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In November 2014, we received a visit from a local antiques dealer. The dealer had recently acquired a set of vintage porcelain enameled channel letters reading “GULF.” The letters were typical letter type sign, usually roof mounted to Gulf Oil filling stations in the 1930’s and 40’s. At first blush, the metal letters were intact. Nearly all of the neon tubing that had originally outlined the face of each letter was missing. Upon further inspection it became obvious Father Time had taken its toll on the metal returns, backs, faces and support steel. The decay in two of the four 24” high letters was minimal however the remaining two required substantial patching and structural support. The repair work was done on the inside of each letter to preserve the original outward appearances.


After removing the bird’s nests, bee hives and piles of rust we were curious to see how the original neon transformers had held up over the past three quarters of a century. Each letter contained its own 5,000 volt, 30 milliamp transformer. The transformers were manufactured by the “Acme Luminous Tube Transformer Company.” The year of manufacture was 1936. Two of the transformers still worked!

We traced the outline of each letter on to pattern paper and hand drew the neon letter patterns. Using 15mm clear glass pumped red with neon gas we completed the restoration. After seventy eight years the sign that once served as a beacon to weary travelers in search of fossil fuel had been brought back to life. Today the four letter vintage sign is proudly displayed along with other vintage signs and automobiles in a local collector’s showroom located in suburban Philadelphia.

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