Museum's 'Petroliana' show showcases glamorous side of energy business

Horse-drawn oil wagon, oversize signs are show's main attractions

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey studies a restored horse-drawn oil wagon from 1908 on Tuesday that is part of the "Petroliana" exhibition on display at the museum.

FARMINGTON — Much of the energy sector activity that takes place in the San Juan Basin — namely drilling and processing — is of a decidedly grimy, unglamorous nature.

But the marketing and packaging of those products, particularly in the early days of the industry, was anything but mundane. Several hundred colorful remnants of that era are included in the "Petroliana: Oil and Gas Memorabilia" exhibition on display at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.

"This is what we call the downstream part of the energy business," museum director Bart Wilsey said on Tuesday while leading a tour of the large exhibition, which includes oil company and gas station signs, gasoline pumps, oil cans, gas station headwear and other items. "This documents the end products and how they were distributed."

Most of the items in the show have been in the museum's permanent collection for the past several years, since they were acquired from local collector Alan Hawkinson. Wilsey said this is by far the largest showing of the collection the museum has staged, but he noted it has many more items in storage that it didn't have room to display.

This Conoco gas pump is one of several featured in the "Petroliana" exhibition at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 1908 Continental oil wagon that was used to deliver fuel oil, kerosene and white gas to homes. The wagon was painstakingly restored by Hawkinson after he located it in a mine in Idaho and retrieved it.

Nearly every item in the exhibition is remarkably well preserved, even though some pieces are more than 100 years old, including several old-fashioned gas pumps. The oversized oil and gas station signs lining one wall of the show will be familiar to any fan of the popular television show "American Pickers" on the History channel, where such items regularly fetch handsome prices, even in a state of disrepair.

Several large oil company signs are included in the "Petroliana" exhibition on display at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

"It's unbelievable," Wilsey said, marveling at the value of some of the signs. "There's a huge collector's market for this. Alan came to me and said, 'I would really like to keep this collection in Farmington.' We worked hard to make that happen."

The exhibition has no firm closing date. Wilsey said it would remain on display until museum officials begin working on assembling a planned energy-themed show that tentatively is slated to open no later than 2021.

Admission to the exhibition is free. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day but reopens on Friday. Call 505-599-1174 for more information.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.