Some of the information in this post comes from The Preservation and Reuse of Historic Gas Stations (National Park Service – US Department of the Interior). This is something that we might have referred to in the past as, “for reals.”
“Unless your tank is empty, gasoline stations rarely attract attention. Yet, for the past hundred years gas stations have occupied prime locations on main streets and suburban corners, on small town roads, and along early highways. They are one of America’s most common commercial building types and are emblematic of the twentieth century. Surviving historic stations are physical reminders of the transportation revolution and the influence of increased mobility on the landscape. They are a reflection of car culture, pop culture, corporate standardization, and an era of customer service that today seems quaint.” The National Park Service is trying to retain this part of America for future generations to experience.
Remember when you drove up to a gas pump and an attendant would ask how much gas you wanted, either in dollars or gallons, and what kind you wanted? By what kind, he meant octane level. Then, the attendant would switch on the pump, set the dials back to zero, dispense the gas, and collect your money, since credit cards weren’t quite in vogue, except for actual gasoline credit cards. He would make change on the spot from a coin dispenser on his belt, or he’d disappear into the office to return with your change.
In addition to pumping your gas, the attendant would regularly wash the windshield and check your tire air pressure. He’d also ask whether you’d like the oil checked. He’d do all that and the average price of a gallon of gas was between twenty-five and thirty cents a gallon. And certainly, you can’t forget the “price wars” or extra incentives, like drinking glasses, towels, kid’s toys and other loyalty awards, like trading stamps form S&H or Gold Bell.
The most sought after incentives were collector coin sets most of which were produced by the Franklin Mint.
Maps were a very important part of every journey, and the gas stations were the places to go whenever you needed a specific map. Generally, the stations stocked state maps, and perhaps adjacent state maps as well, but if you were traveling a long distance, stopping to get those maps was vital to a successful journey.
Almost every gas station had a service bay and an on-sight mechanic who could fix whatever might be wrong with your car while you waited. There were cans of oil on display along with tires, batteries and windshield wipers. In addition, the stations had a bevy of coin operated vending machines with beverages, candy, sandwiches available along with personal products in the bathrooms.
After World War II, the “rectangular box” gas station profile using concrete blocks was most prevalent. By the 1960s, that design was being replaced with gently sloping shingled roofs, brick and stone facades and ornaments, including signage, fabricated from aluminum and molded plastic.
I forgot how charming (and inexpensive) filling your gas tank used to be.