Before 1910, Fellows was only a siding on the Sunset Railroad used for loading and unloading oilfield supplies. This station was named Fellows in honor of Charles A. Fellows, an employee of the Santa Fe Railroad, credited with building “almost every station, bridge and Harvey house west of Chicago for the Santa Fe “RR” according to an article in the Bakersfield Californian in 1944. C.A. Fellows Had further distinction of having been the Mayor of Topeka, Kansas before his work with the railroad.
Specifically why people began to settle in Fellows is not known, but the area offered a number of attractions. First of all, Fellows was the center of activity in the Midway-Sunset oilfield. Several companies were drilling and oil in the area. Secondly, the railroad siding at Fellows provided transportation for the people and materials to other population centers. The third and probably most important reason for the settlement was the Chanslor-Canfield-Midway oil company offered to rent the land for the building of houses and businesses. Land for private building was scarce in the oilfields. Almost every acre of land in the region was owned or leased by oil companies who were reluctant to tie up their land under privately owned buildings.
Whatever the reasons for settling in Fellows, people came in large numbers to establish homes and businesses. By May, 1910 Fellows boasted a number of businesses including the Eagle pool hall owned my Dilger and Burke, a mercantile firm, and oilfield supply company, and a stable with twenty teams of horses for carrying people and supplies to Taft and other nearby oil companies.
On December 10, 1910, construction began on the hotel under the supervision of Buck Kenyon, a local contractor. When the hotel was completed in February, 1911, it immediately became a focal point for local activity. The upper floor consisted of twenty rooms for guests and the ground floot was used as a restaurant. The hotel rooms were occasionally employed as meeting rooms for the clubs and other organizations in Fellows, while the restaurant became a local “Hang-out”.
The life and activities of Martha Derminghem, better known as Ma Randall, are something of a mystery. In researching the life of Ma Randall, a number of conflicting stories have been uncovered.
According to one often quoted story, Ma Randell donated two rooms in her hotel for use as the first Midway school. When a number of pupils increased beyond the capacity of these rooms, she donated lumber for the building of a permanent school house and hired the first full time teacher. However, the official records of Midway School District tell a different story, making no mention of classes being held or any contributions by Ma Randell.
After the establishment of Fellows as a community in 1910, the record of the next five years is one of rapid growth and optimism for the future of the town. However, the precise nature of the growth during his period is difficult to establish with certainty.
One of the major problems facing the residents of Fellows in 1910 was getting enough water. Prior to June of that year, most of the water was hauled in to Fellows in oil barrels. Oil was sent out from Fellows in wooden barrels which were returned, filled with water. Several of older people remember that the drinking water in those days smelled and tasted of oil to the extent that is was often undrinkable. In June of 1910 the quality of drinking water was improved somewhat by bringing it from Buena Vista Lake in clean barrels. It was not until about 1920 that sufficient water was piped into Fellows to meet the resident’s demands.
Although no overall growth plan was ever adopted for Fellows, the town grew as a, more or less, planned community. Streets were laid out in an orderly fashion and certain areas of town were exclusively residential. Most businesses and public buildings were on Midway Road and Broadway.
Improved transportation facilities also helped Fellows grow. In March of 1914 the “Hill Road” between Taft and Fellows was opened to public use. This road was originally built a few years before by the Chanslor-Canfield-Midway Oil company for their own use, but because of the public need, the road was turned over to Kern County.
The county planned a second road between Taft and Fellows in 1916, this one was to be paved. It was completed a year later. People were able to travel between Taft and Fellows cheaply and easily after 1915 on either of two compering stage lines offering hourly service.
With the increase in population during 1910 to 1920, the number of businesses and public facilities also increased. A Presbyterian church, a school house, a post office, a one doctor hospital, two saloons, a theater, a hotel and several other establishments began to flourish in Fellows.
The town of Fellows continued to grow in population and importance to the Westside until about 1926. After 1926, Fellows and other Westside oil communities began to slowly decline due to decreasing need for exploration for oil, less drilling activity, greater automation in oil production and increased mobility of oil workers making it possible to work in the Fellows area while living in Taft or Bakersfield.
These factors did not result in a rapid exodus from Fellows. Rather, they brought about a gradual decline continuing to the present.