloping lands to the east and southeast of that
place. At Rio Bravo the same progress is being made, and the new colonies
of Shafter and Lerdo are laying good foundations for a similar success.

Pumping Plant Extension in 1912

The Lerdo colony was founded in 1912 by a corporation controlled by
the same men who are the dominant factors in the San Joaquin Light & '
Power Corporation, and one of the purposes in mind was to furnish a market
for electrical power which the latter concern would supply. Wells were sunk
and pumps and electric motors installed before any land was offered for sale.
Active selling began in the spring of 1913. Shares in the wells and pumping
plants go with the land, which is sold on long time payments.

The Lerdo colony proposes to make a specialty of hemp and ramie
culture. George W. Schlichten, inventor of an improved decorticating ma-
chine, is taking the lead in this enterprise and promises to furnish a market
for the product of all the lands planted to ramie as well as to assist in fur-
nishing the plants necessary to get the ramie fields established.

The Shafter colony is a venture of the Kern County Land Company. A
number of wells have been sunk on the Shafter lands, but this is only for the
purpose of demonstrating the water supply. The company does not propose
to sell wells and pumping plants with the land, but it will let each buyer
develop his own water.

On the mesa south of Edison are the Sunflower colony, the Citrus Foot-
hill Farms colony, and numerous small centers of development all estab-
lished within the past three years.

As a result of all these successes and promises of success the people of the
county, who were very doubtful of the practicability of pump irrigation a
very few years ago, have come to believe that eventually every acre of arable



land in the valley portion of the county not irrigated from canals will he
reclaimed by means of pumping plants.

Conservative estimates place the number of pumi)ino- plants in operation
in Kern county at the present time at not less than 1500. Of this number
about 275 are run by electricity and the remainder by gasoline engines. The
San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation supplies current for 250 of the pumps
and the remainder is furnished by the Mount Whitney Power Company, whose
lines extend into the country about Delano.

The engines and motors average about ten horsejiower each, and with
the average lift they are capable of raising water to irrigate about 45.000
acres in the aggregate, or about thirty acres for each ten horsepower.

Of the total number of pumps about eighty per cent were installed
within the past five years, and about 500 were installed during the past year.
At present about fifty are in process of installation, and between ten and
fifteen well-drilling outfits are kept busy developing water for prospective
pumj) irrigators. This summer Miller & Lux are preparing to install pumps
and motors which will utilize about 700 horsepower of electricity in raising
water to irrigate the old swamp land north of Buena Vista lake reservoir.
This will be the first extensive use of pumping plants in this section, and their
installation is due to dry seasons just past when Miller & Lux's share of the
waters of Kern river have been inadequate for their needs.

In addition to the activities of its allied corporation at Lerdo, the San
Joaquin Light & Power Corporation is actively aiding the extension of pump
irrigation by a liberal policy of extending its transmission lines into new
territory where there is any prospect of building up a market for power. The
company also is promoting experiments in the most economical use of water.
Rates for electric power still remain at the seemingly exorbitant figure of
$50 per horsepower per year, but the pumpers are looking forward to a sub-
stantial reduction in rates when the use of electricity for this purpose becomes
more general.

At this time, the summer of 1913, electric power is available for pumping
at Delano, McFarland, Famoso, ^^'asco, Shafter, Lerdo, Edison, and all the
country south and east of Pjakersfield so far as the pump irrigators have
ventured, which is about to the lower line of township 31.

Planting Apples at Tehachapi

I^'ollowing close

Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; → online text (page 21 of 177)