Category Archives: Motoring

Clocking Out: Automotive Dealership Neon Clock, ca. 1940s

At Dorset Finds, we have one philosophy: The only thing better than an extra-large vintage clock is an extra-large vintage clock that lights up! (Come to think of it, we also subscribe to the philosophies that he who hesitates is lost, and there is never an occasion where three-quarter-length pants are appropriate.)

This timepiece, which dates from the late 1940s–early 1950s was likely manufactured by Neon Products, Inc. of Lima, Ohio.

In the 1930s, the Ohio-based advertising sign maker ArtKraft adopted a technique (innovated by the Claude Neon Company, in France) of bending colored tubes of glass and filling them with light. ArtKraft grew rapidly, and with increased demand, a couple of its tube-benders started their own operation, Neon Products, Inc. Neon Products went on to produce pieces for clients such as RCA, Dr. Pepper and Zenith. In addition to creating signs, the company also introduced lines of neon clocks.

This find, measuring 22 inches across, originally hung in John Howard’s Car Store in Somerset, Penn., and was given an update in 1980 when it received a hand-painted addition to the center of the clock face. Other than that, its features remain original and unadulterated. Best of all, the neon is unbroken and the clock keeps good time.

Special thanks to Jeff at Let There Be Neon in New York for his neon clock expertise.

The L Word: Buddy “L” Dump Truck, ca. 1940s

It’s said that condition is everything, and Dorset Finds has to concur. That’s not to say, however, that good condition is everything.

Yes, there is certainly value in having a collectible toy in pristine, unplayed condition, and we certainly don’t want to detract from such extraordinary finds. But, isn’t there also a heightened significance in possessing the same item that was enjoyed and destroyed for decades, all under the context of play? What value do we place on jumping a three-foot dirt pile, Dukes of Hazzard-style, with Teddy still in the dump compartment? What worth can be found in surviving the ride all the way down the driveway, across the street and into the front yard of your neighbor?

The Moline Pressed Steel Company was started in 1910 by Fred A. Lundahl and manufactured steel parts for the automotive industry, such as International Harvester Company. Recognizing the need for a durable toy truck that could take all the batterings his son could deal out, Lundahl built a prototype with 18- and 20-gauge steel that he pulled out of his business’s  scrap heap. Buddy L was born in 1921 and focused on boys’ toys such as fire trucks, cars, trains, construction equipment and dump trucks.

The 22-inch model pictured is a true survivor. Despite heavy play, the axles are straight, the wheels spin and, structurally, the piece is solid.

Nicely played, Buddy L.

The Bog of War: WWII Military Jeep Pump, ca. 1940s

With U.S. military jeeps playing a significant role in transporting troops across all manner of unforgiving landscapes during the second World War, it’s no surprise that each jeep was fitted out like a mobile Swiss Army Knife. Reliability wasn’t just a preference, it was a necessity, which is why each jeep had its own pump concealed behind a seat.

This example was manufactured in 1942 by Circle N and retains its original brass air chuck nozzle. The army green paint on both the wood handle and steel shaft is bright and the pump works just fine.

I may not have a jeep tire to pump up but this will do just as nicely on the superbly distressed Hawthorne I recently picked up.

Dirty Dozen: Mid-Continent Petroleum Sign, ca. 1920s

The Mid-Continent Petroleum Corporation was established in 1918 and the Tulsa, OK offices became the company’s headquarters in 1925. In 1933, D-X gasoline was introduced and service stations were branded with, “Diamond Gasoline Motor Oil”. Throughout the 1980s and 90s their network of stations were again re-branded as the familiar, Sunoco.

This twelve foot long sign is one that hung outside the Tulsa, OK headquarters for a couple of decades before being removed in the 1950s when Mid-Continent merged with Sunray Oils. The story goes that after this, the sign was stored for more than fifty years in the rafters of one of the company’s Oklahoma plants. With the rise in collectibilty of gas and petrol related items over the last decade, the provenance surrounding this piece is fascinating and raises the question of what else could be out there just waiting to be discovered.

The sign itself is steel with gold-leaf lettering, surrounded by a solid wood frame. Some of the lettering, especially around the word, “petroleum” has faded with time but overall, this historic gas collectible is in excellent condition.

You See Your Gypsy: American Motorcycle Association Badge, ca. 1950s

Established in 1924, the American Motorcycle Association took over and broadened the “Gypsy Tours” that had previously been run by the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association. These were organized club rides designed to encourage camaraderie between riders and to demonstrate to the public the benefits of the motorcycle as an effective mode of transportation.

At Dorset Finds we reckon if you gots it, flaunt it. And in the case of these bike enthusiasts, they had it in spades. These mid-century motorcycles (and related gear) were kick-ass. An attitude and sense of rebellion was intrinsic to the riding culture of this era, but also a genuine sense of freedom that came from riding the country’s network of roads.

This tin 1957 Gypsy Tour badge is in great original condition and just over 3″ long. Your parking lot circle-work may begin now.


Like A Motorway: Tether Toy Cars, ca. 1940s

Anyone who enjoys the hunt as I do knows that the more you look, the more you understand how little you know.

While in California recently I picked up these three locally manufactured, cast aluminum racing cars. To my eyes, the appeal came from the fact that they were clearly 1930’s – ’40s, very heavy and more or less intact despite obvious play wear.

What I didn’t realize is that in the ’30s/’40’s there was an underground movement of several hundred miniature car racing clubs that put these cars head to head. Each car had a finely tuned, hand-built motor which ran on gas! These cars were run in closed off parking lots (tethered to a pole and timed as they went around) and at 220 ft. race tracks, traveling at speeds upwards of 150mph. Blimey!

Later I found out that back in the ’40s these customized cars sold for $40 – $50. Clearly, not toys at all…

Indian Giver: Indian Motorcycle Advertising Sign, ca. 1930s

I’m not a motorcycle guy per se but Indian motorcycles are an iconic name in motoring history as well as being timeless pieces of Americana.

Indian made bikes from 1901 to 1953 and in the 1910s, they were the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.

The 3′ x 2′ steel sign would have hung in a garage or dealer from approximately the 1930s. Despite the condition issues (some pitting and some surface rust) it was found in good overall shape. The heavy gauge steel is straight as an arrow and the factory drilled screw holes are clear.