Remember Full Service Gas Stations?

Reed Brothers Dodge 1940s

1940s Reed Brothers Dodge full service Gulf gasoline station with two attendants posing in front. Professional service was very important in the first half of the 20th century, so it was common for gas station attendants to wear the company uniform. Photo by Lewis Reed

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.

Marvin Riggs Shultz, Sr

Circa 1957, Marvin Shultz pumps gas into a truck at Reed Brothers Gulf Gas Station. Marvin began as Manager of Reed Brothers full service Gulf Gasoline and Service Station when it was located at its original location at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. Photo courtesy of the Shultz family.

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.

Rockville Garage Sales & Service Staff circa 1920s.

Reed Brothers Dodge Sales & Service staff and Gulf Gasoline Attendants, circa 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed

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.

That Good Gulf Gasoline

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.

Reed Brothers Dodge 1940s

1936 — Reed Brothers Dodge canopied Gulf Gas Station. A closer look reveals the price of gasoline as 15 cents. On the right attached to a telephone pole is a sign pointing the way to Olney. In addition to the Gulf signage there is a small, barely visible sign below that promotes, “Clean Rest Rooms”. Photo by Lewis Reed

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.

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

3 responses to “Remember Full Service Gas Stations?”

  1. Jonathan B. Richards II says :

    Hello Again , Ms. Jeanne Gartner,
    Here is another of your fine blogs. At 83 years of age I recall the long gone days of true service given at the “Service Stations” across America. Our world has changed so much over the last 100 years. Thank you for your continuing excellent postings , Jonathan (Jack) Richards II at Chesterfield , Missouri.

    • Reed Brothers says :

      Hi Jonathan!

      I’m old enough to remember when ALL gas stations were full service with uniformed employees. I was really sad to see the full service stations go. And now we have self-serve checkouts in stores… and again I resist.

      Always nice to hear from you, and thanks for stopping by!

  2. Jason says :

    It’s always nice to hear such great story!

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