Back in the Days…
Pull into any gas station these days and most people swipe their credit card, grumble about the price per gallon, fill-up and drive off or pop into the attached market and pick up snacks and groceries. With the price of gasoline soaring, it’s interesting that what’s called “Petroliana” or collecting oil and gas memorabilia from the 1920’s to the 1950’s is growing.
After all, what’s not to like about a time when gas was pennies per gallon and a “service” station meant that when your car ran over the air hose and rang a bell inside the station, someone would come out to fill your tank, check your oil, clean your windshield and ask how your day was going.
At swap meets, sales and shows across the country, more people are picking up old Mobile Oil signs, with the white horse on the red background, or the red, white and green “T” for Texaco. Entire catalogs offer restorers new emblems and hardware to complete the restoration of old gas pumps which often fetch thousands of dollars. Some Websites literally describe the step-by-step restoration of old gas pumps into unique and often one-of-a-kind piece of art. Antique gas pumps can still be found rusting away in junkyards for under $1,000. With work, they can be gutted, fitted with shelving and lights and used for storage or display.
Some gas pumps from the 1920’s were ‘visible gravity’ fed – meaning that the top portion of the pump was glass and you could actually see the gasoline inside being measured. Makers of visible gravity pumps included Tokhiem, Wayne and Gilbert & Baker.
Pumps in the 30’s and 40’s, with manufacturers like Bennett and Wayne are also avidly collected, restored and treasured by enthusiasts. Often they become a focal point in a family room or garage.
Even if you don’t feel you could handle the restoration of an old gas pump, there are other ways to get into this hobby. Gas, oil and kerosene cans can be found in antique stores and junk yards, and with their different shapes, a little elbow grease and paint, and some new decals, a beginner ends up with a unique and decorative collection.
There are Websites, books and catalogs as well as lists for swap meets and shows available online. Just do a search for ‘Petroliana’ or ‘old gas pumps.’