A Brief Overview of the History of Wheeler Ridge
At the end of a point of land, known as Wheeler’s Ridge because of the Wheeler family which once lived there, was the bustling village of Wheeler Ridge. The community was located five miles north of Grapevine Canyon on the east side of the highway just across from Wheeler’s Ridge. Wheeler Ridge 1930’s
It was George “Andy” Wheeler and his partner Dan Murphy who bought the property along the busy “Ridge Route” roadway back in 1921. The oil industry was booming in the southern San Joaquin Valley and these enterprising young men saw the opportunity to create a road stop and community in the center of the county’s newest oil field. Streets and boulevards were laid out and business buildings constructed. By 1923 some fifty families were located there.
The settlement was located near the old roadside stop of Rose Station so Wheeler and Murphy named their town after that old wagon and stage stop. But when they applied for their post office permit in 1923, they found another Rose Station existed in California so the name of Wheeler Ridge was decided upon.
Andy Wheeler was supposed to be a “man with no past” as he had come from a life of bootlegging, slot machines and gangs. But in his little town he operated the grocery store, motel and ambulance service and was credited with having saved many lives on the old Ridge Route Road. His mechanics were once asked to work on the automobile of the notorious gangster, “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and said they saw a number of machine guns in it. It is thought that a number of other gangland notables may have brought their vehicles to this remote garage to be taken care of by an old friend.
The community’s lack of water discouraged growth and for fourteen years water was hauled to the town until the digging of a 1300 foot deep well was finally accomplished. Harold Brunk started a thriving dairy business just north of town and delivered his products throughout the Frazier Mountain area.
A 1938 resident of the Wheeler Ridge Richfield Oil Pumping Station said that the station was located to the northwest of the community. She remembered the diesel engine ran 24 hours a day to pump the oil to the Grapevine Station and to heat that oil in the winter months. A generator provided electricity but when it was not running gas lights were used.
Huge oil company picnics would be held in the fields around Wheeler Ridge by the oil companies each spring or fall. The settlement had a baseball team that would play the teams from neighboring communities.
Red Danner operated a 24-hour cafe at Wheelers. He was nationally known for his large collection of pictures of truck drivers who had stopped there to eat, though he as forced to tear down the building after it was badly damaged by one of those drivers in a runaway truck in 1952.
The businesses continued successfully in the little oil town until the highway was widened to eight lanes. Most of the buildings were removed in the late 1960’s though a garage, store and cafe, all of which were not in the path of the Interstate, were left until the 1990’s. They could be reached by the few remaining residents of the area but there was no longer access off the highway. The Wheeler Ridge post office closed in July of 1972.
The Wheeler Ridge area can be found on the east side of the highway just south of the Highway 99 and Interstate 5 interchange. There are now two major road stops and an industrial complex to the south of the site of the old community.
Additional information may be found in “A View from the Ridge Route” series and “Ridge Route: The Road that United California ” and “Growing up in Wheeler Ridge“