Help solve the mystery of the stainless steel inner tube thing

stainless steel thing

[See note at the end of this post.]

During a vacation in Maine last week (the vacation photos are here, but it now seems like a month ago), I saw a stainless steel inner tube-like thing (if you’re reading this on my blog, it’s pictured on the left and in a slide-show at the bottom of the post) hanging from the rafter of a shop filled with, well, lots of junk. When I asked what it was, the owner said, “I have no idea. It floated up to the shore near my house.”

Being the curious person I am, I thought I’d take some photos to later see if I could find something via Google or one of the visual search engines I’ve been hearing about.

When I couldn’t find anything after a few minutes of cursory searching, I decided to turn to someone I know is a leading expert in finding obscure stuff: my friend, Dr. Joe, at the blog, BookofJoe. Taking the “lazy web” approach, I asked Joe if he had any suggestions.

He pointed me to a great post about visual search on SearchEngineJournal.com and told me about Tineye and BYO. Tineye, which Dr. Joe says has worked for him in the past, was a complete bust and BYO’s searches made no sense.

On the other hand, Gazopa.com did a great job suggesting images that were at least relevant. Unfortunately, none were what I was looking for. (And while they have something called “Ask.Gazopa.com,” there doesn’t seem to be anyone answering.)

As my five-minute attempt didn’t work, I’m doing some early-morning “social searching” by posting a Flickr set of photos of the mystery object (see slideshow below) and asking if anyone knows what this stainless steel, precision tooled and professionally welded “inner tube” thing is.

As it “floated up to the Maine coast,” I’m assuming it may have come from a boat or ship. Also, it is hollow and when I tapped on it with that yard-stick, it had a nice bell-like sound to it.

Any ideas of what this is? Or, for places on the web where such visual mysteries can be solved?

Later: The best guess so far is that the object is the inner core of a life buoy or life ring. Some commercial-grade life buoys have a metal ring rather than a foam ring. As I haven’t had time (nor inclination) to track down the “How it’s Made” info on life buoy manufacturing, I’ll stick with that theory until someone has a better theory.

Later #2: Over on the Book of Joe, a commenter has come up with a suggestion that I will declare a winner, if for no other reason, the Google image search for it returns so many things that look very, very close: toroidal tank.

The Last Later: Okay. I take that back. Again, over at Book of Joe, a commenter nails it with a non-debatable call: It’s an “exhaust donut” used in the creation of custom exhaust systems. A google search of “exhaust donut” led to this page that is precisely what the object is: http://secure.chassisshop.com/partlist/5845/. This has been a great way for me to learn about two things: Visual search (and its limitations) and how some things can only be solved by the collective wisdom of the crowd.

  • It’s difficult to judge its size… is it about as big as a car tire? Does it open like a sliced bagel? If so, it’s probably casing for a life buoy. I’ve also seen them used as housing for rope on boats, not sure if that was its original purpose though…

  • Kat

    Our Canada magazine (ourcanada.ca) has a feature called “What Is It?” that attempts to solve just this kind of problem. You could submit it there.

  • It’s a little smaller than a car tire and it does not open. (There are photos of it on the slide show that show it w/ a ruler). Frankly, it looks exactly like an inner tube and it floats, so your theory may be solid.

  • Thanks for the suggestion. I’m looking for services like that. Who knows, it may even have a Canada connection as the location of its discovery was about 150 miles from New Brunswick.