Back in the old days we used to call them “filling stations.”
Of course back then they did more than just fill your car with gas. The “self-service” gas stations hadn’t come along yet. Most of us teenagers could get work at the local filling stations. Many of us worked at places that offered “full service.”
When a car pulled into the filling station we would search for the gas cap, some cars had them so well hidden it was a real hunt to find them. I remember the first time a car pulled into the station and after much searching I found the gas cap underneath the license plate. Nobody locked the covers on the gas tanks back then, so we didn’t have to wait for a key before we pumped gas.
The service station attendants would start the gas pump, open the hood and check the oil, spray the windows with glass cleaner, and if the car was low on oil the driver, would usually tell us to add a quart or so. When the car was filled with gas, or the oil added, the attendant got the money from the driver, ran inside the station to get the change, handed it to the driver, said goodbye and sent them on their way.
We knew that the old filling stations were going the way of the dodo bird when we saw signs appearing in the windows reading “self-service.” Believe it or not many older men and women didn’t know what to do the first time they pulled into a self-service gas station.
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Some stations were kind enough to leave a spray bottle and paper towels so you could clean your own windows. It used to be that the only thing one could buy was a cold pop and a candy bar, but that was long before the min-marts took over. From then on one could buy everything from a slice of pizza to a hot dog. Filling stations soon turned into small grocery stores thereby driving another nail into the coffin of the family-owned grocery stores.
When we had jobs at the old filling stations, the owners would let us use their garage to repair our clunkers. They even let us put our car up on the grease racks so we could work on our mufflers and tail pipes. Some guys removed the mufflers and put in straight pipes. Those cars could sure let out a roar whenever the driver gunned them. I suppose one could never get away with that today.
To many of the Lakota teens the car became our new horse. We fiddled with the cars even to the point of covering the wheels with fender skirts. And then we would cruise Main and St. Joe on weekend nights checking out the chicks. The most dangerous drug we had back then was a can of 3.2 beer.
And the most fun place to take a date was to the drive-in movie theaters. Gas was 25 cents a gallon and a movie cost all of 50 cents. A box of popcorn was 10 cents and a Coke was also 10 cents. There were two drive-up restaurants I can remember. One was a Big Boy on E. North Street and the other was on the corner of Sheridan Lake Rd. and W. Main Street, where the National Guard Camp in now located.
If you ever saw the movie “American Graffiti” it would take you back to the days of the drive-up restaurants, where the pretty waitresses came to your cars on roller skates. That was the drive-up on W. Main Street. And then came the words that moved us into a new era, “Self-service.”