Classical Gas; Running on Empty

Note: The following story is also illustrated with video clips via the highlighted and underlined links within the text.

Once a familiar site on the American Landscape many of these old Texaco stations stubbornly live on as rusted venues for various enterprises.

The “banjo sign” was its most recognizable feature.

Their slogan was “You can trust your car with the man who wears the star.”

They were called “Service Stations.” One never had to dirty one’s hands on the unwieldy hose and nozzle. Attendants popped open the hood and checked the oil, battery, brake fluid, radiator, and fan belts. Windshields cleaned and tire pressure checked. Typically motorists wandered over to a soda machine and relaxed while their car was checked over, filled and “topped off.”

You could always count on a road map being available. If there was a charge for one, it was nominal. I seem to recall they were free all through the 1960’s.

Children could enjoy playing with their own Texaco station. The Texaco station design appearantly emerged from the early 1930’s. They were white with green trim, red stars, and banjo sign.

Oceanside, CA. The bands of trim are always a clue even though the stations now look different.

It would have been 3 bands of green trim.

This old station on U.S. 101 in Leucadia was remodeled, but I suspected it once was a Texaco.

I ran the question past Scott. He confirmed it was indeed a Texaco Station from the early 1930’s.

Another old Texaco in North Park, San Diego.

On the same block is this old station. But no clue. I have the feeling it was formerly a Richfield Station.

There were many stations to choose from. Many brands. The competition was strong. There was the term “Gas War.” It didn’t mean war in the Middle East, as one might suppose today. It meant one dealer would out do the other dealer for the lowest possible price.

An oldie in Encinitas, CA. It appears the structure featured an apartment above the gas station. In addition to Gas Wars there were various incentives such as trading stamps.

There were three competing trading stamps I recall. Orange Stamps, S&H Green stamps, and Blue Chip Stamps. The concept is modified today in the form of “cash rewards,” or “Airline Miles” offered by credit cards. I remember Shell had a game called Presidential Portraits. If you collected the portraits of all U.S. Presidents, you won a prize. It wasn’t easy though. You amassed a large trove of Millard Filmores but could never get a Zachary Taylor. China collections and silverware were often incentives.

Signal is a gas you never see anymore. A lot of petroleum was produced in the Los Angeles region, especially Signal Hill.

Gilmore Gasoline came from the grounds of the Fairfax District in Los Angeles.

Gilmore was gobbled by Mobil. The distinctive pegasus was eventually phased out by Mobil. This station is in Flagstaff, AZ.

Douglas Gas, very popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s, had refining operations out of Long Beach. They were gobbled up by Continental Oil. Continental became Conoco which merged with Phillips. ConocoPhillips today is one of the “Big Six Super Majors.” Another old brand bought up by ConocoPhillips is Union 76, or Unical. Union 76 stations were known to have a higher price. However in the day when stations actually provided service, theirs was always considered top notch. They had a jingle:

“You always get the finest
The very best, the finest
At the sign of the 76
Whether you stop in for water or air
To powder your nose or comb your hair.
You always get the finest
The very best, the finest
At the sign of the 76.
It’s orange and blue,
So look for that Union
Sign of the finest —
The sign of the 76.”

You may notice PhillipsConoco has discarded 76 Orange for red. The 76 ball is apparently being phased out as well as some of their landmark stations.

The most interesting gas station I photographed was Russel’s Gas Station on Sawtelle Blvd. in West Los Angeles. It appeared unchanged, except for weathered paint, since the 1920’s.

I’ve misplaced most of my shots of it. These pictures are from 1983. I remember Huell Howser discovered Russel’s when he was with KCET, Public Broadcasting in Los Angeles. “Now wait a minute! You mean to tell me you’ve been here since WHEN? GAW-LEE!” Needless to say the site is extinct now.

I was able to locate one of my shots of Russel’s Gas Station in the form of a CD cover for the band Building 14 and their album “Fuel For The Messiah.” The label on the pumps is Seaside Gas, a later day “Independent.” But the pumps appear to have been painted over many times. I seem to recall it being a Richfield station before.

Gulf was a frequently seen sign.

Gulf was gobbled up by Chevron. Many old Gulf stations became the independent “GO-LO,” whatever that means.

Advertising at times seemed to be saying one thing but meaning another.

Kum and Go is based in Iowa. It is a very popular mid west gasoline brand.

Another unusual name.

As the companies merged, competition dried up. Prices skyrocketed and “service” was completely eliminated from stations. The prices here are almost the “good old days.” We hear a lot of explanations of why the prices have gone up. Besides the usual ones–OPEC pulls the strings, too much demand–I have to laugh at some of the others. “The price has gone up because of worries about hurricanes this season,” “A refinery had to close for a month because of maintenance.” Why not “upset caused by Britney Spears’ bad smelling feet on a trans atlantic flight?”

In the NEWS on February 1st it was reported Exxon posted the highest quartly profit of any company in the history of the universe. But not by charging the prices shown at this BARFF Station.

I am Dan Soderberg, award winning documentary film maker and phototgrapher specializing in architecture, historic preservation and nature.
  • Zack

    “Marfak” lubrication. I wonder why they didn’t stick with it. I sounds like you will get one hell of a lube job with “Marfak.” As kids, we stayed in the car to get a lift on lube rack.

    I remember the Richfield station in the Dana Point area. Huge blue neon eagle you could see for quite a distance. Something for a kid to marvel at.

  • janlallen

    I enjoyed very much your landscape photographic pictures. I remember my father owned a Douglas service station that operated 16 hours a day, uniforms,and stamp collecting.

  • Gregory

    Oh, the rocks on that deco station! Yuck! LOL And, “Kum & Go” seriously?! LOL Leaves a bad taste in my mouth! LOL

Leave a Reply