Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ode to Grandpa and his Oil Can

My maternal grandfather died many years ago, but his bicycle legacy lives on through his collection of tools. Grandpa was a mechanical whiz, having worked for Shell Oil on Burlington's waterfront. Being too young, I do not recall his working years, except for the boxes of yellow Shell Oil pencils that he magically retrieved from his storage room in their home.

My wonderful memories are of my grandfather in his "retirement" as a bicycle mechanic. In a huge garage at the back of their property Grandpa amassed rooms of bicycles. Spray painted frames and wheels hung from the rafters; rows of bikes stood ready to be sold; a wheel stood at the truing stand; a wall of Maxwell House or Folgers coffee cans collected screws and bolts and washers. And the smell of oil permeated the entire place, as much from the workings of a bike shop as to the oil burner furnace that heated the garage in the winter.

I revered my grandfather. I spent countless hours perched on a red metal chair (the kind that has fold-out stairs) and watched the inner workings of his bicycle sanctum. After some time he let me hand him tools, locate screws, but mostly I watched or wandered among all the boxes of parts, fascinated with his world.

And so it was that after he went to bicycle heaven my husband and I went through his garage and collected his truing stand, wrenches, a rubber mallet that I recall him always using, but most especially his oil can - a Singer oil can - that he used to lubricate all his bikes.

It's probably my most prized memento of grandpa and I use it all the time, always with a wistful smile.

But there is another facet to this man. My grandfather was not a bicycle rider, except for testing his work. He loved the mechanics of bikes and the extra income helped out in retirement for nearly 30 years. He provided bikes for each of his grandchildren throughout their childhood.

Here is one of the last photos of grandpa (and me) at about 86 years old. He lived to be almost 90. On his gravestone there is an etching of a bicycle.


  1. What a wonderful story and such wonderful memories! I love that you also have a photo of yourself and him with a bike in the background! I'm sure your grandfather is there when ever you use his old tools ~ and the oilcan ~ and smiling.

  2. Beautiful. What a great emotion, that you "revered" him. I think I can relate. I like the part about him not being a rider. Fascinating. But makes me think there are many facets to the passions we pursue. Great story.

  3. I just found your blog. I really like this post. I also have a Grandpa oil can.

  4. beautiful. I adored my grandpa.. Both of them. Especially the one who taught me to be funnny.. to plant tomatoes.. to not suffer fools gladly. Very lovely story

  5. What a cool grandfather and what an awesome and useful memento to remember him by.

    1. Hi Ryan. I used a tiny wooden-handled ratchet screwdriver the other day, also from my grandpa. Tools hold great memories for me.

    2. I have a few tools like that from my father who I lost in 2012, its nice to have those useful items that also help us remember loved ones.


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