For decades, sixth generation Tampa resident Clyde Darville traveled with his father to swap meets, flea markets and car shows, collecting and collecting.
The automotive machine shop he and his father Walter Darville opened in 1973 at S Howard Avenue and W Cypress Street in Tampa became like a museum of old gas station pumps, porcelain signs for defunct cigarette brands and motor oil, soda machines and antique machinery. Anything that seemed cool to guys who spent their time rebuilding engine parts.
Most of it came to them for a few dollars, or for free. A TV reporter came by in the mid-'90s and shot six news segments there, telling viewers they just had to see it.
Lightning sparked a fire at 3-D Service in 2000, destroying the shop and much of the collection. They reopened in Ybor City, about a mile east on Seventh Avenue from the Columbia restaurant, and stuffed what was left into storage containers out back where it has remained for nearly 17 years.
On Saturday, it will all see daylight again and go up for auction — absolute auction — which means they'll accept whatever price is offered, no matter how low it is, said John Harris of Harris Auctions.
"We started collecting way before American Pickers was on TV, which is when everybody got into this stuff," Clyde Darville, now 70, said. "I lost the bug for collecting years ago, but I went to a flea market the other day. I realized, there's really nothing left to find. All the signs you see for sale now are replicas."
Not the ones up for auction on Saturday. There will be authentic, vintage porcelain signs for Shell, Gulf, Phillips and Conoco, as well as less recognizable gasoline such as Crown and Lion. There will be coin operated scales, huge anvils, parking meters and a sign advertising a $500 fine for spitting on the New York Subway platform, Clyde Darville said.
There are a pair of stoplights that came from Madison, Florida, that are so old, they only feature two lights: red and green.
"This stuff really needs to be out where people can see it," Clyde Darville said.
The most intriguing items up for auction, however, might be what Clyde Darville claims are the remaining pieces of one of the iconic minarets from the Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa.
"When they replaced the minarets that were up there with stainless steel ones in 1991, they used the old ones as templates," Clyde Darville said. "Someone I knew had some of them, and they were just going to throw them out. They ended up giving them to me."
Photo via Clyde Darville
He restored one of those minarets and recently installed it atop the boat dock behind his new house on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, just south of the W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard bridge.
The pieces of the other one, which he says can be restored by the right sheet metal worker, will be among the items up for auction.
There will be more than 100 items there, although Clyde Darville said he's not sure how many total because the number keeps growing. His father, who died in 2015 at age 91, started as a machinist in Tampa in 1946 after returning home from World War II, but he'd been collecting since even before then.
"I was just in my dad's garage the other day and I found four more boxes of stuff I didn't even know he'd stashed away," Clyde Darville said.