Remember Full Service Gas Stations?
Do you remember full service gas stations? I sure do. As a baby boomer growing up in the 60s, I remember Reed Brothers Dodge when it was a full service gasoline station. Reed Brothers was the first to sell Gulf gasoline to the motoring public in the Washington, D.C. area. In 1915, they began selling gas at their original location in Old Rockville at the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. Their first “gas station” consisted of a single pump. Reed Brothers Dodge offered full service gasoline for 55 years until they relocated to their new facility in 1970.
The uniformed attendant would greet the customer by name, fill the car up with gas, wipe the windshield, check the tire pressures and check under the hood. Back then, getting a tank of gas could take up to 10-15 minutes per person. I used to love to hear the bell ding after every gallon pumped. Gulf had orange foam balls you could place on your car’s antenna and they also gave away things like pens, key chains, calendars and road maps. But for the most part, gas stations today resemble convenience stores more than a one-stop haven for all things automotive. Some changes are for the better, but there are some amenities that are missed.
The first uniformed gas station attendants appeared at Reed Brothers Dodge around 1920. The Gulf station included a manager and four attendants. Attendants worked long hours in all weather, possessed a thorough knowledge of service requirements for various automobile makes and models, improvised quick repairs on the spot, provided directions to lost travelers, and did it all with a smile. The men dressed in uniforms and caps in the photo below were Gulf Gasoline Station attendants. Three of the original gas station attendants were Walter (Bud) Beall, Otis Beall and John Burdette.
Gas station attendants used to be as well-dressed as police officers and firefighters, right down to the snappy hat and bow tie. The uniform shirt usually had the company logo stitched on one breast pocket and the employee’s embroidered nameplate on the other. The attendant also had a roll of fives and singles in his shirt pocket so that he could make change.
Black rubber hoses used to snake across the pavement. They were hooked up to a bell inside the building and the “ding” signaled for an attendant to dash over to the driver’s window and ask, “Fill ‘er up? Every attendant had a huge rag hanging out of his back pocket that he used to wipe the oil dipstick. Then, much like a sommelier proffering a sample of a vintage wine, he’d present the dipstick to the driver for his inspection. He would then use his squeegee to carefully clean those panoramic windshields of the era with just a few expert swipes. All this whether the customer had purchased 50 cents worth or a tank full of gas.
In earlier times, lost motorists could pull into any service station and get detailed, accurate directions. The attendant would often mark on a road map as a visual aid and then let the driver take it with him, free of charge. In fact, it was expected that gas stations in any given area had a rack full of complimentary road maps. Gulf was the first oil company to use maps to promote its pump attendants as courteous, helpful, and reliable sources of local tourist information, as seen in this 1933 ad. However, you won’t find many road maps available today thanks to navigation provided by smartphones, Garmin and other built-in-car GPS systems.
Reed Brothers Service Station provided restrooms for the traveling public. Patrons wanted clean and safe facilities. In addition to the Gulf signage there is a small, barely visible sign below that promotes, “Clean Rest Rooms” which assured the traveler that the restrooms were well maintained. Gulf was the first oil company to promote clean restrooms as a customer benefit.
We’ve come a long way since these times. We pull up, pump our own gas, stick a plastic card in a machine and go. No human contact required. That’s progress, one supposes.