When John Parham collected things to loan to the non-profit National Motorcycle Museum, his main focus was motorcycles, then memorabilia. But when a really big artifact of transportation history came along, an entire roadside service station, he couldn’t resist.
When acquired it was in pieces and pretty rough. Broken panes in the huge window units, a bent sheet metal cornice, but John saw potential. A local auto body shop made the sheet metal cornice runs for the four sides. The complex corners were just in need of straightening. Then everything got a coat of paint, red and yellow of the Shell Oil Company. Museum staff lead by the owner of the bodyshop got the whole station reassembled, and it just barley fit inside the Museum. After all, it was a modular station meant to be shipped new from the factory to anywhere in America and erected on a concrete slab. The finishing touch is the hand painted lettering on the three sides done the old fashioned way; laid out with a pounce pattern, lettered with sign paint and sign painter’s brushes.
Note the gravity pumps, the bulk oil tank and other features a driver would meet on the American roadside in bygone days. Finished in 2012, soon the office was filled with great petroliana, but more has been added over the years. Visitors can walk right up to the attendant’s office, check out items that might have been sold in the era and get the feel of being a gasoline station attendant in years past. When you visit you will see the offerings are much different from today’s roadside quick store. A large graphic on the Museum floor traces service station architecture and how fuel was sold in the early years, yet also speaks to modern “fuel” like electricity and hydrogen to get us down the road.
The Gasoline Station in America is an unexpected exhibition at the National Motorcycle Museum, fun, yet informative as to how things were on the road 100 years ago in the era of the Model T, the Harley-Davidson J Model and the Indian Power Plus. We hope you plan a visit to the National Motorcycle Museum this summer to check out all it holds before it closes permanently on September 4.