The All-American Gas Station
To most, a gas station is just that, a gas station... but to the adventurer it is much, much more. It's a haven in the form of a source to get your vehicle's life's blood to keep it going as well as a pit stop to get out and stretch your legs, use the restroom, take a break, check the oil or maybe just a quick stop to jump back out on the road and keep driving on to where ever it is you are going.... because, once upon a time... every vehicle ran on fossil fuel gasoline.
Today's gas stations are mostly Mini-Marts with all the wares and conveniences of a small grocery store without the 'full service repair shop' like the old days, that was capable of overhauling an entire vehicle if necessary to eventually get you back on the road. Gas stations have come a long way and the mystique of the roadside icon has changed tremendously.
Why, you ask? For the biggest and most important reason... vehicles are engineered much better these days than they were long ago. They can run many more miles on less fuel and are so dependable that the only thing they need is fuel and can run over a hundred thousand miles without any real service! As a result of that, freeways were built as a non-stop method of traversing from one part of the country to another by-passing the small little towns that sprouted up around the gas station out on the highway that served as a lifesaver for travelers that were lucky to make it to the next gas station during their travels because their vehicle would either breakdown or over heat and was just too worn-out to keep going.
Believe it or not... many cities and towns sprung up because of the gas station situated on the highway. First of all the station owner needed a place to live so he built his home there on the property... some even went as far to build a motor-hotel that eventually became what we know know as a “motel” where weary travelers could stop, sleep, shower and eat if the roadside stop also included a diner, which many did.
Travelers who's vehicles only made it so-far sometimes were sometimes at a point their dreams ended on the side of the road and made the roadside hamlet their home which eventually caused the locations to grow and prosper because towns needed facilities and fixtures like grocery stores, buildings, lumber, hardware, barber shops, doctors, hospitals, etc, and the staff to make all of that possible. Many of these stranded motorists started thriving businesses catering to the needs of the growing community. What started as a wide spot in the road to get gas & oil and top of the radiator became metropolises and town that stood the test of time... at least for a while (and that's whole other story)...
Gas stations of yesteryear, whether out on the open road or in your home town, was the place where you bought your gas & oil, brought your car for a tune-up, filled the tires with air (that was a free service) and became a national icon to some a just a place to get gas to most others.
Gas stations offered “full service”. That meant when you pulled up to the pump a pump-jockey would quickly come to your window and ask, “filler' up'?... “would that be regular or ethyl”? And while the gas pump was filling your tank he would clean your windshield and check your oil and tire pressure! Yes... those were the days, indeed.
Eventually, to save a few cents per gallon, a “self-serve” pump was added so a thrifty buyer could save some money as long as the didn't mind getting out of the vehicle and pumping the gas for themselves, waning off the clean windshield , checking the oil or the extra perks that some stations offered to keep folks coming back for more like collectable items such as themed glassware, decals or a cool antenna topper!
It was in the mid 70's when small imported cars made a huge surge into America boasting high-mileage and fewer trips to the gas station. Up to that point no one really cared about how many “miles per gallon” their vehicle actually got since gas was around .49 cents per gallon until the gas shortage of 1979 that caused fuel rationing to buyers in many parts of the country ans gas toppled over the $1.00 mark. It was then when people began to think and care about miles per gallon their vehicles actually got.
Immediately there after, Detroit and the Big 3 auto makers started to put out cars that were sold by how many 'estimated' miles per gallon they were 'said' to get. The vehicles were smaller, cheaper (and I mean cheap – quality wise, junk, in fact) in attempts to compete with the imports from Japan, Germany and Italy. It was the end of an era in America when the big fuel guzzling vehicles became dinosaurs and the American muscle car era slowly died as well.
Gas stations shifted gears and had new purpose... free air and water were now offered for a small fee and the mechanic's bay became a mini-market selling candy bars, hot & cold drinks, chips, ready-made food and lots of unique novelties. “Full Service” was only an option in some stations but pumping your own gas became the norm where you had to get out of your car and walk up to a window (like a bank tellers' window) and pre-pay for your fuel. Eventually gas pumps were equipped with the ability to slide your credit card and pay at the pump to make the process much easier and quicker.
Today's gas stations are spread across the nation and even feature drive thru or walk up fast food from known brands like Popeye's Chicken, Carl's Jr./Hardy's, Del Taco and others, so a driver's time off the freeway could be a “one-stop shop” for just about everything necessary... and even gas if they need to top-off their tank.
I guess that progress is good but the bad thing about the new “mini-mart/travel center” is... if your vehicle needs any attention at all, including a look under the hood or to fix a flat tire... a driver is just out of luck, those types of stations either no longer exist or are few and far in-between that requires one to call a tow truck to be rescued opening up other expenses such as over-night or multiple day lodging until repairs can be completed. Fortunately, mega filling station/rest stop/mini-markets/hotels now are scattered along the highways and by-ways of the country making each stop over an experience only found on the open road.... and only a few old gas station relics are left standing awaiting total demolition or restoration. Many of us vote for the latter.
The appreciation and admiration of the old time, roadside Gas Station will always be an icon of American travel by some and forgotten by most. May they be preserved if only for the reminiscent and/or historic value of another by-gone way of life.
Next up... Roadside Diners & Motels along Route 66 and other American by-ways.
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