Ron Lee dropped the picture by. It was a view of Gordon Bridgman’s Standard Service Station in Oakwood taken by American Air Photography. The image was captured mid-way through the last century. Oakwood’s new fire station now occupies the space along U.S. Route 150 where Gordon operated the station for decades.
The shadows of the building and the utility pole declare it was a sunny day when the camera snapped the picture. The fully leafed trees indicate it was summer.
The loafers' bench that usually occupied the space below the building’s large window is missing in the photo. That is probably because the structure is newly painted. The regulars who occupied the bench would undoubtedly have soon had it moved back so they could observe the traffic passing by and be the first to welcome any customers.
The regulars who sat there also had a couple of old chairs in the area where Gordon repaired automobiles. This allowed them to be comfortable as they provided advice and commentary as he healed an ailing machine.
Gordon smiled when he remembered the individuals who loafed at his station.
“If someone would come in and open his mouth and deliver a bit of fresh news you could just see the ears pick up. This one fellow, I’ll call him an independent contractor for want of a better name, would begin edging for the door almost before the news was delivered. He would be out like a flash to carry the story uptown almost before the story was delivered. Now the other loafers would all laugh and joke about how he was such a tale carrier. But the truth of the matter is, some of them were just sore because he always beat them on a good tale.”
Route 150 is visible in the photo. It is mapped with patches of the tar that waged a war with joints and cracks in the concrete of the highway. The old timers referred to it as a “hard road” because they could remember when it wasn’t paved. A couple of signs face north where Oakwood Street joins the highway.
The three gas pumps that front the building are adorned with Standard Gas crowns. Two are for red crown gas and one is for white crown. The crowns designated the quality of the fuel. They are highly sought collectors items today.
A short light pole is at each end of the gas island. There is no major lighting and Gordon didn’t operate late at night. He also never opened on a Sunday. On that day he could be found in church where he taught a Sunday School class most of his 92 years.
The writing over the open garage door reads, “This new oil saves gas.” The message was promoting Standard’s new Super Permalube Oil introduced in 1954. An ad for the oil read “Yes — tests prove Super Permalube can give you 34.4 extra miles from a tank full of gas.”
There is a Red Man Tobacco sign on the small building Gordon referred to as his “oil shed.” The structure contained oil, grease and other items. Tobacco products were a big sales item at the station and Gordon noted Camel cigarettes were a favorite.
The original service station had three additions added to create the building pictured. Horse and buggies still competed with automobiles when it opened. The station provided employment for a number of people during the decades Gordon and his wife, Chrystal, operated the business. He ran the station and she kept the books.
Gordon also was a historian and an astute observer of humanity. He was 90 years old when I interviewed him for the last time. He still smiled when he recalled some of the humorous things he encountered as he traveled life’s highway along the old “hard road.”
Thanks for the picture Ron, it freezes a slice of the 1950s in an instant of time.
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.