Service stations played a big part in our young lives. I didn’t rush right out to get my license: I turned 16 on March 24, but didn’t take my test until a hot summer day when, after acing the written test and doing OK on the driving part, I bumped a pylon while parallel parking.
That was usually an automatic failure, but the examiner took one look at the sweat pouring off me, then at the 29-foot-long, 17-foot-wide 1959 Buick LaSabre station wagon with power nothing and said, “Kid, in this car, that’s close enough. You pass.”
Because I was working at The Jackson Pioneer and The Missourian, I was making good money for a high school or college kid, and I didn’t sweat pulling into the pump and saying, “Fill it with high test.”
Pretty amazing in these days of pump-it-yourself that you’d ding the bell pulling into the station and one to three guys would come running out to fill your tank, check your oil, air up your tires and even vacuum the interior, all at no charge.
Click on the links to see more photos and the original stories with a lot more details and comments.
I usually hit the Star Service Station
The Star station at the corner of Broadway and Frederick got most of my business. It was right across the street from Nowell’s Camera Shop, and in the vicinity of where Wife-to-Be Lila worked at the Rialto, with Tony’s Pizza Parlor across from her and The Missourian down a few blocks. That was pretty much my whole life right there.
Thoni’s had the cheapest gas
Thoni’s Oil Company, out on South Kingshighway, almost always had the cheapest gas around – as low as 19.9 cents during one price war – but I bought into the rumors that the gas might be “watered.” It probably wasn’t, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance.
You’d never know there was a station there today.
Back in 1952, the fact that Richard Thoni FLEW into Cape from Nashville for the opening of the gas station and then FLEW back on the same day attracted as much interest in The Missourian as the new business.
Most had mechanics
Most of the stations had one or two bays where they could do minor and major repair work, including putting on tire chains when the roads were bad.
Reader’s Digest was full of stories about scams motorists had to watch out for on the highways. Unscrupulous mechanics would slice hoses while they were pretending to check fluid levels; others would spray oil on hot engine parts so frightening smoke would billow out from under the hood.
There might have been some bad mechanics in Cape, but I think they were essentially honest.
32¢ Gas; 29¢ Smokes
The Bonded Station in Athens was the Ohio equivalent of the Star Station in Cape. It was just down the road from the photo department and the guys who worked there were friendly.
Since we both worked long, late hours, I spent a lot of time in there kibitzing and catching up on local gossip that might turn into a story.
Scott City fire
A fire down at the service station is the big news of the day when you live in a small town. Just about everybody in Scott City must have turned out to inspect, analyze and speculate about what happened.
A reader said she thought it might have been the Saveway Gas Station, but the negative sleeves didn’t say.
Pete Koch’s Sinclair
Pete Koch’s Sinclair station showed up in the background of photos taken when a 700-pound tire broke off a city motorgrader and went rolling down Broadway until it bounced off Mrs. Diane Kincaid’s car.
Lynn Latimore with ’55 Ford Fairlane
Lynn Latimore, who was also photographed at the Star station, is leaning on what readers said was a 1955 Ford Fairlane. He was at a Shell station on North Kingshighway.
Readers filled in lots of detail about the neighborhood where it was taken, Lynn, and cars in general.
First car: 1904; first crash: 1910
I did a piece in 2010 about Cape’s early car history. It was filled with all kinds of interesting (to me) factoids. You can read more by following the link.
- First car theft: Oct. 21, 1905. Vince Chapman left the car in front of the Broadway Mercantile Co. “Manufacturers apparently thought there was about as much temptation for the predatory criminal to steal an automobile as to steal a box car or a steamboat and had not provided locks.” There is no indication that the car was recovered. It is estimated that there were perhaps 20 cars in Cape at this time.
- Fastest time Cape to Jackson: July 9, 1906, Joe Wilson drove the 10 miles from Cape to Jackson in a record time of 25 minutes, “probably the shortest time in which had ever been transversed up to that time.”
- First Tin Lizzie: George McBride brought the first “Henry” into Cape in May of 1909.
- First garage: A.J. Vogel opened the first garage on Jan. 10, 1910. It had a show room big enough to hold six cars, a washing and cleaning shop and a repair shop.
- First auto license tax: Dec. 6, 1909. $5.
- First Missourian auto ad: Oct. 15, 1909. A.J. Vogel, a farm machinery salesman and experienced mechanic placed a 4-inch single column ad: “The Vogel Motor Car Co., 419 Broadway, will be ready for business in 10 days. Come and see us.”
- First auto crash: July 21, 1910. Esaw Hendrickson, a Delta farmer, got off a street car betwen the H&H Building and the Idan-Ha Hotel and stepped in front of a car driven by City Councilman Joe T. Wilson. He was knocked down and run over, but his injuries were not serious.
- First auto vs bicycle: the day after Mr. Hendrickson’s accident, a car driven by R.B. Oliver, Jr., and a bicycle ridden by Fred Frenzel, a Western Union messenger boy, collided at the corner of Broadway and Spanish. “The boy was not hurt much, but his brand-new wheel was demolished.”
- First funeral procession: Oct. 30, 1916, when the body of Charles E. Booth, a Frisco fireman, was laid to rest. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and the Odd Fellows asked Booth’s friends to bring automobiles for the funeral procession.