PETROL PUMP RESTORATION

 
FINDING A PUMP.
Assuming this is your first pump you will need to consider its final setting once you have restored it. If its to be standing next to your favourite car in your garage, then the best choice is probably a pump of a similar age to the car. An early hand crank Gilbert & Barker T8 or a Bowser Red Sentry looks good against a 1930’s car, whereas an early Avery Hardol or Wayne electric pump would look better with a 1950’s model.
Where to buy the pump is not quite as easy as popping down to Halfords though!!! There are a few part time dealers/collectors who may be able to supply a pump, and a couple who will even offer a pump restored to your requirements (but be warned, restoration takes time thus is much more expensive than an unrestored pump). I have listed some contacts at the end of this Section but this is more extensive and up to date on my website www.petroliana.co.uk. Simple pumps are often found at Autojumbles, the best of which are the twice yearly Beaulieu (Hampshire) auto events.

RESEARCH
I decided to create this website as over the years I found there was little published on early British pumps. American pumps in particular have a wealth of information printed about them and this can be useful as many early British pumps were designed and first made in America. Jack Sims’ pump book is a particularly useful reference (but not full colour) and there are two American magazines “Petroleum Collectors Monthly” and “Check the Oil” available by subscription, (all details in the further reading section at the end of this article). The photos in this website provide a useful reference and the “pump gallery” section on the www.petroliana.co.uk website has detail shots and high resolution pictures for more information.
It is important to remember the petrol companies did not make petrol pumps. There is rarely such a thing as a “Pratts” or an “Esso” pump, thus, providing the period is correct, a wide choice of colour schemes are available for the same pump. Shell and Texaco came closest to their own pumps, as they registered designs and commissioned manufacturers to make them.

STRIPPING THE PUMP
An unrestored pump is almost always found in a poor state. Rusty, damaged or missing parts and panels, corroded and seized with broken glass, faded instruction and makers plates, no hose, no nozzle and certainly no petrol company decals!!!! But all is not lost. It is important not to cause further damage at this stage and remember you are dealing with a piece of history of which you are only the current caretaker. The most vulnerable parts are any glass tubes or cylinders, and the aluminium pressed makers and instruction plates. A broken five gallon glass cylinder can be replaced but will cost about £300...be careful!
Once these parts are removed, take off any brass or alloy components. It is a good idea to take a few photos and make the odd sketch before dismantling. Now is a good stage to get the pump action unsiezed and working before deciding whether to take the easy option to strip the rust and old paint by shot blasting, or the more laborious method of chemical stripper and sanding. If shot blasting, carefully check the whole pump with a small magnet to identify any painted-over brass or alloy parts which will be damaged by shot blasting. If these pieces cannot be removed they can be securely masked with tape and sheet rubber. When the unit is returned from the shot blasters it mustn’t get damp and should immediately be given a thin coat of oxide primer to prevent surface rusting.

REPLACEMENT PARTS
Sometimes panels and parts must be replaced. Sheet metal fabricators can reproduce panels, and castings can be replicated providing you have, or can borrow a pattern. Again, if your pump had American origins, parts are available from the States (Ron Scobie I have found particularly helpful - detailed below). Don’t forget you will have to pay carriage, import duty and tax in addition to the U.S. dollar cost of the parts. As a rough guide, if you think of the dollar cost as pounds Sterling that’s about where you’ll end up.

DIALS AND NOTICES.
Whilst waiting for any replacement parts or shot blasting, this is a good time to restore any dials or instruction notices that were fixed to the pump. These plaques were usually made from pressed alloy or brass with slightly raised letters. There is an easy method to make the words or numbers legible again. Strip the paint with Nitromers chemical stripper and fine wire wool then wash thoroughly to neutralise and dry.
Spray a thin coat of aerosol gloss black without any undercoat and allow to dry. With a fine sponge sanding block remove the paint from the raised letters leaving the black paint in the recessed area. A light, thin coat of lacquer will prevent any further oxidisation and leave the plaque legible. Dials need to be treated with extreme care as the graphics are not raised. Fine wire wool can be used to remove the worst of the oxidisation but be careful not to remove the paint. If you do need to touch up any paint, use it as thinly as possible and match the gloss level before starting.

GLASS
The visible pumps used glass cylinders of various sizes. Usually they were one or five gallon capacity. The Theo Multiple Electric pump from 1936 used a six gallon cylinder and several American pumps ten gallon glass cylinders. Do not break them as although they are replaceable they are very expensive. If the glass is coated in a brown treacle like film, this can be removed using cellulose washing thinners. When replacing the cylinders, even though you will never pump petrol, it is a good idea to cut a thin cork or rubber gasket to prevent the glass from direct contact with the steel casing

BRASSWORK
The easiest way to clean badly tarnished solid brass is to soak it first overnight in a weak acid solution, (cola is just as good but the kids complain!). Then either a wire brush on a electric rotary wheel for heavy castings, or wire wool and metal polish for more delicate items. If you don’t want to keep polishing it apply a thin coat or two of aerosol cellulose lacquer. The tip here is to avoid spraying in cold, humid conditions as this will create a bloom in the lacquer. Warm the lacquer (in a warm room or airing cupboard), borrow the wife’s hairdryer, warm the item and spray...no bloom and no wife!!

REASSEMBLY
This is the start of the good bit!! You’ve got all the parts back together and everything’s a lot cleaner. If you need new nuts and bolts do remember your pump is before metric and definitely no Phillips cross head screws or bolts! You may decide to paint your pump before reassembly or after. I’ve found it varies from pump to pump, but do save some paint as it may well get marked.

PAINTWORK
I now have something important to ask you to consider. Think about the age, style and period in which your pump existed. It’s not difficult - and in fact it becomes one of the most motivating and rewarding parts of a restoration. I dislike the use of modern two pack super shiny paint on pumps. I’ve walked around Hershey Autojumble in the States to see old restored pumps that look just like modern reproductions. It’s worth considering ordinary household paint applied by brush for an appropriate finish. I’ve even used crackle glaze effects to create atmosphere in quite ordinary pumps. Try thinning the paint to show the texture and character of the age of the pump….perfect skin may be wonderful on a 20 year old but looks stupid when you’re 70! Choice of colour scheme may at first appear daunting but I have a suggestion that I promise works, providing it needs a globe (otherwise paint it red or green!!!!). The globe needs to reflect the period but ideally also the shape of the pump. Angular pumps need square or hard shaped globes, pumps with smooth flowing lines need softer round shaped globes. The size of the globe should also be proportionate to the pump. Find the right globe and this will give you the right colour scheme for your pump.

ELECTRICS
Pumps always need rewiring. Where possible keep the original fittings but replace the cabling. Be careful when moving the pump once the cable is fed out of the bottom as the weight can easily cut the
cable.

DECALS
Almost every brand of petrol is available as a replacement reproduction vinyl sticker. I dislike them personally, although they are widely used on pumps. A far better effect is created by using a vinyl stencil and spraying with thin paint, as this can then be faded and distressed to create a more realistic look. These vinyl stencils can be created quickly and cheaply by signwriters with suitable
artwork.

GLOBES
A great globe on a pump really makes it. It comes as a shock to find that the globe can cost more than the unrestored pump. Reproduction glass globes can be purchased for under £100 and they are in fact quite good if the real thing is out of budget, (see appendix for address). If you intend to use the pump anywhere outside near public access never use an original globe as they get broken or stolen in most locations.

PRESERVATION
Damp, badly ventilated locations quickly reverse any restoration. Ideally a dehumidified dry environment is best. Avoid storing your pumps in the bedroom though as people will think you’re odd and they’re hard to get upstairs (unless you live in a bungalow!).
 

 

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