At Travel Codex, we often write about various forms of transportation: airlines, trains and cruises. What about the car? People still use the car to go on vacation or see family. Sooner or later, your car will need to refuel at a gas station. Those locations with self-service gas pumps and convenience stores are what gas stations are today. Before there were gas stations, there were “service stations”. Come along with me as we drive back in time to the “service station”.
The Service Station
At service stations, an attendant would come out to your car and:
- Pump the gas into your car
- Clean your windows for you
- Check under the hood looking at your oil level, radiator level and battery condition
- Check the air pressure in your tires.
Service stations had actual service bays where mechanics would work on your car. In your neighborhood, it was common to visit your local service station for:
- Oil changes and air filters
- Belts and hoses
- General automotive repair
When you arrived at a service station, you would run over an air hose that could cause a bell inside to go “ding-ding”. One or two attendants would run out to your car and begin with a welcome greeting. Looking at the photo above, you will see that these attendants wore:
- Uniform pants
- Uniform shirt
- Crew hat
- Black bow tie
- A red rag hanging out of a back pocket
There was no self-service back then unless you really wanted to pump your own gas. This video will take you back to the day when service was service:
Prompt service by station attendants was the focus of service stations. Some attendants were given names like the “minutemen” at 76 stations. The uniform look projected the experience of a professional level.
TV Commercials and Those Jingles
Gasoline refiners were proud of the employees of service stations. They wanted to earn and keep your business. Many Gasoline companies employed the use of catchy jingles to get you into their stations. Texaco employed the value of its logo, the big, bright Texaco Star.
“You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the big, bright Texaco star.”
Now for the commercial jingle:
Service stations competed vigorously with other brands. To keep you coming back, they would give out:
- Trading stamps (Blue Chip and S&H green stamps)
- Limited edition drinking glasses
- Branded merchandise like toy gas trucks for your children
The Death of the Service Station
Like the dinosaur, the service station went to extinction. What happened to the service station experience? Gas stations actually operate on a small markup on gasoline. The service station operated with a high number of employees. It was not uncommon for two attendants to go to your car and team up on service. Mechanics needs constant levels of training and expensive diagnostic tools especially for all of those computer-controlled components.
Full serve gave way to self-serve as customers are now more in a hurry. The service bays gave way to convenience stores where they enjoy a higher and consistent profit margin. These days, the profit from fuel sales pretty much covers the station lease. It’s the profit of a well-run convenience store that keeps it in business.
Gasoline mergers took their toll on the service station chains:
- Phillips 66 and Conoco merged to be ConocoPhillips
- Chevron and Texaco merged to form Chevron
- The Atlantic Company and Richfield became ARCO
- Exxon and Mobil became Exxon-Mobil
Looking Ahead to Next Week
I am in New York City for the weekend and I will be doing reviews of some nostalgic venues:
- The TWA Hotel
- The TWA Constellation Lounge
- The TWA retro lounge at the top of #1 World Trade Center
- The re-opened observation deck at the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building with its upgraded windows for a fantastic view of the city
- The Alaska Airlines Lounge – JFK Terminal 7
Thanks for coming with me on our drive back at the “service station”.