Where Did The Man With The Star Go

The other day as I filled-up my Flexfuel car with E-85 ethanol fuel and watched the digital cost monitor spin like an out of control slot machine, my thoughts went back to simpler times when a fill-up of gas was something of enjoyment. It was nothing like today when every time we fill-up we have to wonder what vital organ of our bodies we will have to sell next just to pay the bill.

I’m talking about the days when a service station provided what the first part of its name implied – service. We could “trust our car to the man who wears the star” and he wasn’t a Deputy Sheriff either. Back in those days when you pulled up to the pump, a young man with his name on his shirt would greet you with a smile and ask that important question, “Fill’er up?” He would then proceed to put either high-test or regular gasoline in your tank and move almost in a run to the front of your car. After a search for the hood latch, he would then raise the car’s hood and grab the dipstick to check the oil in the engine. While there, he also felt of the hoses and belts to see if they were safe to get you on down the road. Slamming the hood shut, he would next take out a gray shop rag from his back pocket and wipe off his handprints from the hood. Usually the shop rag was also greasy, but it was the thought that he was trying that counted in this action.

Next, in almost one motion, he would grab a squeegee from a bucket of water, and using the same rag he wiped off your hood with, he cleaned your windshield. After completing all of these assignments, he finished filling your tank and if you purchased at least ten gallons of gas you could even receive a cup with the station’s logo on it, or even better, a bank shaped like a dinosaur to put your saved pennies in. Of course, that was back when a penny was saved and not left to be smashed into the pavement in area parking lots. I still will pick up a penny from the pavement and almost got run over the other day doing so.

And, the good part was that all of this may have cost you no more than thirty-five cents a gallon and a total bill of something over five dollars. You would leave the station without the smell of gasoline on your hands and shoes, a clean windshield and sometimes with a fresh quart of oil in your engine.

Not today. Instead, in today’s world you pull up to the pump, stick in a piece of plastic causing the computer to harass you over whether it is a debit or credit transaction and to try to sell you a superdooper car wash. Then, someone from inside a bullet-proof enclosure speaks over a microphone telling you that pump number 5 is ready and their dark chocolate latte coffee is only three dollars and twenty-five cents with a fill up today. After filling up your tank, you notice that you need to make a call to the bank for a loan and that this fill-up has helped increase the resale value of your automobile. You also told the machine that had your credit card that you wanted a paper receipt, but instead, it only pretended to print one, said thank you and gave you nothing, causing you to have to go into the “Get It and Run” and ask the person behind the glass to give you one. And, they are not all that happy to do so, because Bubba forgot to put paper in the machine and you smell like gasoline.

There is really no comparison to the two events mentioned here other than the fact that in both cases we thought the gasoline was high. Remembering prices at twenty-five cents, I also remember when gas went to forty cents and everyone thought gas prices would destroy the country. Back in those days, gas pumps contained only three spaces for a price and when gasoline fill-ups went to over $10, new pumps had to be bought. But, you did get service with your visit and whether you stopped at Sinclair, Esso, Lion or Mobile, service was important and the thing that brought back repeat customers. Service stations in those days were in the people business much more than being in the gas business.

Today we have made the swap of the service of yesterday for the convenience of today. If a store doesn’t have an Icee machine, latte coffee, a full-line of groceries, a selection of drinks that fills two walls of the store and a car wash, then we may not stop. I didn’t mention restrooms here because from the dawn of time that has always been a gamble on what you get and it has not changed.

Yes, fuel prices are high I agree. But, it has never been cheap to operate a vehicle, starting all the way back with Mr. Ford. I’m just glad my car lets me flex the fuel by putting a little agriculture in the tank.




– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.  He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com