PERRY — To walk into Rowan and Tanya Green's barn northwest of Lawrence is to step back in time.
A time, specifically, when gas stations looked like cottages with garages you could drive right into, when attendants with bow ties and hard-brimmed caps would pump the fuel for you (for 12 cents a gallon, at that), when you could buy all the Adams Gum and see-through sun visors your heart desired.
The Greens have spent the past 20 years amassing auto-related antiques from around the nation and the past five building a 1930s-style Phillips 66 service station in the barn of their country house in Perry. While they're not done with either task yet, their mini-museum is a sight to see: a slice of nostalgic Americana, a trip to the distant past.
"We wanted to house our collection in a way we could enjoy it and not have it subject to the weather," said Rowan, 56, a plain-spoken guy who speaks in a slight twang and, like his wife, works for the city of Lawrence.
Parked on both sides of the gas station's general store, in the garages, are the couple's antique automobiles: Rowan's push-button automatic 1967 Plymouth Fury and Tanya's '64 1/2 Ford Mustang convertible. If they ever need service, the Greens have most of the tools and fluids they need, right in their very own service station.
Decades of collecting
Rowan grew up a self-professed "car nut," while Tanya's collections include old egg beaters and roughly 3,000 cookbooks (she has also redecorated their kitchen to look like a 1950s diner, complete with her own "I Love Lucy"-era apron). Tanya, 51, also has a family history with gas stations, as her grandfather used to own one in North Lawrence.
After marrying, the Greens combined their interests and started attending automotive swap meets together. Since then, they've been to hundreds of flea markets and garage and going-out-of-business sales all over the country.
One day, while working by Alvamar Golf Course, Tanya found a Phillips 66 golf ball on the ground. The couple had also once gone to a swap meet on Route 66, which has many of that company's gas stations. They had their brand. They broke ground on their house and barn in 2004 and started setting up Green's Phillips 66 a few years later.
In the 1930s, gas stations were often designed to look like cottages so they could blend into the residential neighborhoods where they were located. For a Lawrence example, check out Sunfire Ceramics, 1002 New Hampshire St., a former Phillips 66 station. Rowan, a fan of the style, says he's old enough to remember seeing them.
The Greens' "store" features a bevy of vintage maps, souvenirs and candy. There are S&H Green Stamps Quick Saver Books, Auto Bingo cards, a Coca-Cola machine (10 cents a bottle), carhop trays topped with fake food, and signs for tire and battery service. The walls are covered with old-timey marketing slogans, like "Action starts with AC spark plugs" and "Have a Coke and a smile." The slightly musty smell even reminds you of an old service station. On the way out, don't forget a complementary Green's Phillips 66 pencil, which Tanya made for the station's grand opening.
The couple even have their own uniforms: beige shirts featuring their names and the mid-20th century orange-and-black Phillips 66 logo, black bow ties, even a gas station attendant's hat for Rowan.
The Greens haven't just kept the collection to themselves. They've had car clubs tour their garage and enjoy showing it off to friends and family.
"I keep telling our son his inheritance is right here — all made up for him," Tanya joked.
Not done yet
The Greens still go to 50 or more sales a year, grabbing whatever unique vintage items they think might fit in their collection.
Along the way, Tanya has accumulated enough old picnic jugs, thermoses and coolers to warrant her own room in the garage. Inside, the artificial grass, ceiling-wide picture of a cloudy blue sky and antique food-storage items make you feel ready for a picnic.
The Greens actually christened the room by having people over for an "outdoor" meal made to resemble one on the Coca-Cola sign posted on the wall. The sign, a brand new version of one that used to hang in diners a couple generations ago, was, at $425, the most expensive item in the collection; otherwise, the Greens are notorious bargain-hunters. "If we see something we've never seen before and it's not horribly out of our price range, we'll probably go ahead and get it," Tanya said. Oftentimes they get stuff for free, just for hauling it away from the previous owner's property.
The Greens' future plans include putting a painting of the sky above the gas station roof, installing a mannequin behind the counter, buying a vintage air meter ("They're a fortune," Rowan said), and restoring some old lubesters. And, of course, more antique-hunting. As Rowan says, "It's a work in progress."