Automobilia sort of takes over. Just ask Tom Stover.

Share story

Tom Stover says he’s been interested in old gas company and automobile manufacturing memorabilia as far back as he can remember, “but I had no idea my garage would end up looking like this!”

Tom and his wife Carole moved into their home in Bothell in 1990. Back then Tom had a few signs and his Matchbox cars that he began collecting as a child.

“We decided that the garage was the best place to display the few signs that I had collected. They were hung on the walls along with the rakes, shovels, extension cords and various other items usually found in any garage, but then something began to happen.”

The various lawn and garden implements, boxes of Christmas decorations, cans of paint and the hundreds of other things began being replaced with additional petroleum and automobile company signs, oil cans, gas pumps, glass advertising globes and hundreds of other items utilized in the distant past to keep our grandparents’ cars running up and down two-lane roads.

“When we moved into our house I had a couple of old signs, then there was an eruption in my passion to collect more. I began attending swap meets, frequenting yard and estate sales, contacting anyone that was rumored to have anything interesting and, like most collectors, spending hours roaming through eBay listings in search of items.”

Tom’s efforts have resulted in a massive collection that takes up nearly every inch of wall, floor and ceiling space in the three-car garage. The nearby bathroom features walls that are covered with signs, some encouraging you to “See the USA in your Chevrolet” and asking “Is There a Ford in Your Future?”

How does Tom’s wife feel about the garage turning into a palace for petroleum paraphernalia and automotive advertising?

“Fortunately, Carole is very tolerant. Occasionally something I want costs more than the budget allows. She encourages me to be creative in how I acquire that item.”

Recently Tom, 62, found a sign he wanted for his collection, but the $500 price tag was more than he was comfortable paying.

“At a swap meet I had purchased a packet of baseball cards for $4. I don’t collect these, but I knew enough about cards to know that this packet was worth much more than four bucks. This proved true when I later sold them for $400. I then sold another item for a profit and in the end the $500 sign cost me only $13. My wife was very impressed!”

The pleasure Tom receives from his collection is matched by the pleasure he receives from sharing with friends and other collectors his display of bright signs, glowing neon advertisements and 70-year-old gas pumps.

“I have a party every year and also frequently have guests over to enjoy all of the history in this garage. It is always a festive occasion and the 16-foot-long “miniature” bowling alley game in the middle of it all often becomes the gathering spot for the evening.”

What does Tom’s crystal ball, or rather, glowing gas pump globe, predict for the future of his collection?

“Retirement from my day job will likely happen in a few years. Then I can focus more time on the acquisition of additional items. I’m in the garage nearly every day cleaning, arranging and admiring my collection. I don’t see that ever changing.”

Tom expressed concern about the rising cost of petroleum and automobile memorabilia.

“Recently a Musgo gasoline sign sold at auction for $230,000. That is crazy! Thank goodness I bought the majority of my collection before values went through the roof. I could not afford to buy most of these signs at today’s prices.”

Is there one “holy grail” item that he has not yet been able to find? No, because the one item he’s always sought has finally been found.

The lawn care equipment and storage boxes may be gone, but there is at least one item that is expected to be found in a garage.

“I’d saved a spot amongst my collection for the car of my dreams.” says Tom as he pats the roof of his beautiful 1940 Ford.

The red coupe shines as brightly as any sign in his collection.