Tiptoe through the tools


Joe Webb at home with the latest addition to his stable of '55 Chevys. This one makes number eight. Add 22 "parts" cars of the same vintage, plus a shop full of 55 parts.

Joe Webb in his shop at home, with the latest addition to his stable of '55 Chevys. This one makes number eight. But wait, there's more. Add 22 "parts" cars of the same vintage, plus a shop full of 55 parts that can be measured by the ton. The Phillips 66 sign will sooner or later enjoy a fitting location on the walls of the shop.

This story started on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot Com. To see another Chevy picture and a couple of signs and get in on this thing from the start, click here, a very cool thing to do.

Joe Webb’s shop on Poplar Street in Pine Bluff, Arkansas should qualify as a museum. There may be a few issues with stepping over and around jacks, brake lathes, grinders, air hoses, and other miscellaneous and sundry tools of the mechanic’s trade. In this case, tip-toeing through the tools is worth the trip. On the walls and hanging from the ceiling you’ll see an extraordinary collection of old automotive oriented signs. From a former life, I recall that proper museum collections should have a focus. This one has that. In spades.

The main shop entrance gives you an idea of what to expect. The DX and Gulf signs are signficant to the history of the business. At one time, the shop was also a service station that carried both brands.

The main shop entrance gives you an idea of what to expect. The DX and Gulf signs are signficant to the history of the business. At one time, the shop was also a service station that through several permutations, carried both brands of gasoline.

Not just a good sign. Good art.

Not just a good sign. Good art.

Joe’s collection does not stop at his shop. His guest bedroom in the Chez Webb is plastered with a similarly deep collection of smaller “point-of-purchase” signs. (That term was probably not yet in use when the signs were originally fabricated).

Art for marketing’s sake

The art on these signs was designed and created when art directors still used brushes, pens and other ancient and honored paraphernalia to create their masterpieces. The Champion Spark Plug sign is a good example. Close inspection shows that it is “flat art.” That means that the look achieved by the artist was made through application of solid colors. Having been a small part of the last vestiges of that school of art production, I can tell you, it will make you scratch your head.

In their day, these signs were an essential and important part of merchandise marketing. We’re talking thirties, fourties and perhaps into the fifties a bit. Television was an idea yet to bloom. Radio was popular,

The Kaiser-Frazer brands marketed by Henry J. Kaiser, the aluminum magnate had some loyal followers, my uncle included. However the number of loyal followers were not enough to save the brands. Styling of the cars was a bit ahead of the times.

The Kaiser-Frazer brands marketed by Henry J. Kaiser, the aluminum magnate had some loyal followers, my uncle included. However the number of loyal followers were not enough to save the brands. Styling of the cars was a bit ahead of the times.

but in the AM days, had it’s limitations. Print advertising was the king of communication, but for the most part was a black and white presentation. These signs performed a colorful and dramatic job of communicating the presence and to some extent, benefits of the products they hawked.

“ When I went crazy buying ’em”

Joe started collecting signs 21 years ago. I asked him when did he begin considering himself a sign collector. He grinned deeply, something he does well, and told me “ … I guess about the time when I went crazy buying ‘em.”

He says he’s not exactly certain just how many signs and other automotive related artifacts he has, but conservatively guesses the total to be in the 400-500 item range. “I have some stuff still in original crates and boxes,” he admitted. Turns out, some friends that had the merchandise, being familiar with his pronounced proclivity to accumulate signs,  decided that Joe would give it a good home. They were right.

Since a fillin' station was a good place to grab a cole-drank,* it seems appropriate to include the doctor's sign. It is emblazoned with a bottle reminiscent of their long abandoned slogan, "Drink Dr. Pepper at 10, 2 and 4. *A term used by southerners to describe a chilled, carbonated drink.

Since a fillin' station was a good place to grab a cole-drank,* it seems appropriate to include the doctor's sign. It is emblazoned with a bottle reminiscent of their long abandoned slogan, "Drink Dr. Pepper at 10, 2 and 4. *A term used by southerners to describe a chilled, carbonated drink.

I have a number of other signs from Joe’s inventory now in my picture inventory. For the next few weeks, I’ll include a one or more on Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind. Thanks for your patience.

And thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey

http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/

http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/

http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

April 11, 2011 Update

Took the pickup to Joe Webb’s this morning for servicing and lo, and behold, Vicky had turned the long abandoned gas pump island into a rose garden. And the roses seem to love it. Whodathunk? It’s either adaptive reuse or Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

GMC and roses

I never promised you a rose garden but you got one anyway.

GMC and roses 2

Adaptive reuse of former fueling facility.

GMC and roses 3

Brighten the corner where you are.

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