Monday, June 3, 2013

Taking Off? Or Climbing Up?

Knowing that Sam Bean’s twin brother, Bill, was in the military during World War I causes me some confusion when I considered a series of photographs kept together in Bill Bean’s photo collection. While not one of them is marked with any identifiers, they clearly meant enough to him to store together for all these years.

Since Bill had relatives whose primary business was farming, I had always thought this series of photographs somehow catalogued someone’s agricultural operation. The setting for these pictures is a mostly flat, rural area—yet with several sizable outbuildings seemingly out of place in my mind’s image of the family farm of the 1920s. Someone had once told me that rather than a farming outlay, they could possibly represent some military compound.

The interesting thing about this series of shots is that half of the dozen appear to have been taken by someone walking around the property and snapping different ground-level views. The other half, however, appear to have been taken from a plane as it is just beginning to take off. Observing the hill and structures directly across the street from the main buildings—and taking into consideration the fact that there is no airstrip visible in any of these dozen pictures—I wonder if the second set of photographs were produced by climbing one of the rigs perched atop that hill.

Bill Bean was always a shutterbug. Could it have been he that climbed that rig to snap the aerial views? See what you think—and whether you can identify the location of this place Bill must have considered special.



  1. I'm no help, but here's what I would do: I would Google the places Bill was stationed to see if there are any historic views. I learned a lot about my dad's Coast Guard days from someone who has a website dedicated to the ship he served on.

  2. The oil boom in California started around 1920-21 (I think) and mostly focused in southern CA while there were some rigs in the bay area (and to the valley to the west).

    The last photo shows an oil tank to the upper left - and what appear to be three mooring mast for airships. The dark streak on the bottom left - while it appears to be a muddy road - I think has railroad tracks in it. One photo shows what might be old railroad ties.

    My guess is this is a military "supply" or logistics base in southern California - if it is for the US Marines, there are a handful to look into - Miramar, Twentynine Palms, and Pendleton for starters.

    To date the photo - the ZR1 (Shenandoah) was launched in 1923.

    P.s., I recall you posted a "military base"? photo a while ago (maybe a year ago?)

  3. Having spent some time looking at this over lunch hour, I think this might actually be a "oil refinery/camp" - the buildings are similar to those seen here:

    (second from top) Richmond, CA is in the bay area, and note the cars look to be about the same age.

    Standard Oil had "camps" throughout California (Coalinga California is shown here:

    Note that the "refinery" of the day did not entail the huge distillers and collections of pipes we see today.

  4. Iggy is probably correct I see that the buildings are alike ..but I am perplexed about whatever is growing in two of the looks like a field of something...but doesn't look like a vineyard. I am also wondering what those huge spools that usually carry wire were doing at a refinery. He took good photos too bad they are not marked:)

    1. I find it strange that none of the buildings have any signs on them. A commercial enterprise one would expect to see the corporate name emblazoned on each building! Perhaps since they were "just built" they weren't signed yet?

      Also, in regards to the wire, I don't know much about oil derricks and wells, but it appears that they ran electric out to each of the oil "rigs" out on the hill - for powering either the drilling or the pumping (or both?), and/or lights?

      What amazes me is the huge pile of what I assume are car tires against one of the buildings! My grandfather once told me that a Model T that got 100 miles on a set of tires was doing very, very well!

  5. Climbing the rig (oil rig?) might have given him just that aerial-type view of the darker roof, in the 4th to last shot. Intense Guy's comments about an "oil refinery" sound smart to me. If this is military supply, that might explain the lack of insignia(s) on the uniforms. The plants could be just incidental to the main function of the camp, or even a small garden.


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