Mono collector’s gas station memorabilia goes on display
-By Chris Halliday
Although he doesn’t collect a lot of old gas pumps, Mono resident Morley Brown has more than 100 antique Cities Service oil cans, dating all the way back to the 1920s. Brown and fellow Canadian Service Station Memorabilia Association member, Brian Horner, will host a display at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA) from Nov. 4 to 13.
Morley Brown is a collector, plain and simple, but his fascination isn’t with coins, stamps or antique furniture — the 65-year-old Mono resident has a soft spot for old gas station memorabilia.
“If you are a collector, it doesn’t matter what it is,” Brown laughed. “Whether it is Royal Doultons, fine art or a gas pump, you collect. I like the gasoline stuff, being a car guy, that connection was always there.”
Although he possesses two old gasoline pumps — one from 1950 and another from 1959 — Brown has about 25 service station signs, some dating all the way back to the 1920s.
He specializes in oil can collection, however, possessing more than 100 containers, more specifically those made by Cities Service, some of which date back 90 years.
“I have oil cans from the 1920s that are in perfect shape and still full of oil. They have never been used,” he said. “Now that is strange itself, but what is really peculiar is where did that can survive all those years?”
From Nov. 4 to Nov. 13, Brown, and fellow Canadian Service Station Memorabilia Association club member, Brian Horner, who collects Supertest Gasoline signs and cans, will host an exhibit at the Dufferin County Museum & Archives (DCMA).
Although the exhibit is 10 days long, museum officials are planning to place some of the gas station collectors’ items on display in spurts beginning in mid- to late-October.
“Everybody remembers the old gas stations. … That is what we try to look for — things which people will connect to,” explained DCMA curator Wayne Townsend. “The gas station is where absolutely everything in the world happened.
“It was the scene of all activity. Gas purchasing and also to fill your head full of stories.”
Cities Service holds a special place in Brown’s heart. His father, Frank, drove a Cities Service truck from 1950 to 1968, picking up gasoline on Green Street in Orangeville and delivering it to local farms, houses and gas stations.
“I learned to drive a gas truck before I learned to drive a car,” Brown laughed, recalling in the 1950s and 60s, a paradigm shift was beginning to take place.
“The rural areas were becoming less isolated, people started to have to get out every day.”
If you ask Brown, Cities Service is an important company in the history of petroleum, since it was the first company deciding to own its oil well, refinery and sell its product in 1915.
“All the other companies before that were independents,” he said. “They bought oil from each other and maybe somebody else packaged it.”
When Brown approached DCMA officials to rent out the museum for the Canadian Service Station Memorabilia Association’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), which will be held on Nov. 6, Townsend was fascinated and saw an opportunity to host a full-fledged exhibit as well.
“To me, it is the gas cans. I didn’t realize that some of them were so rare because different products would come and they would change,” Townsend said. “Considering we are an oil-based economy, that is getting a lot of attention, let’s look back in history to when they were actually selling some really bizarro products at local gas stations.”
There is likely a historically significant tale behind nearly every one of the cans in Brown’s collection. For example, a couple of 80-year-old cans in his possession were discovered as an old gas station was being torn down.
“They had been boarded up in another room,” Brown said. “There was a lot of stuff in there, they just sat there.”
Brown doesn’t limit himself to oil cans and service station signs, however, he has a whack of other Cities Service items, including tires, a car battery, antique credit card machines and some brass bookends.
“I’ll be taking some signs, the one pump, a lot of oil cans and then a lot of the unusual things,” Brown said, adding he also has some promotional material from 1959, when Cities Service built a refinery in Trafalgar, which is Oakville today. “From that opening, I’ve managed to gather up some of those things.”
The gas service station exhibit will run at the DCMA from Nov. 4 to 13; some items may be put on display before that. For more information, call 705-435-9876.
Article originally published October 11, 2011 by the Orangeville Banner on Orangeville.com