Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Last Service Station in Hawkinsville

The Peter Bogdanovich movie, “The Last Picture Show,” a black and white version of a small Texas town was based on a Larry McMurtry novel. The movie reflected life in the 1960s when theaters began to be replaced by televisions for family entertainment. In the fictitious community, the picture show closed after the owner died.
Life changed in many communities when the local picture shows began to close. In Hawkinsville, the Thompson Theater closed, and only those who recall “Picture Show” Thompson’s business being part of their lives remember that it was once located where the Hawkinsville Dispatch & News expanded addition is today. In many small towns, one can see the skeletal remains of a local picture show.
In another movie, “Back to the Future,” a young man from the 1980s was transferred to the year 1955 via the script and a Delorean automobile. As he walked around an earlier version of his home town, the camera followed a car into a service station for gasoline.

Moments later, a group of four men came out of the garage bay and surrounded the car, checking the oil, washing the windshields, sweeping the inside with whisk brooms and adding air to the tires—all of this in addition to having someone pump gas into the vehicle.
For those of us who grew up in a time when drugs stores had soda fountains and sandwich shops in them, every town had a picture show—now known as cinemas and found only in larger cities or metropolitan areas—grocery stores on every corner, and full-service gasoline stations in abundance. There are no more small grocery stores on every corner, and only a couple left in the county. There are no drugstores with soda fountains to be found. All of these things we no longer have, give us an inherent desire to cling to “The Last Service Station,” aka Woodard’s Service Station, as if we are clinging to a part of our heritage.
In his attempt to name the owners of gas stations throughout his years in Hawkinsville, Ronald Woodard began to sound like he was naming a who’s who of the history of Hawkinsville. Scratching his head, Woodard began to name off those he could recall during his sixty years. “Aaron Sewell, Freeman Bragg, Johnny Anderson, Bud Curry and his uncle, Charlie” Woodard said; “there was Bussey Woods, Leroy Gatlin, Tom Chalker, Aaron Floyd, Pete Butler, and Woodrow Powers who had a Phillips 66 station. There was Sam Clark, Melvin “Bully” McKinney, John Henry Anderson and Ray Hill. There was George Grinstead, Floyd Cobb and Lloyd Mays. I’ve been in the service station business myself since 1982. Those are all that I can remember, however there are probably many more that others can remember.”
According to Duane Woodard, brother of Ronald, “J. J. Sparrow, an Auto Parts Dealer told me once that he had 27 gas stations on his books, and all of them paid in full by the tenth of the month.” Both Woodard brothers have been working in the service station business a good part of their lives. Duane Woodard recalls working for Leroy Gatlin at his station which was located on the corner where PlantersFirst Bank is located today. “He really taught me the meaning of full service. He stressed that by showing them what full meant in full service, the customers would keep coming back to the places where their business was appreciated.”
Before the days of full service stations, some businesses installed gasoline pumps on the side of their buildings by the curb. With the coming age of the automobile, the world of business would begin to change drastically. More people who had previously sold buggies, also known as horse-drawn vehicles began to sell automobiles in those same businesses. With the increase in automobile sales, there was an increase in places to sell gas. America was adapting to traveling in machines that supplied their own power: no horse, no mule, no pedals required. By the end of World War I, gas was generally available on America's busiest streets and at rural crossroads. Then, as Ford's mass production and lowered costs began bringing car ownership within the financial reach of average American households, gas stations emerged as stand-alone businesses.
In their early years, gas stations often consisted of small, unsightly buildings and an unattractive assortment of pumps, and they drew complaints from nearby residents. As a result, major oil companies began to introduce standardized stations. Their distinctive styles were intended to build consumer loyalty by making a corporation's stations readily identifiable to customers, and they allowed the stations to blend more compatibly into their surroundings.
In neighboring Bleckley County, authors, William Purser and Fred Noegle, Jr. published a book entitled “The Auto Gypsies.”
Three residents of Cochran, Fred Noegle, Sr., his wife, Emma, and good friend, Miss Pansy Deese set out in their Model “T” Ford on a journey that would take them all the way across the country to California and back. They departed on that tremendous trip on March 6, 1923. Noegle thought to himself that the trip would be so different from the ones who took those journeys many years ago in covered wagons. In 1923, Henry Ford’s Model “T” was still almost in its infancy, and gasoline locations and repair shops were few and far between. Early dispensing was done in various ways. Filling and measuring depended on the capacity of cans, buckets or drums which were used at first, then on to portable rotary pumps and on to actual gauges. It proved to be a pioneer journey in itself. The book is loaded with pictures of the historic trip as well as their story. Certainly, the trio did not have the advantage of full service stations.
With further increases in the number of cars, some gas stations began to broaden their services into vehicle repair and the selling of tires, batteries and other auto parts and accessories. This trend became a virtual economic necessity for many stations during the hard times of the 1930s, as demand for gasoline dropped. Such changes affected station design. New buildings were made larger so automotive wares could be displayed and they often contained built-in bays for auto repair.
Things were somewhat different in the less populous countryside. Gas was, for the most part, sold at existing general stores, which were frequently located at intersections of rural highways. As pre-auto store buildings were replaced and as new stores were opened, the structures often featured covered drives sheltering gas pumps.
In some places, such as Arkansas, the Historic Preservation Program began a focused effort to identify sites related to the state's automotive history. The aim was to call attention to and preserve such places by having them listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to gas stations, AHPP took note of places such as tourist courts, drive-in eateries and theaters, roadside diners, auto showrooms, and roadside attractions like small amusement parks and miniature golf courses. When we look at the history of our city by the muddy river, most of those things have disappeared or at best are standing as haunting reminders of a time gone by. It is little wonder some cling to The Last Service Station where oil and air are checked and windshields are washed at no extra charge.


Anonymous said...

Years ago I used to visit "Bully" McKinney's station with my best friend. He certainly qualified as a "charater" Would that we still had full-service "filling" stations. Thanks for the memory.

Anonymous said...

I so remember the "Filling Stations" around town. I hung around Tom Chalkers cause that's where my old buddy "Satch" worked. The nearest one to the mill village was on Jackson Street and Mr. Clyde Marlow ran it.

Good post Bro. keep'um coming and we'll keep on reading them.