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Vintage Gas Stations | Full service gas stations of the nostalgic past

Updated on September 17, 2015
Oil cans used to transfer oil from bulk storage tanks
Oil cans used to transfer oil from bulk storage tanks
Driveway Bell
Driveway Bell
Horse drawn fuel wagon
Horse drawn fuel wagon
Bulk Oil and Kerosene Storage Tanks
Bulk Oil and Kerosene Storage Tanks

Just like old fashioned soda fountains, old gas stations also bring back nostalgic memories.

Almost anything to do with these old gas stations are highly sought after collector items.

Gas stations were also known as “Service Stations” because of the full service that came with filling up.

It was a time when you could drive up to a gas pump and be greeted by a gentleman dressed in a starched uniform complete with cap and a wide open smile.

It was also the time when air was free as well as checking the tire pressure, oil, and washing the windows.

No tips were ever suggested or hinted. These were actual owners , or full time employees.

They would provide you with a greeting and then say "filler up with regular or ethyl?"

Regular gas then contained lead, ethyl was the high octane gas that was required in large heavy sedans with V-8 engines.

A gallon of gas during the 50s and 60s ran from .12-.25.

As the country transitioned from the horse and buggy to the automobile so did the fueling and mechanic repair business.

The first gas stations started with gas pumps located outside a general store.

These cylinder pumps with a glass top would be hand pumped to the amount of gallons that the customer wished to purchase.

At that time a gallon of gas only ran a few cents. The multi-task store clerk would be helping a customer with fabric and then run out to pump up gas to fill up a Model T Ford.

The general store was the most logical business to add a gas pump because they already sold kerosene used in cook stoves and lamps.

The bulk storage containers were rectangular metal tanks with a hand pump on the top. Most purchased kerosene in five gallon cans.

The bulk storage containers were designed to place a 5 gallon can on top and fit under the hand pump spout.

The store clerk could count the number of revolutions of the hand pump to determine the gallons that the customer wanted to purchase.

The first electric gas pump was introduced the early 1920s.

Mechanic and tire repair shops began to catch on to this new automobile business.

Some were built next to the general stores, others transitioned from liver and bicycle shop owners who could see the future of transportation unfolding.

The first dedicated full service gas station opened in California in 1947

Growing up in the 60s I spent most of my summers with my Aunt and Uncle who operated a gas station

My Uncle was a well known mechanic who also ran a wrecker service. During the summers I would hang out sometimes there and help or get in the way when I could.

The old Texaco pump in the picture is just like the gas pump that I use to pump gas from at my Uncles gas station.

The pump was manually reset on the side using a hand crank.

The glass bubble located just above the door would let the attendant and customer know that gas was flowing into the tank.

Most of the then modern day gas stations were built with a canopy, small office and two service bays attached to the station.

One service bay was equipped with an air powered hydraulic grease rack.

The grease rack would lift the automobile up using a large hydraulic cylinder located under the concrete floor.

All automobiles in this era contained grease zerks on the steering ball joints and some of the drive train bearings.

The grease rack obtained the name from the need to add grease into these zerks during routine service.

Later the term changed from grease rack to oil and lube rack, as today every automobile has sealed bearings and ball joints.

The other bay was used for mechanic work and tune-ups. Automobiles were very easy to work on, with spark plugs all lined up in a row with easy access.

Along one wall up high you would find fan belts and radiator hoses.

The station would have a long pole with a hook on one end to reach up and pull down the corresponding part number for the automobile that was being worked on.

Over the office section many gas stations had a loft to store new tires. Rolling racks were also used to roll out in the morning to display new tires.

Each station would have a rolling yellow box stocked with windshield wiper blades supplied by the wiper manufacturer.

The cart was rolled out to the car were the old wiper blades matched up to new ones.

Spark plugs had to be changed more frequently as well as the points located under the distributor cap that assisted in the sequence of the spark plug firing order.

Each gas station had a tire changing machine that would hold the tire and rim. Early tire changing machines were mechanically operated with levers and pry bars.

The tire bead had to be first broken down in order to loosen the tire from the rim and then the tire and rim were place over a spindle on top and locked from turning.

A flat headed pry bar was then placed in between the tire and rim. The bar would be leveraged against the tire machine spindle and pulled around the tire until it was up and over the rim.

Inner tubes were used in tires and would need to be pulled out and patched. The attendant would then find the nail or screw in the tire and pull it out before replacing the tube.

Later tire machines became air powered and automated as they are basically made and used today.

As the owner or attendant would be working in the back they might miss a drive in customer needing gas.

The stations were equipped with a bell that was rung whenever an automobile drove over a hose that was strung out across the driveway next to the gasoline pump island.

The gas pump island mainly consisted of two to three pumps that would reach either side of the island. Like they are today the pumps were bolted to a concrete island.

An air hose would likely be rolled up on an old welded tire rim. A large water trough would hold windshield washing solution and sponges.

Gas stations were not like the modern day convenience store, most only had a coke machine that was either coin operated or paid directly to the attendant.

Soda’s or pop depending on what part of the country you were from would be sold in glass bottles.

The empty bottles would have to be returned for a deposit and placed in the wooden bottle racks next to the machine.

Bottle caps were popped off with many ending up being embedded in the asphalt surrounding the machines when they were located outside the station.

Some stations also had a candy and gum machine, but most had a counter top glass display selling popular candy bars by “Toms”

A glass top pedestal mounted dispensing device might also be found with peanuts, cashews, or bubble gum.

It operated by placing a nickel in a hand crank slot and turning it as you held your hand out under the chute.

No computers at the time, a cash register, a hand crank 10 key adding machine a repair receipt book and a log book was all that was needed to run a gas station.

Later as credit cards became the method of payment the attendant would use a carbon credit card receipt.

The receipt was placed over the embossed credit card on a machine and then rolled over to obtain the impression.

Credit card charges were hand written and brought out to the customer for signature.

The customer was given the bottom carbon as the receipt and never had to get out of the car unless they needed to use the restroom.

At the end of each day the operator had to obtain the gallons of gas sold by reading the meter off each gas pump and placing the readings into a log book.

Most gas stations were independently owned but contracted with major oil companies to sell their brand.

Signage for the street, front and the glass on tops of the pumps would display the oil companies branding.

Gas station owners were contractually obligated to certain standards which included providing clean and stocked restrooms for both male and female customers.

Most of these restrooms were located on the side of the station with an outside entrance.

One of the practical pranks owners and more seasoned station employees played on new employees was to wait for a 57 Chevy or other car with a hidden gas cap and ask them to run out and take care of the customer.

The 57 Chevy gas cap was hidden behind chrome located in the back fin fender. Other cars had the gas gap located behind a hinged spring loaded door that held the back license plate.

I can actually still remember the day when gasoline went over a dollar a gallon. It was a real dilemma as the old gas pumps were not designed to register over 99 cents.

The solution was to set the pump at half the cost and then double the price that the customer paid.

So for a dollar per gallon the pump would read 50 cents but the customer would be charged double the pumped amount.

Pictures provide and sponsored byCottage Craft Works .com back-to-basics online general store.


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