Van Iderstine, nostalgic for the golden days of full-service gas stations, builds his ideal version
Kent Van Iderstine is not shy about his gasoline addiction.
The side door of his Cochrane garage is open to receive the warm, fall, afternoon sunshine, but a security pin pad inside — armed nightly — along with motion sensors and cameras, indicates the regard he holds for his collection.
Van Iderstine is self-employed in the oil and gas industry. And more than work with all things petrol, he also collected paraphernalia — or petroliana — for ten years.
“I truly enjoy being around this stuff,” Van Iderstine says.
His garage is pristine. The countertops are free of the tool clutter inherent in a mechanic’s workspace. And the floor— with checker-flag pattern — is clear of oil stains — polished and waxed to a shine.
Shelves occupying the walls hold hundreds of vintage gas cans, most of which appear in mint condition.
There are dozens of hanging service station signs, two gasoline pumps, an air pump and — his most precious item — a ’68 Shelby Cobra.
The snake pit
“It started when I bought the car. It was in the body shop for two years,” Van Iderstine says. “I was sitting around with nothing to do, so I thought I would jazz up the garage for when the car gets home.”
The Cobra — with an electric-blue paint-job, chrome accents and white racing stripes — is the catalyst for the garage’s nickname as “The Snake Pit”.
Van Iderstine’s partner, Teresa Gastel, instead refers to the space as “the money pit”. She says, “He would hate to hear me say such a thing. But it is.”
Van Iderstine says, “It’s small compared to a lot of collections, but it’s good quality stuff.”
His collection is not restricted to the garage. He has gas cans, which do not fit in the space, stored upstairs in the couple’s home — three times as many cans as displayed in the garage.
His “small” collection also prevents his partner, Gastel, from accessing the space. “I can’t even park in there,” she says.
Gastel runs an aesthetician studio in the basement of their home. “The only thing I collect is Swarovski crystals and they don’t take up too much space,” she says.
Van Iderstine’s collection represents hours of hard work searching — most of which he does online — and thousands of dollars. “I suppose it’s somewhat of an investment, but I dread the day I would have to turn it in for cash,” he says.
“I’d much rather invest in this stuff than an RRSP.”
In a corner of the garage, he has set-up a computer and office workstation for his business, Wellpro Production Services Ltd — a gas processing plant. On the screen is an eBay auction he is “watching” for another collectible.
His eyes dart to the screen and he does not stray too far, or for too long, from the monitor.
Gastel accepts Van Iderstine’s passion.
“People would look at that stuff as junk, but I didn’t realize how big that kind of collecting is,” she says. “As long as he is happy then I’m fine.”
For the love of petroliana
On one shelf, near the door, Van Iderstine has half a dozen cans from the turn of the century. For non-collector’s they may appear as dented, dirty and cheap.
A few of these cans date back to 1915 and were carried for practical value — some were even designed to fit under the front seat of specific vehicles like Ford’s Model-T.
“Back then, you always had to carry oil,” he says. “You run out of oil and you blow up your engine.”
His interest in oil and gas, and automobiles began as a youth in Nachshon, P.E.I.
He grew up next to a service station and watched the mechanics fix their cars. Van Iderstine says, “It was a great place to hang out.”
The space Van Iderstine has created in his garage could be considered a showroom, or mausoleum to his love of petroliana.
A place for nostalgia
The garage is an area of nostalgia. “Back in the day, it was really service oriented,” he says.
“You go to a gas station and people would come out and wash your windshield, check the air in your tires and check your oil. Now, you’re lucky if anyone even acknowledges you’re there.”
Calgarians are hard pressed to find the kind of service station Van Iderstine is referring to. And many city stations listed on Google search as full service no longer are.
Still listed, and offering, full-service in the city are Co-op gas stations. On the highway out to Cochrane, one such station exists in Rocky Ridge. And for employees Christie Kloepper, 16 and Darcy Gibbs, 19, the service is available, but taken for granted.
“The winter is horrid,” Gibbs says. “You can’t get yourself warm and you still get customers who treat you like crap.”
There is still a high demand for full-service. “We’re usually very busy, “Gibbs says, “— especially on a long weekend.”
Gibbs takes an opportunity during a rare lull in customers to smoke a cigarette. These service employees say they began work at Co-op stations because of the proximity to their homes. But they remain for the paycheques — to put themselves through school.
Passion runs deep
Van Iderstine’s passion for oil and gas extends deeper than just his career. “I haven’t missed a day of work in thirty years,” he says.
But he was forced to take some time off when he broke his heel. “I just bought a truck and I was tooling it up when I missed the bottom step,” he says.
Van Iderstine never misses a day in his garage. “It’s a great hobby; it’s a huge hobby,” he says,
“There’s a lot of people who are interested. “
Often, he will have local residents from his community stop by to look at his collection. “A lot of people remember this stuff. It attracts a lot of attention. When the door is open, people stop by. Kids are amazed by some of this stuff.”