Slice of Americana, right in his backyard

07/29/2010 12:00 AM |

Larry Schulz leans on his 1953 GMC truck at his home in Laurel, where he stores hundreds of pieces of gas and oil memorabilia.

When anyone steps onto Larry Schulz’s Laurel property, he or she is immediately transported to a scene reminiscent of a pit stop during a 1960s family road trip.

Antique gas pumps, vintage road signs and cans of motor oil — many from brands that haven’t been made in decades — fill his Main Road home, garage and backyard.

Mr. Schulz is a member of the “petroliana” community, a group of people who collect American gas and oil memorabilia, mostly from the 1930s through the 1960s.

“It helps the heart beat,” Mr. Schulz said of his hobby. “It’s just exciting. You find something, you’re all stoked about it, you enjoy it for a little while, then you find another one.”

Hundreds of pieces adorn Mr. Schulz’s backyard, he estimates. Though he declined to say how much his collection is worth, he noted he has some things that are more than 100 years old.

But choosing his favorite piece would be next to impossible, he said.

He picks up the pieces from sellers on Craig’s List or at trade shows and is always on the lookout for his personal holy grail of petroliana — Invader products.

“Invader stuff is the hardest to find,” he said.

The Invader logo features an armored knight on a horse against a yellow background. The company, which produced motor oil more than 50 years ago, was based in Philadelphia and Garden City.

His passion started in 1972, at the age of 12, when he began collecting Coca-Cola products, a hobby that was questioned by his father. “He never could understand when as a teenager, why I was shelling out $20 for Coke stuff,” he said. The obsession garnered him the nickname Dr. Coke, or as many of his friends now call him, Doc.

Later, as the products began to appreciate in value, Mr. Schulz desire for collectibles only grew. In the late ’80s he picked up a 1930 Texaco sign with the last $85 in his pocket at a memorabilia show. He has been hooked on vintage Mobil, Shell, Tydol and Gulf memorabilia ever since.

Mr. Schulz says he will pick up a piece and sometimes restore it, either by adding or by taking off a coat of paint from the porcelain finish.

He spent about 18 months restoring his largest piece, a 1953 GMC pickup that sits in his driveway, which he purchased from someone desperate to unload it for only $400. The truck, which he refers to as Rust-Anne, does run, though he does not take it on the road because it isn’t registered.

The merchandise is also a testament to a time when prices were much lower. For instance, in his driveway he has a Coca-Cola machine that once sold 10-cent soda cans.

The display in Mr. Schulz’s yard has caused many people passing by to stop and ask if anything is for sale. “My answer is usually, yeah,” Mr. Schulz said, adding that they must be able to afford his asking price.

He said it would be easy to dupe a novice into thinking a sign is worth a hefty chunk of change, when in fact it is worthless. He pointed to a decal, a reproduction of a Sinclair Gasoline sign, on the side of his truck that he got free after a previous owner paid $2,500 for it. The key to determining authenticity, he said, is that most pieces are stamped with the date and manufacturing company’s initials, such as a 1946 Mobil gas sign featuring the company’s signature pegasus (winged horse) and manufacturer Ingram-Richardson’s initials.

“Unfortunately, you got to be in the know,” he said.

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