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Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - January 13, 2012

Introducing Fiona

After debut at Hometown Holidays, milk cow makes her home at historic dairy

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Fiona almost missed her first date with Pleasanton.

City Naturalist Eric Nicholas wanted to introduce Fiona, a fiberglass Holstein from Scotland, to the citizenry at the Hometown Holidays parade Dec. 3. But after holdups at customs and erratic local trucking schedules, she still hadn't arrived by the evening of the 2nd.

"She was slated to come out on Thursday before Hometown Holidays, sometime in the afternoon," Nicholas recalled. "When she didn't arrive, we rescheduled for Friday. The story was she got on a truck for another destination."

Friday evening found Nicholas and city personnel Chris Rizzoli and Tom Fullam sitting around the Support Services Yard, waiting for Fiona to be delivered from a warehouse in San Leandro so they could prepare her for her procession down Main Street.

After a phone call to the trucking company's dispatcher in Utah, then another to San Leandro, they learned that Fiona, alas, waited forlornly at the warehouse, having yet to be loaded onto any truck for delivery.

"I wanted to know how big the crate was so we could send our own truck out," Nicholas said. "Tom went out and rescued Fiona from the facility, about 10-10:30. We got her out of the crate Saturday morning."

Richert Lumber had donated a truck to display Fiona in the parade, and Support Services came up with a method for her to be mounted so she could proudly proceed through town in the festive community event.

"We were right behind the bagpipes," Nicholas said. "People were calling her name. They knew about her, they'd been anticipating her."

Fiona's journey actually began about three years ago, when she was but a twinkle in Nicholas' eye. The naturalist does the city's interpretive programs at Alviso Adobe Community Park, which site was home to Native Americans, Spanish ranchers and, in the early and mid-20th century, the Meadowlark Dairy.

"I was really interested in having a cow," Nicholas said. "You can't talk about a dairy without some kind of example.

"I found two companies, one in the U.S. and one in Scotland. The cow in the U.S looked kind of comical, kind of goofy. The other one appeared to be the better choice."

The American cow also had a motor to facilitate its "milking," whereas the Scottish one depended solely on gravity. Nicholas didn't like the possibility of future repair bills for a malfunctioning motor and perhaps even shipping the cow back to the factory for repair.

"It didn't seem practical," he said.

Nicholas communicated every few months with both manufacturers until finally last summer the decision was made and the city placed the order for one life-sized fiberglass Holstein from Horn Import Ltd. Of Dundee, Scotland.

The handcrafted, realistic appearance of the Scottish cow was also a determining factor, Nicholas noted.

Originally he had hoped for several milking cows but the $5,000 price tag eliminated the rest of the herd. Money for Fiona came from the city's interpretive funds and donations from the Pleasanton Blairgowrie Fergus Sister City Organization. This group held a contest to name the cow.

"Fiona is a very popular name in Scotland," Nicholas commented.

She crossed the Atlantic on a barge, landing in New York on Oct. 14. Customs placed her on an extra security hold for a Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System examination, which used low-energy X-ray and gamma radiation to inspect her for illegal drugs, currency or guns.

After about a month, Fiona traveled to the West Coast, was released from San Francisco customs Nov. 18, then crossed the Bay to San Leandro for delivery to her new home.

Fiona now stands, ready to be admired and to be milked, in the replica of the old milking barn, in the same corner where the Meadowlark Dairy cows were housed. Hoof prints in the cement floor remind visitors of dairy days past.

Nicholas is hoping to offer milking sessions for children on Saturday mornings.

"Fiona is going to be a nice component to our program," he said.

Alviso Adobe Community Park is located at 3465 Old Foothill Road, with meandering paths that begin at the parking lot and lead to the re-created milking barn and bunkhouse as well as the renovated adobe.

When you go, be sure to say hello to Fiona.

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