Well I finally figured out this artifact in the St Leo neighborhood is a Smudge Pot used to keep the apricot trees in the orchard from freezing (in Southern California they were used to protect the citrus crop). There used to be thousands of these Smudge Pots in our neighborhood's orchards.
Developed in 1913 and in used throughout California's orchards. Smudge Pots were designed to use a variety of fuel, and our neighborhood's Polhemus Refinery on Stockton Avenue used Crude Oil sent via rail to produce Gasoline, Kerosene, Lubricants, Asphalt and for the orchard ranchers, cheap Smudge Oil (nasty byproduct that smokes well).
Smudge Pots were in widespread use until large windmills became more cost effective for keeping less than freezing air on the trees. During World War II, there was talk about using them as smoke screens against bombers.
Imagine waking up one cold morning only to see and smell a thick layer of black soot over everything! Smudging from Smudge Pots was a common problem in the winter months. As orchards gave way to our growing neighborhood complaints about their use grew until they were banned by state law in 1947 for polluting California's air. They are still in use in Oregon, and you can watch a good video on Orchard Smudging on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1uj320D
I'm amazed it has escaped the scrap metal heap and is still in the neighborhood! I've heard that some schools have used the Smudge Pot for their football trophy (Redlands) or have a decorating contest (Medford, Oregon). Personally, I think it would look even better nestled between some backyard fruit trees rusting in peace as a clean burning patio heater!
The Neighborhood Orchard
You can visit Guadalupe River Park's Historic Orchard, @ 402 Seymour Street, behind that other Rose Garden (the Heritage Rose Garden) off Taylor Avenue between Coleman and Highway 87. Sadly the Orchard is locked up. You can walk around the small orchard, but if you really want to experience how much work an Orchard is, you can signup to get your hands dirty pulling weeds, pruning trees and harvesting fruit for Second Harvest. Volunteer hours are the first Saturday of every month from 8:30 to Noon.