Road Maps

I've been interested in road maps and gasoline brands all my life, for reasons I have never fully understood.  I was already long the family navigator on car trips to new places by the time we moved from Brooklyn to Toledo, Ohio when I was twelve. 

During those last few weeks in New York City I remember poring over a Shell sectional map acquired at the "Reeves of Bayside" station in Queens to acquaint myself with the imminent prospect of the living in the Midwest.  Once in Ohio, I found myself quite interested in unfamiliar (at first) service station signage, such as for Sohio, Pure, Marathon and Speedway 79.  Gone from my sight were brands such as Esso and Flying A and Chevron. 

And of course we got lots of maps.  Just several months after the move, my road map interest suddenly became a  passion. It started in late November, 1959.  One crisp evening, likely on the way home from the A&P, I stopped at a Sohio station (now long gone) at Sylvania Ave. and Willys Pkwy. and asked if I could have one of each of the few maps they had.  The attendant was glad to oblige, and something about receiving that Ohio map with the colorful image of a cardinal on the cover gave me huge inner pleasure.  And it led me to several years of very intense collecting, described perhaps as "borderline fixation." 

It was a fixation which -- as these things often do -- cooled over time.  But by then I had amassed over 4000 oil company-issued road maps from a variety of sources including some few retained from my New York days, and from much traipsing to gas stations.  And there was lots of writing to oil companies, and visiting oil company tour bureaus, particularly in New York City and Chicago.  No two maps were exactly the same, taking into account different brands, editions, covers and so on.

I wound up long, long ago (perhaps in 1964?) throwing away thousands of these maps.  But I did retain my modest collection of older ones, as well as most of my foreign ones, and a limited selection of sample issues from the domestic brands.  Less than a decade later the era of the free service station road map was ending, the result of changing economics brought about by the first Oil Crisis. 

I consider the hobby now to be "semi-dormant," but I do from time to time search out older maps as I wander the countryside.  My interest isn't what it once was,  yet nothing gets the juices flowing quite in the same way as when I happen upon an old map with a cover I've never seen before in some used bookstores, flea or antique market, or other place.