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Fire-Chief: 1940

Fire-Chief: 1940

June 1940. Washington, D.C. "Discarded oil cans at truck service station on U.S. 1 (New York Avenue)." 35mm nitrate negative by Jack Delano. View full size.


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Green Dinosaur

The Sinclair oil can with the dinosaur immediately caught my eye. I can remember very clearly going to the gas station with my dad when I was a child, a Sinclair gas station with the big green dinosaur on their sign, and free with a fill-up was a small green dino made out of soap. The highlight of the trip for me, and of course Dad always handed it to me with a smile.

Still have that helmet

in my attic. Last time I checked, the microphone still worked. What a great toy. I spent many quality hours playing with that thing. (When I was a kid, when I was a ki— oh, never mind…)


In the late 40's -early 50's the Standard station where my Grandad traded got their fresh oil in bulk, and pumped it into quart bottles with the metal top (spout). The bottles were kept handy to the gas pumps in wire racks that held 6 or 8 quarts.

Canned oil

I vividly remember my dad teaching me to change oil in the '70s. He taught me to use a filter wrench, but by the time I was old enough to have my own car, the clearances were so tight that you couldn't turn a wrench. Each car I owned, I had to develop a different strategy for threading my forearms through the engine compartment to get a two-handed grip on the filter.

I think I remember the plastic bottles replacing the cans about '82 or '83. My dad worked for Texaco, so that's a thing I would remember. I remember in the late '80s visiting a bargain store that had about ten feet of wall space dedicated to the old stab-in spouts. They must have been betting on a few suckers who didn't realize that oil no longer came in cans!

Quite a variety of motor oil cans

I spot Texaco, Sinclair, Gulflube, Havoline, Esso, Dubl-Duty and Quaker State.

You're a quart low

Wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that from the attendant in the 50's and 60's.

Bottled Oil

The oil in bottles was used oil. They would take used oil, filter it, add a little fresh oil, and sell it for substantially less than new oil. I know because I had an old beater in the early 70s that burned a couple quarts a week, so I always bought the used stuff. It was always in bottles and the new stuff was always in cans.

Not Paper Cans

Those oil cans are made of 100% metal from the USA!


Not so much. I am surpised at the use of paper cans. I thought glass bottles were more common then. When I was an attendent in the 70's, the bottle racks were still in the back room.

Things Have Changed

A reminder of how engines used to burn a lot more oil 70 years ago.

Recycling Center

Bring all your cardboard and flammable product containers down to the handy recycle bins beside our lead-filled gas pumps. Don't forget to extinguish all smoking materials before tossing them out the window!

Engines are better now

This is an indication of how lousy engine rings were back then. Modern engines hardly use any oil.

Money in cans

All those cans are worth well over one hundred dollars empty to collectors today.

Fire Chief Helmet

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I had a Texaco Fire Chief helmet. It had a microphone that hung down from the side, and a speaker on the front. It was very well made out of heavy plastic. Mom still has it stored away somewhere. I wonder what it's worth today?

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