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Published: Thursday, 8/21/2003

Collection retains feel of history

BY KARIN KOWALSKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It all started with beer cans.

Norm Nowak, 63, of Perrysburg, had a friend who collected beer cans. He thought, “Wow, that was pretty neat,” and began his own collection about 1971.

In 1991, Mr. Nowak and his wife, who like to shop for antiques, saw an old oil can. “Who in their right mind would save oil cans?” he thought, and then he bought it.

This passion for collecting grew over the years as he accumulated at least 100 oil cans, 20 anti-freeze cans, two gas pumps, a 1966 Mustang, a replica of a 1954 Schwinn bicycle, two oil pumps, an air pump, five pedal cars, more than 2,000 beer cans, about 20 beer trays, and about 20 tin toys.

By 1975, Mr. Nowak had to stop collecting beer cans because he had no place to put the collection. Today the cans, which are for the most part valued from $1 to $5 per can, line 20 feet of a wall in his basement from floor to ceiling.

They represent a history of canning from the 1930s when cans had cone-shaped tops and bottle caps, to flat tops that required can openers and flip-top cans like today. He also has gallon-sized beer cans.

Mr. Nowak is retired from La-Z-Boy in Monroe, but went back to work at Perrysburg Machine and Tool after the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He said he couldn't stand to just be watching television at home.

With the stock market decline, he thinks of his collection as a second retirement account. Antiques might be appreciating better than stocks, he said.

Mr. Nowak has most of his oil and gas collection displayed in the back part of his garage, which looks like an old filling station with the gas and oil pumps side-by-side. He restored the two 1950s gas pumps, now worth about $3,000 each.

He refinished the pumps and bought what was missing - signs, glass globes, and hoses. He used to keep the gas pumps and pedal cars in the family room, but he took his wife's subtle hints and moved most of his collection to the garage.

Sometimes a memory triggers the desire for an antique, Mr .Nowak said. He had a 1953 Schwinn bicycle when he was growing up, so when he saw a replica of a 1954 bicycle on sale, he had to have it.

The showpiece of his collection is the1966 Fastback Mustang. He bought it almost completely restored and finished it down to the black fuzzy dice that hang from the rearview mirror. He takes it out for rides at cruise nights at least once a week.

`The old cars are fun, but I wouldn't want to go 3,000 miles on vacation in one,” Mr. Nowak said. Mr. Nowak jokes that his wife puts up with his hobby, but Barb Nowak also likes antiques. She collects bells.



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