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An I-5 detour through Coalinga's oil and cattle country.

Struck down by an earthquake in May 1983, Coalinga, California, has sprung back to its feet. If you'll be passing nearby on Interstate 5, you might want to swing through for a look at this plucky, oil-pumping town on the west side of Fresno County. We've devised a 24-mile loop detour that acquaints you with Coalinga's geologic history. April brings some mild days and spring-green hills.

Coalinga is named for Coaling Station A, once a stop for steam locomotives, which stoked up on coal from a local mine. But black gold--crude oil--became the chief resource. In the 1890s, speculators and roughnecks poured in to sink wells into the desolate hills around Pleasant Valley.

In 1910, Sunset described the scene: "Gaunt derricks crawled in an unbroken line for 10 miles, greedily sinking their bits into the ground for black liquid gold. Out of a thousand wells, the oil began to flow through pipes to the railroad line, there to be transmuted into money."

Today, producers use the steam-drive recovery process, heating the heavy crude oil to extract nearly a million barrels of it annually from local wells.

Deeper than the subterranean oil pools is the "Coalinga" fault, some 6 miles underground. This recently identified thrust fault is thought to have caused the 6.5-magnitude quake. Detour: beef ranch, iron zoo, museum

Southbound on I-5, exit at State Highway 198. Just east of the freeway is the Harris Ranch Restaurant complex. The ranch raises its own beef, fattening as many as 100,000 head of cattle at once in a sprawling feedlot 3 miles north on I-5.

Try the corned beef hash with eggs for breakfast, or broiled steak or prime rib for lunch or dinner. The Ranch Cafe is open 6 A.M. to 11 P.M. daily. La Parrilla serves dinner; for hours and reservations, call (209) 935-0717. A store sells bakery specialties and beef cuts packed for travel.

Go west on State 198 for 4 miles to State 33/198 and turn left into the settlement of Oilfields. Lining the road is an "iron zoo"--some 30 oil pumps whimsically painted to resemble such critters as a burro, butterfly, and zebra. Driving through the mechanical menagerie, you'll sniff the swampy, sulfurous odor of oil.

Continue into Coalinga on State 33/198 (it becomes Elm Avenue). You'll see lingering signs of quake damage as you approach downtown, where still-vacant lots remind you that 46 out of the 51 buildings there had to be demolished.

Stop at the R.C. Baker Memorial Museum, 297 W. Elm. One of the old downtown's few survivors, it took $40,000 to repair. Restored displays range from mastodon tusks to 19th-century antiques.

In the rear, there's an assortment of oil field equipment, including a seemingly immovable 65-ton oil pump (ask a staff member to show you what happened to it when the temblor hit). An earthquake exhibit is planned for the future. Hours are 10 to noon and 1 to 5 Mondays through Fridays, 11 to 5 Saturdays, and 1 to 5 Sundays; donations appreciated.

Return 2 blocks on Elm Avenue to Fifth Street. Turn right and follow signs to I-5, 11 miles east, via Jayne Avenue.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Coalinga, California
Date:Apr 1, 1985
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