Wednesday, January 30, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (1/30/19): What's the story? Steel in the sand (A new series)

As you know, I often ask questions...

... about the world, about things I notice, about interesting places, people, and events that folks point out to me. 

I thought I'd try to pull together some of these observational questions into a new series on SearchResearch called "What's the story?" 

Each "What's the Story?" Challenge will be an open-ended question that asks you, the SearchResearcher, to figure out what's going on in the image. 

As I've written SRS over the years, I've discovered that almost everything is fascinating if you just dig a little bit into what's going on under the surface. 

The Challenge this week is the first in the What's the Story? series.  See if you can't figure out, what's the story behind these images. 

Recently, while walking on the beach near the Southern California town of Goleta (just north of Santa Barbara) I came across two different pieces of steel that were sticking up out of the sand.  They're about 100 meters apart, both buried vertically in the beach sand.  This struck me as odd--this was in an ecological preserve, after all--so what are they doing there? 

What's the story ... behind these two pieces of steel sticking up out of the beach sand?  

Link to the original photo (#1) - About 2.4 meters tall.

Link to the original photo (#2) - About 2m tall and 100m north of #1.

The Challenge is not just to figure out what these are ("Hey Dan, these are big pieces of steel stuck in the sand!"), but to dig into the backstory.  How did they get there?  

If you're like me, you can spend many happy hours doing background research to understand the story behind the image. 

But the perfect answer is to find how something truly interesting about the backstory, tell us what you've found (and, as always how you found it).  

I spent about 2 hours doing my research on this Challenge.  You don't have to spend nearly as long.. unless you get really interested.  It was a huge surprise to me.  

Next week I'll let you know what I found, and how I found it.  

Search on!  


  1. To save people the hassle of pulling out the geocoords, the steel posts are at: 34.4135361,-119.8843944

  2. Didn't have time to verify but when I searched for steel posts in sand near Goleta California, this link came up: There were once pier and oil pipelines in the area that were carelessly demolished, so I suspect that is what we are looking at, the remains of those.

  3. [goleta beach iron beams] finds

    Extensive oil and gas production operations along the coast were not removed and now ...

    "Remnant hazards include protruding wellheads and well casings, wood and steel piles, H
    piles and H beams, railroad irons, cables, angle bars, pipes, pipelines, pipeline frames,
    riprap, and wood beams and structures. Many of these hazards, especially those
    containing metal, have jagged edges that create hazards to humans and the marine
    Many of the hazards only become visible during beach erosion events associated with
    storms, as most recently seen after the storm of February 17, 2017. Over time, many of
    the hazards become covered with sand and lie just below the surface along the beach and
    intertidal zone. In many cases, these structures are seaward of the mean high tide"

    So far only a couple of minutes but knowing you there must be more to it ;) jon

    1. You'd be right about that!

      This series is really about "how much do you go into the background" on a story. You've found the first layer. There are more to be discovered!

    2. Ellwood oil field was shelled by the Japanese in WWII, a few months after Pearl Harbour. It was the first shelling of the US mainland in WWII and panicked people somewhat, although the shells didn't do much damage. Apparently the sub was eventually sunk near Australia (I confess, as an Australian that was the part that interested me the most).

      I found that out by searching for the history of Ellwood Oil Field.

    3. That's another really great part of the story! How did you run across that amazing story?

    4. DAN DO YOU HAVE MORE PICTURES OF THESE PYLONS AND MAINLY THE ONES THAT WERE IN THE SURFLINE. Heal the Ocean is looking for pix for their newsletter to show before and after as these metal pylons were just removed last week. Thank you...Harry Rabin eMail

  4. I thought the posts looked like remnants of a pier or bridge so first searched for goleta pier. Lots came up from the first pier known as "More's Landing". But this was wood and disappeared completely around 100 years ago and the exact location is not clear.

    However "first pier" indicates there were more. Haskell's Pier came up next and drilling for oil and the Summerland Oil Field. Wikipedia ( states: "The Summerland Oil Field (and Summerland Offshore Oil Field) is an inactive oil field in Santa Barbara County, California, about four miles (6 km) east of the city of Santa Barbara, within and next to the unincorporated community of Summerland. First developed in the 1890s, and richly productive in the early 20th century, the Summerland Oil Field was the location of the world's first offshore oil wells, drilled from piers in 1896” This gives a picture of what the beach looked like then – and now after the oil rigs had all been removed. It could be this except you gave coordinates ( 34.4135361,-119.8843944) and the Summerland Area is not the same on a map search. It's also not Haskell's Beach - although nearby.

    It's also not connected to Goleta pier or the Goleta Lemon Festival. So I continued searching....

    Looking at the map locations the nearest named places are Sands Beach, Coal Oil Point and near by, there is the Ellwood Oil Field. PLUS on the map there are two round buildings that look as though they could be oil or gas storage containers.

    The area was shelled by the Japanese during WW2 - and there's a few descriptions of the bombardment e.g. - the map again suggests this is not the place. EXCEPT my gut says they are linked to oil.

    Reading on: mentions: "Goleta Oil Field. This was a short-lived oil field which produced for only 13 months before water appeared in the wells. Production ceased by Feb. 1928." - so where was this? mentions the La Goleta Oil Field in a note (224) which states: The La Goleta oil field, located four miles east of the Ellwood oil field, overtook the Ellwood oil field in 1947 in oil and gas production. So this location is about right - and looking at the map again, there is an oil/gas field offshore at the same point. (Platform Holly). Wikipedia has an article on the gas field at saying it is still operational.

    So I think the posts are the remnants of oil pylons from the short lived on-shore Goleta Oil field - now offshore as Platform Holly and those buildings are storage tanks.

    There is also an interesting 1988 LA Times description of a walk from Goleta to Ellwood Beach that doesn't mention the posts but does mention most other sights along the way.
    (Unfortunately the LA Times is not available in Europe as they BLOCK us Europeans :( However using the Google cache, I could read it - a useful tip for others who find they can't access stuff like this).

    Have I got it - and is there anything I missed?

    1. These are great insights! How did you get from here to there??

    2. I'm naturally curious so follow links that catch my attention.

      I started with "pier Goleta California" and came up with the site and the first pier. Following links there came up Haskells pier and the oil rigs. Plus images of the beach with oil rigs. So I searched for "Goleta oil" and came up with some of the other links including Summerland. However nothing that matched the map reference. I kept the map reference up and every link to oil was checked by comparing the oil field to your coordinates. None matched. So I searched on. The Goleta Lemon Festival was a side red herring as an image search came up with a picture of oil rigs linked to this. (I did lots of image searches for oil rigs. I'd do a text search and then switch to the image search to see what that showed).

      I used the map as a guide looking at the Devereux Lagoon, Coal Oil Point and Sands Beach for any hints to those posts. I then shifted to the aerial view - and spotted those storage containers on the map near your coordinates. I was fairly sure they were for oil or gas so carried on looking for oil / gas fields in the area. One mentioned Ellwood - and the Japanese bombardment. Except that Ellwood was too far away.

      It was the wikivisually site that gave the clue to the Goleta oil field - - as that mentioned it. So I searched specifically for this and found the site that also mentioned this and describing its location. The Holly Platform offshore along with those storage containers made me feel that was the answer.

      When searching I also (should not say this to a Googler :) ) use Bing in case it gives different results. So I switch search engines - depending on what I'm looking for and the search engine characteristics. (I think I did a search using inurl: at one point - so of course I have to use Google for that. However most search operators can be used with both. I also did a "goleta * oil" and similar searches also - again must be Google.

      I also have my search settings set to show 100 results and so routinely scroll down looking for deeper results than the default 10.

      It is confusing however. To write this I checked some of my searches and found that there is a survey map labeled Goleta Oil Field at This is wrong as the date was 1943 and so 15 years after the previous field shut PLUS it mentioned Elwood station. So I can discount this. However it started me on another Red herring - which is how I get from here to there. It's curiousity. On that map from 1943 it mentions the Southern Pacific Rail and Elwood Station. So I just wondered if there was an earlier station at the real Goleta Oil Field. Turns out there was not - but the Southern Pacific railroad is interesting in itself - two good links on it are at: - the train was weekly to Elwood. Also - and several others on the Coast Line. Apparently (according to this YouTube video which is fabulous) it was "the most beautiful route of all their passenger trains" and the train 'colors were so striking against the California coastline that the train was often called the "Most Beautiful Train in the World"'.

      BTW the initial search took about an hour or so - and this extra bit 30 minutes search at the most!

    3. Ooops. Missed that YouTube link on the rail line.

  5. some backstory directions… (fwiw, I like the new series – will be interesting to read your summary)
    actually, I was thinking the beams were post-conceptual art visualizations/remnants in a "Mark" di Suvero/Michael Heizer style to
    show what the southern California tourism industry would look like if the polar vortex ever visited Santa Barbara…
    Sieve of Eratosthenes (1999)
    Levitated Mass
    vortex view

    "To save people the hassle of pulling out the geocoords, the steel posts are at: 34.4135361,-119.8843944"
    how did I get here ⬇ from there ⬆? — by looking about a mile & a half up the beach from your beams…
    -23.433333,166.833333 Coral Sea
    page 328
    Imperial Navy - was the first Axis ship to shell the United States mainland
    too bad Jake wasn't in Goleta… maybe that was the other Elwood…?

    Platform Holly
    Holly demise, Venoco, April 23, 2017

    much construction in that area
    beach hazards Goleta
    beach steel there and elsewhere…
    street view

  6. First I thought of erosion control along the bluffs; these H beams, as I have learned to call them, could be easily pounded in at the foot of the bluff and then backfilled with planking. A lost cause the City of Goleta and the workers have found out. The storm waves are too big now to beat back.

    Is that Japanese sub the same one that shelled Estevan Point on Vancouver Island ? Yet another thingy to follow up.

    j, this is a grand Challenge

    1. …from Wiki: (more activity on the west coast than most people recall…)
      "During the Second World War, the Estevan Point lighthouse was attacked by the Japanese submarine I-26. On June 20, 1942, the I-26, under the command of Yokota Minoru, surfaced and shelled the lighthouse,[4] at the same time as the Japanese submarine I-25 made a similar attack at the mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon, shelling Fort Stevens."
      Estevan Point
      I-26 - The last contact with I-26 was on 25 October, 1944
      I-25 - patrolled off the mouth of the Columbia River. I-25 was sunk less than a year later by the destroyer USS Patterson off the New Hebrides islands on 3 September 1943
      I-17 - the "Ellwood"/Goleta sub - sunk on 19 August 1943, 40 miles (64 km) SE off Noumea, Coral Sea
      from here:
      list of boats
      meanwhile, south of Santa Barbara…
      Battle of L.A.…
      almost 77 years ago

  7. Too many rabbit holes to go down! I'm going with the beams being remnants of the oil construction rigs from decades past.

    First search: goleta beach steel beams
    SERP: 2014 news story with snippet: Old wooden posts and steel beams were left behind from oil production decades ago
    Next search: goleta beach oil rigs
    Next search: Ellwood Oil Field (wikipedia)

    Interesting facts (caveat: have not had time to corroborate yet with other sources):

    Many people have assumed that tar on Goleta beach came from oil rigs (first constructed in 1929), but tar has been on beaches and shorelines for 1000s of years.
    Chumash native Americans caulked canoes with boiled tar and pine pitch around 500AD
    Ellwood Oil Field, the principle oil field, is named after Ellwood Cooper (1829-1918), a major land owner and entrepreneur. Somewhat ironically, the oil he was interested in was California olive oil, which he he produced and hoped would compete with the Italian oil industry.

    1. That's exactly the point.

      Nice finds. (Did you also run across the WW2 stories?) Thanks also for showing your search queries!

  8. Anne and I are back after a long hiatus. We are now putting search challenges on our work calendar! We did a search for -goleta beach metal structure The first result was about a bridge being constructed sounded like it might be the answer but clicking on the result quickly led us realize that it wasn't the right answer. Second result was 17-298 - Beach Hazards Removal Project Update - City of Goleta
    California Girl Anne realized as soon as she saw that answer that it had to be tied to the oil industry so we then started to do more research on this project. Next did a search on -gas exploration ellwood beach california
    Got a wikipedia article on the topic-
    Hopefully these structures will get removed so they won't pose hazards to people on the beach. Also doesn't look particularly nice so another reason to have them removed.
    The search also led to this result - had lots of history about the oil fields in Ellwood including an attack by a Japanese submarine during WWII.
    Fun challenge!

    1. Welcome back, Deb and Anne! Who knew that these structures were an attack target in WW2?? Did you go any farther down that particular rabbit hole?

    2. Dan thanks we didn't get a chance to get back. But we really liked this format and the challenge!

  9. …meant to ask what the lock on that beam appeared to be for?
    also, didn't realize parking was so tight in Goleta… no wonder horses are encouraged there and in Malibu…
    next, there will be meters.
    it appears to be an SUV - Surf Utility Vehicle?
    SERP [things found on Goleta beaches]
    and Hollywood is nearby…
    agua hombre

    1. …forgot the significance of yesterday being Feb. 2nd, GHD… it will be an early Spring in Goleta
      no doubt pPhil is slated for removal from the beach too…
      no shadow

    2. Hi Remmij. This week I have been busy so couldn't SearchResearch yet the Challenge. And, I am taking time to read the comments made by you and everyone else. It is very interesting Challenge.

      I don't know if Phil didn't saw the shadow or he said no working today because the Polar Vortex people wants early Spring.

      Real Phil before Groundhog DayThought your photo was the real Phil. Liked the changes you made in the photo

      In Punxsutawney, 1886 marked the first time that Groundhog Day appeared in the local newspaper.
      February 2nd. We don't have Groundhog Day, we have Día de la Candelaria (Day of Light) and Día de tamales. I am sure Dr. Russell will enjoy this article in Spanish about this tradition

      Last week, a Tlacuache /Opossum (Mexico's only marsupial) was the star in a soccer game

      Thankfully, he/she was helpede and healed

      Dr. Russell, one quick question. Now that G+ is shutting down, those that don't have Blogger account will be able to comment in your blog with our Google Account or we need to open a blog? I am almost sure the same account will work but it is best to be sure than not being able to comment in a few weeks

    3. hi Ramón - Phil said, "what vortac?" — should have known he was on Instagram…
      glad the Azteca Deportes marsupial survived, as Carlos Navarrete tweeted.
      hope you will join Dan's 'Steel Free Beaches Forever' and 'The Make Beaches Great Again Coalition' (MBGA) - they have spiffy aqua colored caps…
      let them eat cake…
      …I like tamales, but lean toward pork or chicken…
      "Other variants of tamales consumed in ancient Tenochtitlán were the so-called tlacatlaolli made of human flesh and consumed during the fiesta of Nuestro Señor el Desollado , Tlaxipehualiztli ."
      interesting - from Joaquín López-Dóriga
      vortac SERP
      probing vortex SERP
      bi-polar vortex SERP… if I only knew a bit about search life would be so much…
      and on twitter - he is almost a Googlehog…
      btw, what 20 years can do…
      … my shoes are full of sand… as is my noggin… will keep an eye out for what you find.
      …speaking of cenotes, specifically Hoyo Negro (Spanish for "Black Hole") in the Sistema Sac Actun… thought this was interesting and covered A LOT of material - the diving aspect is wild.
      13,000 years old
      a glimpse

    4. Hi Remmij!

      Thanks for the links! I liked a lot specially the birds flight. It is awesome! About Phil, I thought it was only a movie character until some years ago when read it was real and visited his page. It is a big attraction there the Groundhog Day! I posted Instagram because his Twitter account redirects to that. Glad that I did because thanks to that you found more to see and enjoy

      This is also amazing A rare waterfall rainbow caught at Yosemite National Park

      Searched on their Instagram but found nothing. And, found this that made me remember Dr. Russell's Challenge about barks

    5. nice recall Ramón…
      bark - YNP
      there some snow in the Sierra - hopefully CA will retain some of the melt
      yosemitenps — Eight feet?! That's how much new snow fell in Tuolumne Meadows over a five-day period this week. With temperatures falling to -20°F at night, winter rangers broke new trail by skiing through waist-deep powder. "Needless to say that the Tuolumne Meadows rangers did not range far this week, but their shoveling and trail breaking muscles got a good workout."
      Tuolumne Meadows
      TM with less snow

  10. Santa Barbara area was a hot spot for the rum runners to unload the precious cargo during Prohibition. No doubt Goleta would have seen midnight shipping along the beach at times. Also a very fine book just published about the supply end: "Don't Tell Nobody Nothing No How" by Rick James. Astonishing money was made in those years. As we say now: Cheers. jon

  11. I keep coming back and reading SearchReSearch and every time I end up saying, these people are fascinating and are so curious. Thanks to you all, and to you Dan.
    This beach is only 119.15 km (74.03 mi) from my houses as the seagull flies, but we have never been to this spot. I learned a bit of new history today. If you go on Google Earth this spot is marked as "Steel Beams" and there are more images of these beams.

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