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Saluting Starkville’s service stations

March 24, 2012

By RUTH MORGAN

Remember the time when you would drive up to a filling statio and say, “Fill ‘er up?” By the time you got those words out, a team of people would then begin pumping your gas, checking your oil, battery and tires, vacuuming your car and cleaning your windshield — all for free, and gas was only $.31 a gallon. Those were the good old days that many of us still remember and long for. Today, we pump our own gas and get none of the free services, and have to pay to put air in our tires as well as vacuum our cars and do all the other mundane things ourselves.

Do you remember these?

These were the filling stations in Starkville according to the telephone directory:
— Bell Oil Company, 301 E. Main Street;
— Billups, Highway 12;
— Billups, Highway 82 East.;
— Billups, Highway 82 West;
— Bishop’s Tenneco Service Station, Highway 82;
— Brook’s Gulf Service Station, Highway 82;
— Central Service Station, 300 East Lampkin St.;
— Cobb’s Lion Service, Highway 12;
— College Drive Amoco Service Station, 408 E. Main St.;
— Colonial Heights Service Station, University Drive;
— Cooperative Creamery Assn., Muldrow Avenue;
— Dixie Discount Service Station, Highway 12;
— Eighty-Two Gulf Station, Highway 82;
— Eighty-Two Lion Service Station, Highway 82;
— Garrard Service Station, Highway 82;
— Highway 12 Texaco Service Station, Highway 12 West.;
— Holmes Shell Station, Main Street;
— Markamson Cities Service Station, University Drive;
— Southland Gas Island, Highway 82 West;
— Starkville Service Station, 409 East Main St.;
— Stillman Standard Service Station, Highway 82 West;
— Stonecrest Service Station, Highway 82 West;
— Templeton Motor, Highway 12;
— Terminal Service Station, Highway 12;
— Turner’s Pure Oil Service Station, Highway 82;
— University Drive Gulf Service Station, University Drive;
— Weaver’s Amoco Service Station, Highway 12 West;
— Weaver’s Amoco Truck Stop, Highway 82 East;
— Westside Grocery and Service Station, 902 East Gillespie St.

The stations were all located on six streets. Six were on Main/University Drive, seven were on Highway 12, 14 were on Highway 82, two were on Lampkin Street, one on Muldrow Avenue and one on Gillespie Street.

In the beginning they were known as filling stations, which was the time when people were only interested having their car filled car with gas.  Automobiles then became more plentiful.  The government broke up Standard Oil, and more oil companies came into existence.

Oil companies begin competing by seeing who could provide the most free services; therefore the name “service” station came into being.  Today we have gas stations where you pump your own gas and sometimes can wash your windshield for free, but pay for air to go in your tires.  What happened to the “good old days” when gas was cheap and all the services were free plus gifts such as key rings, cups, caps, glasses, place mats, etc.?  Today’s gas prices are higher and no service provided.  We have had a change in terminology of “service” station to gas station and also a change in the economy.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have the luxury of “service” stations today!

Do you remember?

— Amoco — Nice going with Amoco as your travel ask us.
— Billupss — Fill-up with Billups gasoline and oil your friend.
— Cities Service — once-always.  The sign of quality.
— Gulf — That good gulf gasoline, Gulf No-Nox ethyl.
— Lion — Save your dough with Beau.  And turn your horsepower into Lion power!
— Phillips 66 — Created for its link to the highway of the same number.  It employed registered nurses as “Highway Hostesses,” who made periodic and random visits to Phillips 66 stations within their regions.  The women inspected station restroom facilities to ensure they were well cleaned and stocked.  The Highway Hostesses also served as ambassadors for the company by directing motorists to suitable dining and lodging facilities.
— Pure Oil — Pure firebird gasoline worth changing brands to get.
— Shell — the seashell sign.
— Sinclair — the dinosaur sign.
— Standard — we take better care of your car.
— Tenneco — Tennessee Gas was incorporated as Tenneco, Inc.
— Texaco — Trust your car to the man who wears the star.

Family names in Starkville associated with service stations that I could find from years ago included Bell, Bishop, Brooks, Chesteen, Cobbs, Coleman, Edmonds, Garrard, Gentry, Kendrick, Leonard, Lewis, Lindsey, McDavid, Markamson, Morgan, Mosley, Parrish, Prisock, Quinn, Reynolds, Schmitz, Smith, Stillman, Templeton, Turner, Valentine, Ward, Weaver and White.

Times were different in 1900 when there were 20 million horses and only 4,000 cars in the United States. Where there are gas stations today, stables and blacksmith shops stood.

The oil industry in its early days existed to manufacture kerosene, a fuel for lamps. Gasoline was a waste byproduct of this process — something usually thrown away. Early motorists looking for this abundant waste product would go to their local general store or kerosene refinery and fill up a bucket from a barrel of gasoline, which was not exactly convenient or safe.

The need for cheap and plentiful gasoline grew as the need for kerosene fell with the rise of electric lights. About 25,000 cars were manufactured in the United States in 1905 and Sylvanus F. Bower perfected a pump that would take gas out of a barrel and fill a car’s tank. The world’s first filling stations started opening that same year. Soon cars were running up and down Main Street, blocking the movement of pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages. By 1910 there were 500,000 cars looking for gas and blocking traffic while doing it. A new type of filling station began to appear — the drive-in. Around the same time, the government broke up Standard Oil, which controlled most of the oil in the United States, into a number of smaller companies. 

Suddenly, many new companies were competing for customers. Gas was cheap and plentiful.  How did a new company get motorist to by its gas rather than a competitor’s? In 1914, Standard Oil of California developed a standard design for its 34 gas stations. The company also put their employees in uniforms, provided free air for tires and gave away road maps.

Oil companies competed by seeing who could provide the most free services.

Architect Robert Venturi has called the gas station one of the world’s first examples of a “decorated shed.” A “decorated shed” is the opposite of a building designed to look beautiful, such as a cathedral. It is a building with this main architectural purpose: to be a backdrop for a sign that advertises what is sold inside. On any commercial strip, signs are what first catch the eye, not usually the design of the buildings
From signs and slogans, motorists knew then as they know now that they could find something reliably comfortable and familiar no matter how far from home they traveled. Just as many people of today love Wal-Mart and Murphy USA gas, back then you could “trust your car to the man who wears the star” at any Texaco gas station.

The basic gas station design has remained the same over time: a big sign over a shed containing auto supplies and snacks; a pump with an awning; and bays for service.

However, not all stations were completely standardized. Just as distinctively different food stands exist, distinctively different gas stations were built.

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