H) Gas Stations

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                                                                     " FILL IT UP and  Check the OIL"

                                              Service Stations in the ‘50s and ‘60s

by Larry G. Clark

The service station of the 1050s and 1060s was a cultural icon.  It made possible geographic mobility and freedom.  It established a cultural morality of friendliness and cleanliness and displayed values of honesty, quality and service.   The modern day gas station has substituted fast-filling stations for past personal service stations. I saw the advantages of these earlier stations as a child during extended family trips.  One of the good things about our road trips was the stops for gasoline.  I say “good” because that was the only time for a bathroom break. Mother would insist that we stop at either a Shell or Texaco service station because they had registered, clean restrooms.

When we pulled into the station, the ding-ding of the station bell would sound our arrival. An attendant would sprint out to the car wearing a military-style uniform, including a matching hat, with the station’s insignia on the jacket’s breast pocket.  That pocket had a pen and a tire gauge clipped to it. My father would say “fill it up and check the oil”, and the attendant would turn a small crank on the side of a tall, visible-register pump to reset the gallons and the price from the last customer back to zero. The gasoline pump had a front-mounted tele-gauge.  This was a small glass crucible with a center-mounted spinner inside the glass that visibly indicated the flow of the gasoline into the car.  As the fuel flowed from the pump and traveled through the glass a small fan-like spinner twirled. A bell would ding every few seconds while gas was pumped  through the line. Many gasoline pumps had an illuminated glass globe mounted on top of the pump to help identify gasoline brands.  My favorite globe was the clam shell denoting the Shell Oil Company.

Most stations sold “regular” gas (for 23 cents per gallon) or “premium” (100 octane) for better engine performance.  In those days gasoline contained tetraethyl lead, a compound to help impede engine knock for low compression motors. To check the oil, the attendant would raise the hood, or bonnet, pull out the oil dipstick, wipe it clean with a red shop cloth, replace the dipstick, pull it out again then show it to my Dad to get final instructions. As part of the service our tires were checked for proper air pressure and the radiator was inspected for fluid.  Our windshields were hand-washed with a window cleaner spray and paper towels from the dispenser kept on the island post that upheld the canopy covering the pumps.

Lubricating oil was dispensed from a lubester and stored in quart-capacity glass bottles with a straight metal spout and placed in a rack of eight.  Factory-sealed oil cans were also sold and on display at the gasoline pump island. Tires neatly arranged on a holder were placed in front of the porcelain enamel station. Stations offered travelers free road maps and free promotional items such a glass water tumblers, S & H Green Stamps and other items given with each fill-up.


Before leaving the station, Mother would buy me a bottle of cold NEHI orange pop from a chest-style cooler.  Mom preferred Coca-Cola.  Dad, well, he had coffee, which he always carried in his silver metal thermos with a red plastic cup.  

As I think back on my life, growing up in the 1950s seeing the changes that have taken place today, I stop to ponder the pace and complexity of life and I realize that these simple reminiscences have become more important to me.

I have fond memories as a young child traveling on the two-lane highway of Interstate 99 and the Columbia Gorge Highway to my grandparent’s farm in Eastern Oregon. We would leave Albany early in the morning in our 1948 battleship gray Kaiser sedan. It was a given that our used car would break down somewhere on our way.  My father never seemed to worry about it though. Dad always said “Truckers are professional drivers. They’ll stop to lend a helping hand”.

Truck drivers made the roads safe and secure. Whenever my father came across a truck on the two-lane highway, the drivers would always flash their tail lights when it was safe to pass.

It would be nightfall before we arrived at my grandparents’ farm.  But no matter what the road visibility was, Dad always remarked that the best highway improvements back then were the painted fog lines on the shoulder of the road.

Oh, how I yearn for the happy times of the 1950s, when times were simpler and life wasn’t so hectic.  It was a time in this country when people did an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.  A time when a handshake meant something and people cared about people.  Life wasn’t so harried and the pace was slower.  And service stations helped make travel a little easier.                                                 


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  GAS FOR LESS was one of thirteen gas                                  The Texaco service station which was on  

  stations throughout Toledo Oregon before the                       Main Street in Toledo next to the Court House.

  Highway 20 by-pass rerouted traffic around

    Toledo. The new by-pass had unexpected 

  consequences for Toledo merchants.

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                                                   S & K Automotive which was at the end of Main Street in Toledo


The following photos are of vintage service stations throughout the U.S.


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