Signs of the times
WEST CHESTER — It was an “Enter at your own risk” sign — a gift from a neighbor — that started the decades-long collecting of vintage memorabilia that now decorates Hal Colliver’s farm a mile south of West Chester.
Working on his farm today, Colliver stopped to point out a new gas pump that sits on the side of the drive leading onto his spread, located just south of West Chester. He had only recently purchased the 1960s era gas pump at the Iowa Gas in Des Moines, which is one of the biggest gas memorabilia shows in the nation. The pump fit right in with all the pumps from such franchises as Mobil, Texaco, Amoco, Sinclair, and many others. People traveling on Hemlock at night will see the lights for the gas pumps on.
“When I was driving a truck over the years, they used to have billboard and I would always read the billboards,” he said. “I guess I just got interested in signs.”
Colliver commented that there aren’t as many billboards as there used to be. Many pieces in his collection include things that were mainstays at one time, but are now hard to find. A phone booth sits outside of one of his barns. Two jukeboxes that play phonograph records sit just inside the door.
He also pointed out a Gulf sign prominently displayed on the front of his barn. As a truck driver, he hauled a load to Winslow, Ariz. The signs were put on loading chutes. When Colliver inquired how much one of the signs was, the foreman said that he needed enough money for a case of beer for the ranch hands.
Colliver said that he doesn’t know how many signs he has collected over the years, but said that he is beginning to run out of space. He commented that the price of the vintage signs and other memorabilia that he loves is going up. He said the cost of the old porcelain signs is really going up.
Of all the signs he has, Colliver said his favorite is an old Chicago Stockyard sign that is displayed on the wall of one of his barns. He remembers delivering many loads to the Chicago stockyards when he was a part-time semi driver.
“Those were great times back then,” he said.
The insides of the barns are set up with beer and cigarette signs. Vintage signs displaying such things as the Hamm’s Beer bear and the Budweiser Clydesdales hang from the ceiling.
Most of the signs have stories that go with them. Colliver recalls bringing a Lone Star Beer sign out of the brewery in Texas. He had poster for “two of the greatest Presidents we ever had” — Harry Truman and Dwight David Eisenhower. Over the years he has had several visitors, including the Russian Secretary of Agriculture. There are also frames with newspaper articles written about the farm, including one from Brazil.
“What I am trying to do is preserve some old Americana,” he said. “Like it used to be. I like the old stuff that I grew up with.”
Colliver said that he has lived on the farm since 1951 when his parents moved onto the farm and he was in seventh grade. He remembers the year because he showed the grand champion steer at the fair in What Cheer.
He advises people interested in beginning their own collection to “keep looking and have some cash.”