BENEATH WY'EAST: A marvelous drive back down memory lane
If you grew up after the 1970s, this is going to blow your mind.
And if you were lucky enough to be around during the 1950s and 1960s, get ready to take a marvelous drive back down memory lane.
Let's start with an important definition. Do you know what a "service station" is?
f you're of the 1970s and beyond era, chances are you might not. As you will soon see, that's a true shame.
What we now call a "gas station" used to be known as a "service station."
It's pretty straight forward. Today at these establishments we get: Gas. Several decades ago, every time we'd stop at these places, we also got: Service.
Back in those pre-1970 driving days, when you'd pull up to the pump, one or two service station "attendants" would trot out to your car. These people were typically men adorned in their gasoline company's snappy work attire, replete with their first names sewn above their hearts.
"Hello," they would say, usually with a polite nod and welcoming grin. "Would you like me to fill it up for you today?"
For more of the blow-your-mind quotient, get this.
When I first started driving in 1968, gas was always under 35 cents per gallon. What's more, throughout the late 50s and early 60s, our service stations would sometimes wage "gas wars." During these splendiferous times for consumers, gas prices could plunge as low as 12 cents per gallon. I remember once, riding in our Chrysler with my dad, we filled it up for 8 cents per gallon.
Those were the days, my friend.
Ernie and Carl
So while Ernie pumps the gas into the tank, his partner Carl washes your windows. Next, Ernie pops the hood and checks your engine's oil. He might even come around with your dipstick, clutching his blue oil-stained wiping cloth, and show you exactly how low you are. Ernie might also check the fluid level in your car battery. And, after Carl has washed all your windows, he just might check the air pressure in all of your tires.
Back when I was a kid, when you filled up, service stations also gave you gifts. This free bounty often included drinking glasses, toys for the children, key chains, calendars, Green Stamps, and road maps.
And if your vehicle had a mechanical problem, most service stations also had mechanics on duty with an auto repair bay, complete with hydraulic lifts. Back in those days, the emphasis, remember, was on service to your automobile, not selling you beer and popsicles.
The 'Oil Crisis'
So, what caused these traditional service stations to go extinct?
Everyone agrees that the fatal turning point was the 1973 "Oil Crisis" when the Arab petroleum companies imposed their oil embargo and this country literally started running out of gasoline. From the end of 1973 into the spring of 1974, it was no longer happy times — service with a smile was gone — at our gas pumps.
I still painfully recall how it became customary to wait in line for an hour or more to get gas, praying all the while that your fuel tank didn't go empty. Many gas stations closed. To try to ration the shortage of available gasoline, for a period of time here in Oregon, we had "odd and even" days at the pump. Under this program initiated by Gov. Tom McCall, if your vehicle's license plate started with an odd number, you could try to get gas on "odd" numbered days, and vice versa.
The shock, trauma and aftereffects of this distressing game-changing era seemed to forever mark the end to the good old service station days.
Mountain gas stations
If you live high in the shadow of Mount Hood today, you might be interested to know that back in the mid-1970s and earlier, you had many more options for purchasing petrol here. We had gas pumps at the Brightwood Store and at the Zigzag Store. Rhododendron had not one but two full service gas stations on both sides of the highway. That was back when Rhody also boasted the mountain's only liquor store. You could fill up your car and your booze cabinet.
"When I was a kid I worked at the Chevron station in Rhododendron, located just east of the post office," informs longtime mountain resident Mike Gudge. "We serviced all the Forest Service rigs and even ran an ambulance out of our station."
As a "full service station" Mike recalls that they provided their customers "air, water, gas, oil and cleaned their windshields." He says they would even wash your windshield with no gas purchase necessary. "I had at least one customer pull in for that free service. The guy's entire front windshield was absolutely covered with dead bugs. I hope he thanked me."
My most favorite and treasured gas pump anecdote happened in downtown Sandy in 1975.
It was around midnight. There used to be an old service station on the north side of westbound Proctor Boulevard right there in the middle of town where the same two local older gents worked. That night that I pulled in, a Toyota Land Cruiser was getting gas on the other side of the pumps.
The Land Cruiser's driver was out cleaning his windows. The guy had to be 7 feet tall.
It was Bill Walton.
Normally when I happen upon well-known "celebrities" my modis operandi is to mind my own business and, respectfully, leave them alone.
But this was before Portland fell in love with Walton after he led their Trail Blazers to the NBA championship title in 1977. In fact, at this time, there was a common grumbling about our new, red-headed, bearded vegetarian with the rumored "radical" political persuasions.
Walton was my age. I knew he liked to hitchhike and ride his bike and lived in a big old house with other young folks near the Memorial Coliseum. At that time in my life, one of my constant gripes was how the Portland media were failing to truly introduce us to this person via an enlightening human interest feature.
I opened the door and stepped out of my car.
I walked over, introduced myself, shook Walton's hand and quickly mentioned that I was a journalist who believed that the local media weren't really telling his story. I said I'd like to do that someday. Bill listened politely and gave me an acknowledging positive nod.
I stepped back toward my car.
Walton got into his rig and drove off.
As I stood there under that yellow moon watching his taillights motor away, the two elder gas station gentlemen walked up beside me.
"Was that," one of the men asked, "Bill Walton?"
We were all keeping our eyes on Walton's departing Land Cruiser.
"Yes," I confirmed, still a bit inebriated by this serendipitous midnight moment. "That was Bill Walton."
And for what seemed like the longest time, our little group just stood there watching him disappear into the night.
Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Post's editorial pages.
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