The vast majority of all hog oilers produced in the U.S. originated in the Midwest. But nearly 80 years after production ended, there's a strong contingent of the barnyard collectible in sunny Florida. Several hog oiler collectors attended Pioneer Park Days at Zolfo Springs in March.
Don and Mary Baxter are from Alva, near LaBelle on the Caloosahatchee River. They've been collecting oilers since they saw their first one 14 years ago. Their hog oilers are always sheltered, occupying places of honor on porches at the couple's home. When the Baxters take their collection to a show, it's a major job.
"They're heavy," Mary said. "I appreciate my husband lifting them for me."
B.Z. Cashman, a collector from Mayo, near Live Oak on the Suwannee River, agreed.
"Hog oilers get heavier every year," he said.
B.Z. has been collecting since 1974, and has a grand total of 40. The size of the collection has forced him to diversify when he attends shows.
"It's based on quality, not quantity," he said. "I only brought seven to this show."
Sheila and Chris Carson, the southern-most hog oiler collectors at Zolfo Springs, trekked all the way from Key Largo in the Florida Keys. Sheila said her collection resulted from her daughter's affection for pigs. The result? A mother-daughter collection of pig-related historical items, especially hog oilers.
Both Sheila and Dahlia, 14, enjoy restoring and showing their cast iron rarities. And they've come up with another connection to their hobby: While doing genealogical research, Sheila discovered that her family tree includes successful hog farmers in England and Michigan. And one of her relatives is recovering from open heart surgery, in which he received a heart valve from a pig.
"Where," Sheila asked, "would we be without pigs?"
Judy Rock, from Gibsonton (north of Sarasota), collects hog oilers with her grandson, Alex, 9. The collection started about 15 years ago, as an addition to Judy's other collections (including her "giant's ring collection": her father was a "giant" with the Ringling Brothers Circus). Alex, who also performs in the circus, has great pride in his grandmother's collections, and loves to explain how hog oilers worked.
Shirley Herlihy is from Jupiter (close to the Loxahatchee River north of West Palm Beach). Her collection – which now numbers 65 different oilers – started in the 1980s. "My husband was dragging me farther and farther out West on our vacations to search for flywheel engines," she said. "So I decided I needed a hobby that didn't require a spark plug or an ignitor. I saw my first ones at Portland, and they intrigued me because they were unique and unusual. Now it is just like that first potato chip: you can't have just one!" FC
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