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Old Gas Stations Fuel a Trip down Memory Lane

The Buffalo Gap Historic Village, south of Abilene, boasts a restored 1926 Texaco station, complete with Dr Pepper sign.

For most of us, the turnoff into the gas station is little more than a lusterless detour from our destination, a necessary stop we make only because our fuel is low or the kids “have to go.”

But for a few folks, the gas station still radiates a glow from its golden age as a “service station,” when paying from the driver’s seat was more convenient than paying at the pump. Eager to bask in this fading era of roadside history, these sentimentalists journey along Texas highways, searching for, and sometimes preserving, the old stations they love. The love affair, they say, is sparked by the historical significance of the old buildings and fueled by high-octane memories of the friendly people who ran them.

In the case of 56-year-old Tony Hayley of Snyder, the memories have lasted for generations. "Young people don't know what a real service station was like," says Tony, who collects oil and gasoline memorabilia known as "petroliana." "Back then [before the mid-Seventies, when self-service became the norm], an owner built his business on the attendants who washed your windshield, checked your tires, and checked your oil. Whoever had the best service had the advantage."

Rather than just tell people about how special these stations once were, Tony restored an abandoned 1935 Sinclair station in Snyder so they could actually experience some of its charm. Although the Hayley Sinclair Station no longer services automobiles, many unknowing motorists pull up to its 50-year-old Tokheim pumps, hoping to "top off their tanks" with Sinclair's "H-C" gasoline, first introduced in 1926 and advertised at Tony's place for 29 cents a gallon.

The station's unusual triangular office, awash in neon light at night, lures other curious travelers. Inside, old Sinclair promotional items, including collectible toy cars and dinosaur-shaped bars of soap (Sinclair's longtime dinosaur mascot was named Dino in 1959), line the shelves. Travelers will also see Sinclair oil cans, emblazoned with the claim, "Mellowed 80 Million Years," the company's tongue-in-cheek allusion to the millions of years necessary for petroleum's creation from organic matter. Because service stations readily sold products from other companies, Tony also displays memorabilia from other brands of oil, many no longer available. Remember Humble, Veedol, and Sky Ranger?

"I want people to see what it looked like back then," says Tony. "I want to share that with people."

Tony and others like him find inspiration in the preservation of establishments along Old Route 66, the "mother road" of American automotive travel and the "road of flight" for Okies and other migrants who headed west in the 1930s. Remarkably, several of the stations where John Steinbeck's fictional Joad family would have filled up still exist.

If you're a history buff, a collector of "petroliana" (oil and gas collectibles), or a person who's just plain sentimental, you'll want to seek out the following vintage gas stations. Don't count on a fill-up, though; only a few are still open.

Hayley Sinclair Station is at 701 Coliseum Dr. in Snyder. The station is not open, but Tony Hayley says visitors are welcome to stop by, take photos, and look into the office's display windows. Write to Tony Hayley, 3201 Hill St., Snyder 79549.

U Drop Inn and Tower Service Station is at 102 E. 12th St. in Shamrock (79079), at the intersection of US 83 and Old Route 66, now 12th St. At press time, both the cafe and station were closed. Write to J.R. Tindall at the above address, or call 806/256-3571.

The Bourn Texaco Station is one of 19 buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Buffalo Gap Historic Village in Buffalo Gap, 14 miles south of Abilene via FM 89 (Buffalo Gap Rd.). To reach the museum, turn right on Elm St., and go 2 blocks. Hours: Mon-Sat 10-6, Sun noon-6. Admission: \$4, \$3 age 65 and older, \$1.75 for students in grades 1-12, free for younger children. Wheelchair accessible. Write to the Buffalo Gap Historic Village, Box 818, Buffalo Gap 79508; 915/572-3365.

Jamie Brite's Telegraph Store is one of only 4 buildings in Telegraph, which is in southern Kimble County, 16 miles southwest of Junction on US 377. The store and station open Mon-Sat 9-6:30 (close at dark in the winter). Write to Box 3, Telegraph 76883.

King's Service Station is at 1031 St. Joseph St. (US Business 183) in Gonzales, 4 blocks north of the town square. The station opens Mon-Sat 7:30-6:30. Write to Box 239, Gonzales 78629; 830/672-3021.

Other vintage stations likewise offer peeks into roadside history (only the last 2 still operate as gas stations): Karol's Kountry Korner in Quitaque (806/455-1174); Phillips 66 Station in MacLean (806/ 779-2225); Style Station in West (254/829-0447); Concho Gulf Station, 11 miles east of Paint Rock on Ranch Road 1929 (abandoned); Waring General Store in Waring (830/995-3838); Moeller Service Station in Flatonia (512/865-3523); and Alex's Service Station in San Antonio (210/736-3364).

Other Resources

The Texas Energy Museum, at 600 Main St. in Beaumont, features permanent, interactive exhibits on the history of oil exploration, drilling, and gasoline refining. A temporary exhibit, The Magic of Gasoline: Oil Company Advertising, 1930-1950, runs through Dec. 31, 1999 (see For the Road .)

Check your bookstore or local library for The American Gas Station (1992) and Gas Station Memories (1994), both written by Michael Karl Witzel, and Gas Stations (1994) by Scott Benjamin and Wayne Henderson. All were published by Motorbooks International.

For a sample copy of Petroleum Collectibles Monthly, send \$4.50 (subscriptions start at \$29.95 for U.S. residents) to Box 456, Lagrange, OH 44050-0556; 440/355-6608. The magazine also carries a line of books about gas stations and gas-station collectibles.

For a sample copy of "Check the Oil!" magazine, a bimonthly publication devoted to petroliana, send \$4 (subscriptions start at \$20 for U.S. residents) to Box 937z, Powell, OH 43065; 800/228-6624, fax 614/436-4760.

For more on petroleum history and collecting petroliana, check out the Primarily Petroliana Web site: http://www.oldgas.com .

From the January 1999 issue.

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