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Q&A with Kit Foster: September 12, 2013

Q. Regarding the battery protector washers mentioned recently, they are available as NAPA part number 730-2301.

— Gordon May Sr., Pres., Dundee Automotive Supply, East Dundee, Ill.

A. Thank you. Mr. May sent a packet of two washers, one red and one green. NAPA calls them “anti-corrosion battery washers.” The instructions, naturally, call for putting the red one on the positive terminal and the green one on the negative post. He didn’t say so, but I presume that implies they’re treated differently.


Q. As to Mr. Wieber’s bumper ad tag (Aug. 15), I think it is an early version of “Atlantic Richfield.” My dad and his brothers had a body shop at Five Corners in Rutherford, N.J., and diagonally across from the shop was an Arco gas station. If memory serves me correctly, their station’s wrecker had a similar emblem on the doors, but the station’s pole sign was more modern (late 1950s) with Flying A, red background with green border to oval edges.

— George Weisbrod, Alpine, Ala.

A. Very interesting. Atlantic Richfield was formed in 1966 by the merger of Atlantic Refining Company with the California-based Richfield Oil Corporation. Atlantic Refining had a long history on the East Coast, beginning as the Atlantic Petroleum Storage Company in 1866. John D. Rockefeller bought it in 1874 and added it to his Standard Oil empire. In 1886, the Standard Oil Trust organized into territories, and Atlantic was given an area surrounding Philadelphia, extending into Delaware and New Jersey. After the breakup of the Trust in 1911, Atlantic took over the whole states of Pennsylvania and Delaware, while Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Esso, Exxon and now ExxonMobil) took the Garden State.

What we remember as Flying A began as Tidewater Oil Company in New York City in 1887. By 1920, it was selling oil products under the Tydol name, and expanded west with the purchase of the Wisconsin-based Northwestern Oil Company in 1931. Standard Oil of New Jersey took control soon after that, until J. Paul Getty bought it in 1937. Getty merged Tidewater with the Associated Oil Company, of San Francisco, in 1938. Associated had branded their premium gasoline as “Flying A,” which became the merged companies’ primary brand name during the 1950s.

Tony Wieber’s license plate topper was made by Dura Products some time during its 1931-’45 lifespan, which seems to say that both Atlantic and Flying A are still candidates for the logo. I guess the jury is still out. Any other ideas?


Q. I have a few old gasoline company signs: Shell, Marathon, El Paso, Conoco, etc. This Conoco sign is, to me, very unusual. I have never heard of “germ processed motor oil.” Could you or one of your readers tell me if this type of motor oil was used in any other company advertising?

— Cliff Barr, Birmingham, Ala.


A. I had never heard of germ processing, either, until your letter arrived. A history of Phillips 66, previously Phillips Petroleum and which acquired the remnants of Conoco in 2002, says that in 1933 “Conoco built the Great Lakes pipeline connecting Ponca City with Chicago and funded many new products, among them the first lubricant to reduce engine friction. Conoco’s Germ-Processed Motor Oil was a hit, tested successfully against other brands in contests across Death Valley and in the Indianapolis 500.” I don’t find any other references to “germ processing,” let alone what it comprised. The tag line on your sign, however, “a Hidden Quart never drains away,” suggests that it was a super-sticky substance than stayed on engine surfaces even as it cooled down, so that bearings were well lubricated during cold startup. A 1937 Conoco ad reads: “You don’t want your engine to grind every time you start, while oil ‘comes up’ from below. Oil Plating, produced only by Conoco Germ Processed oil, never loses time ‘coming up’ because it’s already there. The patented Germ Process creates such a powerful attraction between oil and metal that the inside of your engine becomes Oil-Plated.”

So far I’ve been unable to learn just what “germ processing” is or was. Searching for patents using words brought up only more recent references. I found one citation that said the process was invented in Europe, but the internet link to which it led went nowhere. Perhaps the chemists and oil scientists among us can expand on this.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail or mail to: Q&A, c/o Angelo Van Bogart, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

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