For their 21st birthdays, the Merrifield twins were taken to London by their aunt and uncle. They visited the usual tourist sites, but Barbara Merrifield also did some dumpster diving.
“It was a most enjoyable trip around the countryside to Salisbury and Stonehenge,” Barbara Merrifield Collins recounted the trip in an interview with Mecum Monthly.
The trip took place in 1976, back “when you could actually touch the stones,” she remembered.
But she also remembers how she’d insist that they make frequent stops at gas stations, not because the Peugeot they were driving needed constant refilling, but because “I asked to stop at the various petrol stations to search the trash cans for any oil tins that had been discarded. I knew dad would enjoy anything I could find for his collection.”
Barbara’s dad is Robert Brooks Merrifield, and through the years dad and daughter put together a huge collection of automobilia and petroliana, or as Mecum Auctions terms it, “Road Art.”
Now in her early 60s, Barbara Brooks Merrifield is selling her half of the Mystery Motors/The Merrifield Collection during the Road Art portion of Mecum’s annual Kissimmee collector car auction at Osceola Heritage Park.
The collector car and Road Art auctions are the largest of the respective types ever held. The Mecum collector car auction started Thursday, and by the end of the sale on Saturday the 13th will have paraded 3,500 cars across the block. The Road Art sale begins Monday and will include 2,500 lots comprising nearly 4,000 items.
Road Art has become such a significant part of Mecum’s business that last year at Indianapolis and Harrisburg, and now at Kissimmee, Road Art has its own separate auction block. Here in Kissimmee, the sale is held in one of the several buildings and numerous ginormous tents that house the consignments, the auction taking place at a facility that serves as home field for the Florida Fire Frogs minor league baseball team.
Road Art takes over the main auction block Monday — an off day for the collector car sales — before moving to its own sales venue for its sales Tuesday through Saturday, with the best of the Road Art being offered on the main auction block during a one-hour period Saturday.
The Merrifield Collection will be featured on Thursday and includes signs, gas globes, toys, cans, etc.
Among the items will be a square-bodied British Petroleum gas globe that Barbara Merrifield bought at a flea market in England during the birthday trip in 1976. As it turned out, the opening for the globe’s light source was just large enough that she could fill it with those discarded oil cans she found while dumpster driving.
She displayed similar resourcefulness at an even younger age while attending a summer camp in Minnesota. She spotted several gas globes, some of them still atop their pumps, and asked the gas station attendant if they were still needed.
“They are always getting broken,” he replied. “You can have them.”
He even loaned her a screwdriver so she could remove them from the pumps.
Although she was delighted with her find, she now had to figure out how to get the globes home to her father without further damage. Her solution: She asked five of her fellow campers to carefully place globes beneath their seats on the airline flight that would take them home.
Among other the gems of the Mystery Motors collection are the globe-style flame that once topped a massive Standard Oil service station sign, a long-spout Texaco can, a Mobiloil globe with a gargoyle mascot, and more than 50 signs.
In addition to the Mystery Motors collection, several other Road Art collections are being offered at Kissimmee, including the (Richard) Petty Garage Collection that will be featured Friday.
Among the biggest attractions of the sale — literally and figuratively — is the large, derby-shaped neon sign that sat atop the famed and also derby-shaped Brown Derby Restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Hollywood. “The restaurant to the stars” was famous not only for its clientele but for the Cobb Salad created by the restaurant owner, Bob Cobb.
One additional note: Barbara Merrifield Collins’ consignment to the Road Art auction represents only half of the Mystery Motors/The Merrifield Collection. Barbara’s twin sister isn’t quite ready yet to part with her half.