Rushville Republican

August 20, 2013

Gas stations used to be service stations

By Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

---- — Recently, I figured out that if the gas gauge on my truck said EMPTY it was pretty much time to find a gas station. So I went to town, went into what I call the Concession Stand to prepay as I preferred to use that old-fashioned item cash. After paying and small talk I went back to the pump, took the gas cap off, and chose the correct octane. I also inwardly smiled at the price thinking of the time in my life when the cost per gallon was what was after the 3 on the pump. I then dutifully pumped the required amount of fuel into my tank and was surprised when I saw the gas gauge that it had not moved as much as I had hoped.

If my windows needed washing I was the one to do it. If I needed to check the oil, again up to me. How about the tire pressure? You know everyone in the know says that is important to gas mileage. Yep, once again up to you.

This brought back memories of the summer that I worked for my cousin Bill Caldwell at his Sinclair Station at Eighth and Main. Bill was an individual who was extremely persnickety about how things were to be done. He pumped gas, changed oil, greased the car, washed (by hand) the car and did minor mechanical work. There were usually two people there: Bill and someone like me. I was the one denoted to pump the gas when required while Bill did the major work needed on his customer’s vehicles. If the ringer said there was a car at the pump I was the one to go and do my thing.

For each car that came in I would ask what octane, Ethyl or Regular? Then I would start the pump because usually they would want it filled up. While pumping I would wash the windshield, check the tire pressure and oil status and anything else the customer might like checked. I was to mention to the customer anything I might have noticed that needed attention, like a smooth tire. Then, if oil was needed I had to ask the customer about it and if they were wanted then I would fill up the required amount of oil. That oil came from a glass can with a metal top that was filled up each day from a 55 gallon drum of oil. I would then take the amount of cash required, go to the station and put it in the cash register. Not at all like what goes on today.

If I found myself doing the oil change and grease job I would have to wipe off the under carriage of the car I was working on after I had changed the oil and greased the joints that required grease. If you needed to have your oil changed you called and we would go out and pick up your car, bring it back to the station, do our thing and return it to you. You would get a bill in the mail; you paid it and all was well. You wanted your car washed? Great, we would again pick it up and bring it back home. Our washes included not only hand washing and drying the outside but a complete cleaning of the interior of the vehicle as well. In fact, it was very close to what one would call detailing today. It took time and a lot of effort to do the job as Bill required.

There were things available for snacks, usually candy bars, peanuts, things like that. There was a Coke machine available out front and the cost of a bottle of Coke was a dime. Of course, if you took the bottle with you there was a small bottle charge as they were reused and Bill would be billed for any empty bottles that were taken by the customers.

The restrooms were open but not necessarily available to the public unless they asked for it. In the ladies room the stalls had a nickel charge to use the toilet, which I never did fully understand. The men had condom dispensers in it as well as smelly mist to make you more available and smell nicer to your girlfriend, a full service rest room.

Of course, cigarettes and tobacco chewing products were available and fast movers.

Sinclair products from gas and oil to other magical auto elixirs to make your family auto run better and faster were available for purchase, for the youth the latter being much more important than the former.

We were always to be nice, smile and do what ever we were asked to do, no matter how stupid or unnecessary it may be. And most important of all, the customer is always right.

Bill made a good living from his station. He had numerous lifelong customers, many who had used him for decades. Bill loved to hunt and fish and when not pumping gas that was his relaxation. I loved working for Bill and learned a lot from him. He had a son, Reed, about my age and we were friends as well as relatives. Unfortunately, Reed died several years back and what a loss that was. When at the gas station I often reflect on my summer being one of those at the time many gas attendants in Rushville.