Five-star garage

These Eugene homeowners showcase a museum-like collection of vintage cars and petroliana in 1950s diner ambiance.

Published: (Thursday, Aug 25, 2011 11:26AM) Today

If you happen to drive through Rod and Ruby’s quiet Coburg Road-area neighborhood, chances are you’ll pass by their showroom garage without a second thought. Unless, maybe, it’s a sunny day when Rod has the door open and a couple of his old cars displayed in the driveway.

But even then, you’ll catch just a glimpse of a collection that must be seen to be believed.

Rod and Ruby, who prefer not to share their last name here, twice have added onto their 2,400-square-foot house — growing their total garage space to about 1,600 square feet — to stylishly store their cache of vintage cars, antique gas pumps and signs, toy cars, 1950s diner accoutrements and much more.

“People sometimes slow down when they go by and try to see in,” Rod says. “The garage is really unusual in that people driving by have no idea how far back it goes. You can’t tell from the street, and I like that.”

But if you’re lucky enough to be invited in for a tour, your senses will experience a colorful, neon-tinged, Americana-infused blast from the past the likes of which is rarely seen at a private home.

Automotive passion reignited

It all starts with the classic cars, which Rod and Ruby started accumulating when they bought a 1931 Ford Model A deluxe coupe in 1998.

The collecting picked up speed after Rod retired from a career in custom furniture making in 2006. In the years since, they’ve acquired a 1922 Ford Model T speedster; a 1937 Ford slant-back sedan; a 1957 Ford Thunderbird; and two Volkswagen chassis-based kit cars, a 1931 Alpha Romeo “Monza” racer and a 1934 Frazer-Nash.

“I’ve always been into hot rods ever since I was a kid,” Rod says, “but as you’re growing up and working, that interest kind of disappears. After we got the Model A we really got back into it.”

Rod has restored and refinished the cars to varying degrees. Some, like the ’37 Ford, already were in fine original or restored shape.

“I bought this pretty much in the condition it’s in. It’s the straightest body I’ve ever seen; there’s not a ripple in it,” he says of the black sedan.

Others,like the speedster, required a complete frame-off restoration. Rod rebuilt that car and painted it bright yellow, perfect for tooling around Eugene on Duck football game days with green “O” magnetic signs affixed to the side.

He drives each car often, eschewing the mindset of collectors who let prized vehicles sit for months at a time. “I drive pretty much all of them almost every day when it’s not raining,” Rod says. “I subscribe to the thought that they need to be moving, not sitting. Seals go out, everything goes bad if you don’t drive them.”

With the exception of one car that has an elevated perch atop a pneumatic lift, near the garage’s main work area on the back wall, all the vehicles rest on a black-and-white floor made of nonporous plastic RaceDeck tiles. The cleanable surface makes it easy for Rod to wipe up the grease and gas that inevitably drips from old cars.

The checkerboard pattern also is a visual starting point for an automotive motif finished off by the collections that extend from floor to ceiling throughout the meticulous, museum-like garage.

High-octane collecting

Petroliana, or antiques and collectibles related to gas stations and the oil business, are the driving decorating element here. Rod has covered the walls with hundreds of gas signs, thermometers and other forms of fuel-related advertising.

The automotive motif rolls on with working streetlights and wait/walk pedestrian lights, historic license plates, street signs, old oil cans and a service station’s air meter from years gone by.

Standing here and there are brightcolored historic gas pumps that include a rare, early-1900s curbside pump and several 1920s-era “visible” pumps with glass cylinders at the top for measuring gas quantities by sight. Others, which span the glory days of service-station culture through about 1960, include “clock-face” and early “computer” models that measured the amount of gas pumped and calculated the sale price.

Rod has traveled throughout the West to purchase the pumps, most of which he has cosmetically restored.

“Most of them I’ve gutted, because I don’t want gasoline in here,” he says. “I’ve got enough gas in here with the cars. These things are known to leak when they’re that old, and if you’ve ever smelled gas that comes out of one after 60 or 70 years ... it’s really bad.”

While the pumps are authentic, most of the globes, or the lighted glass fixtures at the top, are modern facsimiles. “The original globes are very expensive,” Rod says. “They go from $300 or $400 on up to about you name it. It’s gotten to be a problem for the people who collect original globes because you can’t hardly differentiate them from good reproductions.”

Nor is Rod a purist when it comes to genuine antique gas signs, which also are widely sought, increasingly expensive collectibles.

“I have some original signs, but they’re mixed in with reproductions. I know the difference,” he says, “but most people don’t. So why buy the original? I’m not into it for that kind of money.”

There are too many other things to collect, after all. Just in the years since he retired in 2006 and expanded the garage, Rod and Ruby have gathered the smorgasbord of other treasures they now have displayed.

A few highlights include the complete Hallmark Kiddie Car Classics series and other model cars shown off in custom-built red and white cabinets; a lighted menu sign from an A&W drive-in; an old jukebox, popcorn machine and drive-in movie theater speaker stand; and a soda fountain wall unit Rod built to display three vintage bar stools and a variety of Coca-Cola collectibles.

The time-warped space has become the favored hangout for Rod and Ruby along with their son, grandson and guests. “We’re out here all the time,” Rod says on a recent morning as the jukebox pumps out oldies and he looks for a spot to hang a big Coca-Cola sign he and Ruby just scored at a Lincoln City antique store.

“There’s always something out there that follows us home,” Rod jokes as he describes his and Ruby’s frequent antiquing forays.

And they always know they’re back home when they hear the “ding-ding” of a cable-activated service bell that marks their reentry into the garage — and their passage back in time.


Staff writer Joel Gorthy can be contacted at


Collin Andrew (photographer)                                                                                                                       SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOS

Checkerboard-pattern floor tiles make it easy to clean up fluid drips and form the visual foundation for automotive and 1950s diner themes that carry through the 1,600 square feet of garage space.

Prized gas pumps on display include examples from about 1900 to 1960, most adorned with reproduction lighted globes.

This cavernous addition behind their original garage allowed Eugene homeowners Rod and Ruby to display their automotive collection in grand style.