Photo credit: John Moore
Photo: Columnist John Moore uses the last full service gas station in the town where he lives.
Before he was Maverick or Jim Rockford, actor James Garner was a gas station attendant.
A buddy of his who was a soda jerk kept telling him that he was good looking enough to be an actor. But Garner wasn’t interested in being an actor.
That changed after he returned from his military service in Korea. He visited his former soda jerk buddy who was now a Hollywood casting agent. That encounter led to Garner’s career in film and television.
But Garner wasn’t the only person who worked at a gas station. In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, many an individual made their living filling up cars or trucks with regular, ethyl, or premium, and checking the pressure in the tires.
Attendants also checked under the hood to make sure the fluid levels were correct. Your oil, water, and transmission marks needed to show they were hitting right on the money to ensure your vehicle ran efficiently and to give you the assurances you wanted that your vehicle was in good running order.
The full service gas station also helped those who didn’t know how to care for their own car. Every gas station offered men who made sure that your car was good to go after a fill up, checked under the hood, and provided a complimentary and thorough windshield cleaning.
But in the early 1970s, things changed. The Oil Embargo made gas hard to find and more expensive. To reduce the cost of filling up your vehicle, “Self-Service” gas stations began popping up.
Sure, the price of fuel went down, but suddenly, the little old ladies were left to learn how to check their own oil without soiling their dress or messing up their hair.
Not everyone was happy about losing the service station attendants. Especially the service station attendants.
But after a recent trip to the grocery store in the vintage truck I inherited from my dad, my youngest son pointed out a fluid deposit on the driveway where the truck had been parked.
I didn’t know whether it was oil, transmission fluid, or what, but I did remember that Tyler, Texas, still had a full-service gas station – the last one in town.
Stewart’s Donnybrook Automotive is an Exxon station run by a couple of brothers – Gary and Dean.
Family-owned and operated service stations used to be common. Brothers, sisters, moms and dads all worked hard and learned how to do a little bit of everything.
Typically, the men were the mechanics.
Gary and Dean are some of the last of what used to be on every corner – mechanics who can find and solve a problem, and get you on your way.
I pulled up to the full-service pumps and a fella came up to the window. For the first time since Richard Nixon was president, I said, “Fill it up with premium, please. And check under the hood if you will. I’ve got a leak.”
It felt great. It felt comfortable. It made me feel like I used to when I sat in a 60 model Buick in Ashdown, Arkansas at Mr. Rosenbaum’s Esso station. Back when I was sitting next to people I loved and wish were still here.
As Gary and Dean looked for the leak and the attendant filled up the truck with premium, it felt like it used to 50 years ago when Mr. Rosenbaum filled up and checked out our LeSabre.
After the attendant filled up the tank, he came back to the driver’s window.
“Sir, your connection on your power steering hose was loose,” said the attendant. “They tightened it up and you’re all good now.”
“How much do I owe you?” I asked.
It’s $26.50 for the gas,” he said. “No charge on tightening the hose clamp. That was no trouble at all. If it leaks again, you bring it back and we will take care of it.”
I drove home smiling all the way. I had just gone back in time, and I had thoroughly enjoyed it.
Gary and Dean are nice looking guys, but I don’t expect either of them to be snatched up by a Hollywood agent for a remake of The Rockford Files.
I’m glad. If I have another power steering leak, I want them to fix it. And I really like the feeling I get when I roll down the window and say, “Fill it up with premium, please.”
©2019 John Moore
John’s book, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now, and his new book, Write of Passage Volume II, are available on Amazon and on John’s website at www.TheCountryWriter.com.