Bel Air Home Salvages 'A Little Piece Of America'

Empty Milk Bottlesawait Deliveryman

March 01, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

A walk through the Bel Air home of Michael and Patti Sauers is a stroll down Memory Lane.

At the top of the porch steps of their home in the 1200 block of Conowingo Road is a Moores Milk case with empty bottles sitting out for the deliveryman of days gone by.

Inside the yellow house, built in 1932 using Sears Roebuck mail-order plans, the rooms are decorated with period furniture: a 1947 Philco radio in the living room, a jukebox stocked with big-band tunes in the family room, a Lester upright piano in the parlor.

Clearly, these two are hooked on nostalgia.

"The whole house is that way," the 30-year-old Sauers says. "We're stuck in the '40s."

"It's a little piece of America slipping through our fingers."

The nostalgicshowpiece of the home, though, is to be found in the driveway.

Michael Sauers has converted his garage into a 1940s-style service station equipped with two restored antique gas pumps, auto supplies and asoda machine that serves up ice-cold nickel Cokes in pony bottles.

A sign advertising Wolf's Head Motor Oil, which dates back to the early 1950s, hangs above the garage awning.

A 1948 Plymouth sedan is parked in the driveway, and a 1940 Pontiac, owned by a friend, is parked near an old air stand.

Pull on up to either the Texaco Fire Chief or Sky Chief pumps, and a service bell rings. You expect to seea gas jockey run out to top off the tank of your car, clean the windows and check the oil.

Instead, you find Michael Sauers with a smile.

"Here's Sauers' service station," says Sauers, a salesman at Kunkel Service Co., a Bel Air auto supply store.

"It's like drivingback in time."

Signs advertising Denman Handcrafted Tires, B-SafeHeadlights, and "Complete and Reliable Lubrication" line the garage.

A collection of old Maryland license plates, including a red and white one from 1931, hang on one of the walls.

Shelves along the walls of the garage are stocked with old wire sets, brake shoes, Greenzoil, Penn Rad and Actol oil cans. The Sauers have a collection of Phillips 66, Sunoco and Esso road maps that date back to the 1930s on arack.

There's even a sign reading "We Give S & H Green Stamps."

The couple started displaying their collection of service station memorabilia about a year ago.

The station has attracted numerous visitors coming to admire slices of Americana.

"I had some prospective customers come out here," Michael Sauers says.

One time, a motorist who ran out of gas pulled into the Sauers' driveway upon seeing the bright red and yellow pumps, unaware that the pumps were only forshow. Fortunately, for the motorist, the Sauers were able to give him two gallons of gas they had for their lawn mower.

Sauers says hebecame interested in historical relics as a youth, digging up bottles in the woods near where he grew up in Benson. His first find was a Virginia Dare vanilla extract bottle at age 9.

He estimates his old-bottles collection numbers at least 1,000.

Patti Sauers picked up on her husband's hobby when he took her on a search for bottles.

"I think I got hooked on my first bottle-digging expedition," she says. "That was like digging into history."

She now collects cookie jars, tin containers and kitchenware. A collection of spice containers from the old Sauers Co. of Richmond, Va., are stored in a glass case that hangs on the wall of the kitchen.

The couple spend much of their free time going to flea markets, auctions and antique shops to add to their collection.

They hope to pass on their interest to their children. They took their daughter Emily, now 2, to her first antique store when she was 2 weeks old.

The Sauers have found many pieces of their collection by chance. They first saw the antique soda machine and a gas pump while driving down a road near Chestertown on the Eastern Shore.

They bought the 1948 Plymouth after its previousowner came into Kunkel looking for an ignition coil. A family friendbrought back gas-station memorabilia from a trip to the Midwest. Even regular customers at Kunkel who are aware of Sauers' hobby bring him their finds.

Sauers is now restoring a 43-year-old Internationalfarm tractor that he got from a Churchville farmer three weeks ago. Rusted and missing parts after sitting idle for 20 years, the tractoris now shiny red, ready for duty in the Sauers' backyard.

The Sauers note that they obtained many of the items at bargain prices, turning a piece of trash into a prize. The 70-year-old piano in the parlor, for example, cost $25.

But the couple say the money is not the object of their collection: They don't even have an estimate of the value of their possessions.

To them, the collection is part of their everyday lives; they use the antique Plymouth as often as their 1982 Oldsmobile, and Michael is taking lessons to learn how to play the Lester piano.

"That's the neat part of having old stuff," he says."To enjoy it. You can't just pocket it away."

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