Sometimes people just stumble onto the beginning of a collection. That’s what happened to Bob Tancrede of Lewiston in 1971 when he jacked up an old barn to move it and discovered an old Texaco gasoline motor oil sign used to keep wood off the wet ground.
He asked the owner of the barn if he could have the sign, and thus began Tancrede’s love affair with signs and all things old and automotive.
“It’s just a hobby of mine. Somethin’ to pass the time,” said Tancrede, who is semiretired.
Tacked on his barn/garage is a colorful display of signs from Shell, Amoco, Texaco, Goodyear, Willard Batteries, Red Indian, Gulf Oil and Esso, to name a few. Some of them are from the 1920s.
Not too long ago, a friend, who is a fellow collector had been visited by the people from the reality TV show “American Pickers,” contacted Tancrede to see if he wanted to have the show view his collection.
“I rejected them,” Tancrede said. “I’ve had them for 40-odd years, I might as well hold onto them.”
Tancrede’s collection grows as he discovers treasures beneath buildings he jacks up, finds friends who want to trade, or locates them in his travels around the state.
“I’ll go all the way to Kittery or Arundel to trade a sign,” he said.
He has expanded his collection to include anything automobile and farm related. He has two gas pumps. One of them stands in his living room.
Tancrede restored it and turned it into a lamp. It is a vintage 1920s 10-gallon glass cylinder pump.
His collection includes what he considers one of his best finds: a Never Nox Ethyl sign made from porcelain. The most rare?
“Aw, I don’t know. The Red Indian Motor Oil sign from the 1920s and ’30s,” he said.
“It would be signs from 1910, and 1915,” he said.
Tancrede also restores antique toy vehicles, which grace his living room. He has a 1940 little red truck he is restoring as a street rod, a 1955 Chevrolet Belair, a 1957 pickup, and a 1911 farm wagon he acquired from Belfast. Fifteen years ago he got a 1928 McCormick tractor from someone in Lisbon.
It seems he has acquired a reputation that interests students at Lewiston High School as well.
“Students stop by two or three times a year and they have to make a book report on my signs. They take photos and do reports,” he said.
For Tancrede, it’s not about the worth of his collection. “It’s just somethin’ to do.”