Acouple pieces of rare gasoline history have rolled into town recently, putting a wide smile on Don Sherwood's face. Sherwood is Shady Cove's vintage petroleum collector and historian.
His latest acquisition is a 7-by-10-foot metal gas station sign featuring "Fearless Farris," a 4- or 5-foot-tall skunk that is the iconic mascot of the Stinker Stations, an independent chain of Idaho service stations that got their start in 1936.
Don Sherwood didn't want to say how much he paid for the Bowser cabinet or "Fearless Farris," but he laughed when he remembered being told that to get the skunk, he also had to pay Utah sales tax.
Sherwood's private collection of petroleum-related collectibles won't be open to the public this year, but readers with Internet access can get a peek at his collection on his website, the Vintage Gas Museum, at www.vintagegas.com.
— Bill Miller
Getting "Fearless" away from Stinker headquarters in Boise wasn't easy.
"It's been sitting in their stock yard for five years," Sherwood said. "When I first tried to get it, the vice president of the company said that it was already spoken for and going to a collector in Utah."
After returning twice and seeing the skunk still sitting in the yard, Sherwood made his move.
"I decided to offer him what I thought was an incredible amount of money and hope that they would take it," Sherwood said. "He called the president, and about an hour-and-a-half later he said, 'It's yours.' "
The Stinker Stations began when Farris Lind opened his first gas station in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1936. He was only 20 years old, but soon he was adding locations as far away as Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. In all his stations, he fiercely undercut the prices charged by the major oil companies, just to give his customers the savings.
Because of those low prices, competitors began calling Lind a "Stinker." Lind embraced the name, put it on his stations, created "Fearless Farris — the Stinker," and put boxing gloves on the cantankerous skunk.
Paralyzed from the neck down after contracting polio in 1963, Farris continued to run his Stinker empire until he died in 1983.
Last November, Sherwood also took delivery of a 1910 S.F. Bowser Oil Cabinet that he found in Connecticut.
"When my wife saw this," Sherwood said, "she said this was her favorite piece in the whole collection."
The cabinet looks like a fine piece of furniture, a deluxe china cabinet, but Sherwood said it was actually used by very wealthy individuals in their carriage house. In two 65-gallon tanks it could store and pump oil, lubricants or kerosene for use in private automobiles.
With leaded glass fitted into two access-door windows and the front-opening door, all of it beveled around its edges, this oak cabinet, more than 6 feet high and nearly 5 feet wide, weighs about 1,100 pounds.
Sylvanus Freelove Bowser is credited with inventing the gas pump while trying to find a better way to pump water from his well. The Indiana company he founded in 1885 survived until the 1960s.
"I saw one of these 20 years ago in Seattle," Sherwood said, "and I just fell in love with it, but was never able to find one until now."
Sherwood doesn't think he's the biggest collector in Southern Oregon, and he's sure other people in the area have spent more money on their collections.
"They may have a lot more things than I have," he said, "but I know there's no one more interested in this than I am."
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.