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Cape Central High Photos

Ken Steinhoff, Cape Girardeau Central High School Class of 1965, was a photographer for The Tiger and The Girardot, and was on the staff of The Capaha Arrow and The Sagamore at Southeast Missouri State University. He worked as a photographer / reporter (among other things) at The Jackson Pioneer and The Southeast Missourian.

Come here to see photos and read stories (mostly true) about coming of age in Southeast Missouri in the 1960s.

Please comment on the articles when you see I have left out a bit of history, forgotten a name or when your memory of a circumstance conflicts with mine. (My mother says her stories have improved now that more and more of the folks who could contradict her have died off.) Your information helps to make this a wonderful archive and may end up in book form.


Thoni's Gas Station

When I was a kid, there was a tiny building – I think it was white – at Bloomfield and Kingshighway that sold the cheapest gas in town.

The formal name was Thoni Oil Company, but everyone always called it Thoni’s, pronounced Thone-Eyes. There was a price war once where I saw the cost of gas go down to 19 cents a gallon. That’s as low as I’ve ever seen it anywhere since I got my license.

My family didn’t buy gas there, probably because my Dad had heard rumors that the gas was “watered.” On the other hand, other folks told me that they seen tankers from major oil companies making deliveries there. Who knows?

At Muny Airport

Airport news was worth a mention in the 50s. There is a column in The Missourian called At Muny Airport that reported on April 5, 1952, that Richard E. Thoni of Nashville flew here Monday in a Navion to attend to business in connection with the opening of a new filling station on Kingshighway here. He returned the same day.

The Mar. 6, 1953 Missourian dutifully reported that Richard Thoni of Nashville flew home Tuesday after attending business here in connection with his service station. He flew here Sunday in his Navion, using an automatic pilot.

There was a lawsuit filed in 1953 that said that Thoni Oil Company had 23 stations in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. The Cape stati0n didn’t merit mention.

Nothing left of Thoni’s

The 60s were pretty quiet, but The Missourian reported an armed robbery at the station Jan. 17, 1972. The bad guys got away in a stolen car with about $50. Then, in 1976, the soda machine at the station was broken into and $6 or $7 in change was taken.

The crime spree continued. On Oct. 7, 1977, The Missourian said that Charles Salvatore reported to police that a woman came into the office asking for change, and then grabbed a $10 bill from his hand and left in the company of three other persons.

I didn’t find a story that told when the station closed.

36 comments to Thoni’s Gas Station

  • Thoni’s…always the cheapest gas in town and first place you could pump your own gas. I remember Mike Friese’s dad, Carl Friese, puling the old Ford he had at the time into Thoni’s, getting out of car, grabbing the pump and “filling her up”!
    No one in those days filled up their own car. Operation of a gas pump was the sole job of your friendly service station attendant, who also checked your oil, tire pressure and washed all your windows while the car was filling. You sat in the car.
    Mr. Friese because sort of a demi-god to all the guys because HE could pump gas into his own car! In Cape Thoni’s was a Man’s service station, if you pump your own gas…and Mr. Friese taught us all that night how to turn on a pump, turn the crank to zero out the gallons and cents, get the pump hose out, open your gas tank and start PUMPING ETHEYL.
    At that time I thought it was the first big step into true manhood. I was about 10 or 11 at the time…

  • stephen cotner

    there was a thoni’s on south braodway in st.louis missouri..up until the late 70’s

  • Jennie Myers

    My family lost a 18 month old little girl in a tragic car accident at that intersection Bloomfield & Kingshighway before they put up well needed controversial traffic signals in the 70’s. I think there was a Eagle stamp catalog store there. I remember Thoni’s.

  • Dennis Hente

    I remember well “Thoni’s racing fuel”. I could get $3.00 in gas and cruise Broadway all night long and still have some left in the tank.MY old ’57 Chevy ran a lot of Thoni’s gas through it and never had any problems. I used to pull next to the outside pumps just make the guy have to walk all that way, dirty of me, right.

    • Dennis,

      Yeah, those were great days. You could pull up and say, “Give me a buck’s worth” and cruise all evening.

      I’m trying to remember if gas pump bells dinged on the gallon or the dollar. I think it was the dollar.

  • Lyndel Revelle

    I remember the old “Thoni’s” station and I heard about the “Watered” down gas. Since I work in the gasoline field now I can kind of figure what they meant about “Watered” down gas. Probably what was meant was he bought “unbranded gas” and not a major brand such as Gulf, Phillips, Sinclair etc… and in a underground gas tank the dip tube didn’t go all the way to the bottom usually 2 to 3 inches off the bottom. But if you get more than 3 inches of water in the fuel, and water gets in the cars gas tank, the car will not run very good or in some cases it may not run at all. So as we know “Bad news travels fast” and nobody would’ve bought from there if the gas was that bad considering the Octane levels of fuel back then which were higher than todays gas octane ratings. A lot of rumors are started by somebody just saying something to “stir the pot” but Thoni’s stayed in business for a long time before all the regulations went into effect and it is a thing of the past to find “Cheap gasoline” as we did back in the 50 and 60’s before they taxed the stuffin’s out of it.Good old memories of the way things used to be, a more simpler time for sure.

    • I’ve run into gas with water in it when the dealer’s tank was getting low and sucked debris and water from the bottom.

      It was particularly common in gas shortage days when lines of motorists would stretch for blocks.

    • Dorothy G.

      Lyn,
      I could swear that for a short time when the Cape ‘gas wars’ were going on (’69/’70?) that for a short time gas was 9cents/10cents/11 cents a gallon. There were wait lines, but people would talk & play their radios. It was like a street party where you bought gas!

  • Mary Lou Brown

    I remember Thoni’s because my Dad always got gas there. I, of course, being a girl could never go there. At my house girls not only did not pump gas, but you didn’t even go to the station to get gas!

  • Elroy F. Kinder

    I remember Thoni’s station very well. I also remember hearing that they “added water” or some rumor like that. In 1952 I was 16 and driving a 1937 Ford coupe, 60 h.p. rather than the larger more powerful 85 horse. Believe me, 60 horse power was not enough. Mileage was better but at gasoline prices at around .20 cents…but .20 cents was “worth” more then. “Free” air also at a post with a hose about 20 feet north of the little building…also a primitive rest-room. At that time I lived south on Kingshighway, exactly where the Heuer Sons Farm Equipment store is now located. In 1970 my parents sold the land to Dr. Ed Schneider, the vet, who began the Sky-View animal hospital. Often on the way home my friend (s) who lived down South Kingshighway or west on Bloomfield Road, and I would stop at Thoni’s to buy fuel. I usually bought 2.00 worth of “hi-test.” Often we would go inside the small station and talk with the night operator after we got to know him. His name was Herman Lufcy, about 35, short on stature but with a great sense of humor and an hilarious laugh. We called him “Herm.” He enjoyed the attention. He lived somewhere on William Street with his mother, I believe. He would walk to work and worked the “graveyard shift.” Open all night, I believe. After a half hour or so we would head for home because it was getting “late,” around 10:30 or so. I remember the self-serve, then walk-up pay feature. (We would always ask for service to “tease” “Herm.”) My regular station for gasoline and oil changes etc. was Blattel Shell, Northwest corner of Sprigg and Morgan Oak. Koch Conoco was on the Southwest corner. “Mick” Blattel and his brother operated the station. A great guy, part time helper, was Ray Compas, who worked at the Post Office for his day job. Great guys and great memories, especially Thoni’s. I had almost forgotten about Thoni’s and our friend “Herm.”

  • Dennis

    Ken, the bell rang for every dollar. Think how many times the bell would ring at today’s prices.

  • cathie

    there was also a THONI`S GAS STATION IN MURFREESBORO,TN. in the 1960`s my father was manager and we lived in the house next to the station. I24 had not been built yet.Thoni`s was the first station as you came into Murfreesboro. All the 18 wheelers would stop for fuel,my mother used to cook meals for the truckers. also in Smyrna Tn. there was a my hand gas station Mr.Thoni bought with the uderstanding that the name would not be changed. At that time we used coal for heat.

  • Richard Cheely

    There was a Thoni’s station in Savannah,Ga. on US17 south.They also had the cheapest gas in town.I used to see their old tanker leaving Pure Oil’s Terminal as I worked near there.This station was open from the 50’s until the early 70s I believe,I wonder if they were connected to the ones in your area.

  • Keith Robinson

    My dad only bought gas at Thoni’s because it was cheaper.

    An uncle of mine delivered gasoline to local stations from the bulk plant near the river at Illmo. He said that the only difference in gasoline from one brand to the other (or Thoni’s for that matter) was what amounted to about a gallon of some brand-specific additive or another in a tanker truck (about 8,000 gal) of gasoline. He delivered the same gas to Thoni’s.

  • M.R.Kirby

    I managed the Thoni Station in Hopkinsville, KY for a year or so in the mid 70’s (It’s now Ideal).
    My father was the district manager over the Thoni stations in Hopkinsville,KY, Paducah,KY, Russellville, KY, New Providence (Clarksville now) TN.

    Gasoline and water do not mix ! Lyndel Revelle gave an accurate description above (5/15/2010)

    We used to put “Kolor Kote” on the measuring stick to measure how much “sweat” was in the bottom of the tank. If needed we pumped the “sweat” out and our customers never complained of bad gas.

    In the 60’s and possibly earlier, Thoni claimed to have an additive called Magic Benzol in his gasoline.

    The cheapest I ever pumped gas there was $0.199 a gallon. I had a stock of cigarettes there (not Thoni’s but my own endeavor) and sold them for $2.59 a carton.

    I buy my gas now from Southern States Petroleum in Hopkinsville,KY, the only place around here that doesn’t have ethanol mixed with it.

    Thanks for the memories guys.

    • Thanks for confirming my memories of 19.9 gas. My kids don’t believe me.

      I remember we had a gas station in West Palm Beach close. When they locked the door, they posted a gas price of 99.9.

      The idea that gas (which was about 36 cents at the time) would ever reach 99.9 was so astounding that we ran a picture of it in the paper.

      I guess the same shot would run in the paper today, too.

    • George

      I managed the Thoni’s station in Clarksville, TN between 1977 & 1978 and remember your father well. He hired me at 18 years old to manage the station, it was alot of responsibility, but I don’t think I let him down.

      • M.R.Kirby

        Hey George ! I drive by the Clarksville location, 41A and Beech St., a few times a month. Sure looks different now. Was there a restaurant next door when you worked there?
        I was gone from this area about the time you were manager.
        Ray, my Father, died in 1991.

        • Wayne

          I took over as Manager after George left for the military. George hired me and your dad gave me the management spot when George left. I stayed there till the station closed in 1982. The economy in Clarksville was really bad in ’82. The unemployment rate was hovering around 20%, and the sales were way off. I always wondered how your dad was doing after we left the station, but couldn’t find a number or address to contact him. I’m sorry to hear of his passing.

          To answer your question, yes there was a restaurant next door called Tootsie’s Dip. We usually bought our lunch there every day. They specialized in what they called a slaw-burger. The owners of Tootsie’s sold out about 2 years before the station closed down. The new owners, lived about six houses down from us and let their son run it. It closed down within 6 or 8 months and Batie Mazda bought the property and put in a used car lot next door, before Thoni’s closed down in ’82. I really miss those days, though the days were long. I don’t know if your dad ever told you about an employee that had set himself on fire at the Clarksville station. He had been out pumping gas, and some gas had splashed out onto his pants leg. He then went inside and stood in front of the wall heater and proceeded to catch himself on fire. When he bent over to try to extinguish the flames, he singed off his eyebrows and eyelashes. I hadn’t been home from work 30 minutes, when I got the call. I had to go back down and work the rest of his shift.

          • M.R. Kirby

            That’s it – Tootsie’s Dip. I ate many sandwiches from that place. Seems like they had bar-b-que and slaw sandwiches when I ate there, I might be wrong. I remember the story about the wall heater / pants fire. You can’t be too careful around gas fumes. Gotta be careful of static electricity also !!!

  • M.R.Kirby

    My Dad worked for Thoni for 30 years and was district manager over these Thoni Stations (Hopkinsville KY Paducah KY Russellville KY New Providence TN) when he retired at age 55. No, not company retirement.

    I managed the Hopkinsville KY station for about a year when I got out of high school in 74. I had been around the business since I was born.
    The cheapest I pumped gas for there was $0.199 a gallon, and I sold cigarettes (my Dad’s personal stock, not Thoni’s)for $2.59 a carton. My how things have changed !!!

    I know for a fact that the gasoline that I was selling was coming from the same terminal in Nashville TN that was supplying most major brands.

    In the 60’s and possibly earlier Thoni supposedly used an additive called “Magic Benzol” to their gasoline.

    GASOLINE AND WATER DO NOT MIX. Water goes to the bottom everytime.
    Lyndell Revelle is right in his post from 5/15/2010, describing this issue.

    Tanks will “sweat” and the sweat goes to the bottom of the tank.
    We used to smear “Kolor Kut” on the end of the stick that we used to measure gasoline levels in the tanks. This stuff would go on tan but turn a redish pinkish color when it came in contact with water. If the water was over 3 inches deep we would hand pump it out – not through the pumps but with a pipe and pump through the tank opening used for delivery.
    I believe that the pipe used to pull gasoline to the pump that you bought gas from sat 4 inches off of the bottom of the tank.

    For what it’s worth – You should NEVER get gasoline when a tanker is unloading. The downward force of the gas from the tanker WILL stir up the sweat in the bottom of the tank. It takes a while for the sweat to settle back to the bottom.

    I guess you could call my Dad’s retirement forced retirement. Richard E. Thoni wanted to cut Dad’s salary almost in half. After 30 years of loyalty, my dad boxed up about 60 pounds of keys and UPSed them COD to Thoni and told him what he could do with Thoni Oil Company.

  • they had thoni stations here in tampa also. i remember them as the cheapest place to by gas, also the rudest.i was once scolded in a hostile way for trying to pay with a ten dollar bill= by an angry woman attendant that spoke little english.

  • M.R.Kirby

    Thoni Oil Company was based out of Coral Gables, FL for several years.

  • jimmy

    I can clear up the haze of why some independent stations could wage a price war on gasoline. When a major refinery would over produce, the excess was bargained off to the independent stations. The independents would then undercut the majors by a couple cents and the war was on. The price war lasted until the independent pumped all his bargain price product then the price bounced back to the going rate.

  • Richard

    I worked at the Thoni’s gas station on stewart ave in Atlanta in 1968/1969 There were 2 stations in the area. the other way on the south expressway toward jonesboro ga

  • bee

    I found a thoni oil co. paper coupon for a discount of 4 cents off a gallon along with an advertisment flyer about thoni gas-seems like a rare find——

  • steven west

    I also remember the thonis gas station that was on u.s. 1 outside bayyard fla.i saw it in the early 1970s.their slogan was low prices were born here.

  • gary hardie

    My family had a business next door to Thoni’s Savannah
    in 1960, I worked there for a short time and remember selling gas for $.012 a gallon when the Soc Station lowered their price on the weekend..My family also owned the Savannah Speedway and during race nights Thoni>s would often lower their prices to increase their sales volume..cigarettes were $1.90 a carton or $.o22 a pack The pumps were so slow and worn out that it would take 15 minutes to fill a 25 gallon tank..

  • s griffis

    My dad and mom both work for thoni oil Co they were the district supervisors in the Jacksonville Florida area they work with the company until Mr Thoni passed away and the company closed it’s doors in the late 80s I also work at several stations in Palatka, Gainesville, Starke Florida

  • Eugene Beckett

    I worked for Thoni Oil Co., in Cape Girardeau Missouri in 1956-57. The station was open 24hr 7 days a week. two people worked 1 person each 12 hr shift, Each person worked 7 days the night man made $40.00 a week, day man made $50.00
    To my knowledge no person ever added water to the gas. The tanks at Cape was in ground tanks and when the creek behind the station would flood water would get in the tanks, but we would always pump them out. before we turn on the gas pumps on. Most of the times the gas was 19 to 21 cents a gallon but i have sold it at 17 cents when a gas war was on.
    Magic Benzol was a compound that we added to the gas about 2 cups to a tanker load. Most of our gas was hauled by United oil Co..
    Richard Thoni was a easy man to worked for, he would come to Cape about two times a year. At Christmas he would send a silver dollar in a small wallet to each person who worked for him. When I worked for him he owned about 300 station.

    • Thanks for the history lesson. The cheapest I ever saw it there was 19 cents. I think it’s safe to say we’ll never see it go that low again (although I didn’t think I’d ever be happy to see $1.95 gas again, either).

  • R Van Cleave

    Thoni’s magic benzole oil station… Cash only, full service.. i worked for a Thoni’s back in the late 70’s… gainesville florida and the station in Lake city when needed.
    I think the owners name at the time was Richard Thoni. not sure long time ago..
    He only paid minimum wage. managers made minimum wage and got 10 hours of overtime a week for being the manager.

    watered down gas.. yep sometimes the octain did not come up to specs. I had many 5 gallon cans of xylene in the back to fix that LOL…
    we got our fuel from marathon oil at the time.
    Gas, smokes, and Thoni branded workingmans friend oil is all we had.

    Yep he was easy to work for, unless you ticked him off…overtime was a good way to get a phone call. OMG i asked for a raise once.. I got the lecture that if i wanted more money i should go to school and get a better job, lol….
    you did not come up short more than a few cents. there was no excuse, you made it up outa pocket.

    our station was closed in 1980 when the govt. said we had to replace tanks with new double walled tanks..

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