Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Signs of bygone times

Memorabilia from defunct service stations go on block Sunday

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Some of the iconic signs items McSherry Auction Service are putting up for sale.

STONEWALL -- You wouldn't see a sign like this today -- thank goodness we've progressed that far, at least -- but at one time, Red Indian gas stations dotted the roadways.

McColl-Frontenac of Toronto was the company behind the Red Indian gas stations and oil products. The company probably didn't mean any disrespect or it wouldn't have used such a striking and dignified image for its logo. The logo is the profile of a noble chief, in braids and a feathered headdress.

That and other memorabilia from old service stations will be hot sellers at an auction Sunday in Stonewall. One Red Indian gas station sign is expected to fetch $7,500 to $10,000. The signs are considered rare. The company was taken over by Texaco in the late 1930s, which converted the gas stations to the Texaco name.

It's all part of the Vintage Service Station and Coca Cola Auction. Stuart McSherry, of McSherry Auction Service, holds three such auctions a year, and they are now among the biggest in the country, rivalled only by auctions in much larger Ontario.

"We rock and roll," said auctioneer McSherry. "People are going to be wound up for this one. There is some quality stuff here."

The Red Indian sign is just one of many vintage gas-station signs up for sale. Others include White Rose, Buffalo Gas, Gulf, and B-A (British-American).

And you can't forget local gas station Roco, which had its oil refinery in St. Boniface. Some other local products up for auction include Buffalo Oil from a company called Prairie City Oil in Winnipeg, and its Buffalo Axle Grease. The company started in the 1800s. Another local product was Archer Lubricant, which also used a First Nations person for its logo: an Indian brave firing a bow and arrow.

There are old fuel pumps, including a prized "double-bowser clear vision" gas pump from the 1920s. It's a double pump with two clear glass cylinders on top so customers could see they were getting clean gas. Gas was pumped into the glass cylinders using a lever. Gravity then flowed the gas into the automobile's tank. "They didn't make a double-header in the States," which is why these unique Canadian designs have become so valuable, McSherry said.

One of the problems with the glass cylinders was gas expands in sunlight, so nine gallons turned into 10 -- until it cooled off inside a vehicle's tank. "It was like selling sheep by the pound on a rainy day," McSherry said.

The highest bid may go for a sign that looks boring compared to most here. It's a very plain Ford V-8 sign from 1932. It's valuable because that was the year Ford came out with eight-cylinder cars. There's also a 1927 Ford "wing" sign for a Model T.

"Stuart doesn't want to be seen blowing his own horn," said Bill Krasey, who assists McSherry with the auctions, "but this is the hottest sale in Canada. There are sales elsewhere, but nothing like here. People will travel from Toronto and B.C. to be here."

They have also fielded calls from places such as New York and California for Sunday's auction.

"Old cars will always be cool," McSherry said.

The auction will include store signs for tobacco products such as Sir Watler Raleigh, Blackstone, Star Tobacco and British Consol cigarettes. Then there's a large Black Cat Cigarettes sign from 1945, in mint condition and expected to attract top dollar.

There are lots of soft-drink memorabilia such as wall thermometers with Dr. Pepper or other soda-pop advertising. There are match strikers, door bars (the horizontal slat you push on a store's screen door that typically had soft-drink or cigarette advertising on it) and palm presses (on the side of the door, head high, where you could also push a store's door open).

The auction runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at McSherry Auction Service, 12 Patterson Dr. in Stonewall. Inventory can be viewed in advance at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2013 A15


Updated on Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 10:25 AM CST: fixed photo cutline

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