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Service With A Smile – Three Classic 1940s Filling Station Images

The colorful lead photograph is of an attendant at an Esso station cleaning the windshield on a car while it was being refueled. In addition back in time the engine oil, fan belt, coolant in the radiator and the tires were also checked for the customer as a courtesy. Quite often the gas pump jockey’s  inspection turned into an additional service sale for the station.

In many cases a motorist would patronize a local filling station they trusted, and also have their car’s service work performed there, some stations even extended credit and billed customers monthly.

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This 1930 or ’31 Model “A” Ford standard roadster with a Wisconsin license plate appears to be at a Union Oil Co. station. One of the attendants is wearing a “Triton” hat advertising Union’s purple-colored motor oil. The Ford has a single rear spare and aftermarket rims with “balloon” tires for a more comfortable ride.

And the final image (below) contains a Buick and GMC truck agency and its employees posing for a group photograph. 1941 Buick’s with a “Fireball Eight” were on sale at the time and the facility sold American “Amoco” Gasoline. Four of the new cars are visible in the image.

All of today’s images were taken in unknown locations. You can view over 200 other gasoline station images here. The photos are via Americar.

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36 responses to “Service With A Smile – Three Classic 1940s Filling Station Images

  1. The lead photo is almost comical by today’s standards. The man is wearing a coat/hat that coordinate, and a pressed shirt & tie to man gas pumps?! The only thing i see out of place (if you can call it that…) is a bit of shop grease on the man’s knuckles!
    Today? The only one at the gas pumps is YOU!

      • Also no self service in Oregon.

        As far as the white shirt and tie goes, my grandfather (born 1889) always wore a white shirt and tie. In the 1950’s I clearly recall seeing him digging foundations, bailing hay, and doing carpentry work while wearing his white shirt and tie!

      • Which is exactly, precisely why I avoid driving thru that state or if it can’t be avoided I make sure my tank is full before venturing into that horrible place. Likewise Illinois with the outrageous gas prices as compared to IN, IA or WI.

  2. My father owned one of these stations from the mid-fifties to 1971 — he sold out just before the first oil crisis. It had two bays, one with a lift, and enough tools for basic maintenance. A tire machine, a dedicated lathe for turning brake drums, a spark plug cleaner. And a wringer washer for washing rags that I remember well, from when I got my arm caught in the wringer when I was eight.

    Once cars no longer needed this kind of maintenance — when you didn’t have to repack the bearings and lube the 31 grease points every 1000 miles — a lot of these stations went from being gas stations that sold maintenance to convenience stores that sold gas. But my father’s station is still there in its fifties tiled glory, with the twin bays, offering tune ups, brake service, and PA state inspections. Corner of Montgomery Ave. and Wyoming Ave, West Pittston, PA.

  3. Top photo looks like S.Z. Sakall, a supporting actor in the 1940s. Imagine an attendant in a tie, never mind that, imagine an attendant today.

    • And the guy standing on the far side of the car in the second photo looks like WWII General Douglas MacArthur, hat included.

  4. I’ll estimate the Lead Image is of a ’40 Buick, perhaps a Special, with its chrome strip on the hood, the hinged cowl vent and its wing window being frameless on the trailing edge…and of course the antenna above the windshield with its little mooring device on the windshield divider.

    • I was wondering about that little thing on the windshield divider, Pat; of course! a mooring ‘device’ for the antenna. Thanks for yet another most worthy ‘tidbit’ for those of us like myself who “collect” this type of information.

  5. 1st pic, there was a time when a gas station attendant was an honorable job. Like truck drivers, appearance was everything. 2nd pic, I know we’ve seen before. Unsure of the car, but I’d bet the driver of the hack is the guy on the right, with the attendant in uniform. Looks like Betty Sue, his best gal, in the right hand corner of the windshield, and it appears to have 1941 plates, with “Americas Dairyland” on top( after the war, those words were on the bottom and the plate was black. Also, the “Superior” tag would indicate the city of Superior. Some young man headed off to war? And last, owners on the right, workers on the left. Judging by how dirty the mechanics clothes are, pretty obvious who was the hardest worker.

  6. I like first picture, the Esso Motor Oil sign says”In Sealed Containers”.

    I had an Arco Station in the late seventies early eighties and remember well cleaning all of those windshields! Also scrubbing down the service bays each night and restocking the oil cabinet at the pumps. And free air from the Ecco Air Dispenser.

  7. In the 3rd picture [2nd expandable photograph], there’s a sign in the window addressed “TO MEN 21 to 35” which appears an offer to join the military.

  8. Thanks, David. Thanks for confirming to me the point of the “inspection” was to build trust, and to sell hoses, belts, etc. etc. I’ve long been a believer in offering free tire rotations to get the wheels off the car to have a look at the brakes.

    Almost all franchised dealers perform a Multi-Point Inspection (MPI) every time you bring a car in for service. “Selling the green”, meaning pointing out all the things that are right with the car helps build trust, while pointing out the “Yellow” as items we’ll check next time you bring the car in, and “Red” as items that need immediate attention builds trust. And, people do business with people they know, like, and trust.

  9. My dad never wanted to have the windshield cleaned as he stated the rag used was often dual purpose. Used for checking the oil and wiping the wind shield he felt they left an oily residue that streaked and smeared when the wipers were needed. Don’t know if that is the case but I remember his passing on a windshield cleaning many a time.

    • Hi FXLEW, our parents sure did some silly things. Most attendants used a separate rag to check oil and clean the windshield. I suppose it happened once, and I’d be upset too. My dad never trusted air conditioning. I won’t use those squeegee things, however. I saw a woman once, spill gas down the side of the car, grabbed the windshield squeegee and “washed” the gas off with it.

      • I complained about the squeegee water at my local gas station. Smelled like sewage. The manager said, “We change the water every Wednesday.” Oh – no wonder.

  10. In photo two, note the “Superior” accessory plate on the right.

    For those of you who don’t know, Superior is the “twin city” to Duluth, Minnesota on the opposite side of the harbor on the west end of Lake Superior. IIRC, most of the iron ore loading docks were in Superior. It was the largest city in NW Wisconsin, so the guys in the A might have gone to the town for R&R (which in Wisconsin usually means drinking).

    Is it unusual for the A to have two license plate-capable tail lights?

    • Hi John, looks like we’re both familiar with the “mini Twin Cities”. I read, 1939 was the year for 2 tail lights from car makers. It may have been law to update all older cars with 2 tail lights.

  11. Last photo, the cars parked on each end of the group look straight out of Godfather, and the guys in the suits look as if they would make you an offer you couldn’t refuse.
    The architecture of the light-colored building behind the group is beautiful.

  12. I can just barely remember a TexasMexico(Texaco) gas station that we used to frequent in the early 1960s.The guy wore the entire company rig including the bowtie but God was he crusty and stained from his work.Those guys never did look like the examples shown in the TV commercials and magazine ads.

    • CHRIS, your statement seems to indicate that Texaco was short for TEXAs mexiCO. I’ve never heard that before. I’ve always thought it was short for TEXAs COmpnay, since it was called the Texas Fuel Company when it was established in 1902. Was there a point in its history when it was called TexasMexico?

  13. In the second picture, the Wayne Model 70 gas pump has a “WIS. TEST GASOLINE” sign on it. I wonder what that means. Maybe something to do with winter starting. Superior is still home to a large oil and gas refinery which I believe was built by Clark Oil.

  14. No,your’re right,Mr. Cunningham,there never was a TexasMexico Oil Co.That was something my
    uncle told me as a kid.He said that Sunoco stood for Sun Oil Co.(which it really did)and that Texaco stood for TexasMexico(which it didn’t)I have since learned otherwise.
    Kids usually believe what grown-ups say no matter how outlandish.

  15. The Buick dealer displaying the new 1941 models with his well-turned-out staff, has something that’s long gone: gas pumps on the curb. Those were common at one time, most new car showrooms on main street had them.

  16. When other gasoline companies adopted tetraethyl lead in the mid ’20s, Amoco, founded 1889, continued lead free by using aromatics to increase octane, into the ’70s and of course, beyond. So those pictured ’41 Buicks and tens of millions of other cars back in the day got along just fine without leaded gas, something many buffs overlook.

  17. Service Stations
    The very concept of a place one could trust to meet all automotive needs is foreign today.
    Every town had not just a few but several or many, usually run by the same guy and his son and grandson for decades.
    They were great places for first jobs and learning how to take care of your prized first car.
    Families were loyal to them and they to families.
    I think about them when I buy gas from the guys behind the bulletproof glass.

  18. Years ago, I listened to a 1935 recording of NBC’s “The Fire Chief” starring comic Ed Wynn. The commercials are for “Texaco Fire Chief gasoline and Texaco Crack-Proof motor oil all brought to you by the The Texas Company”.

  19. Life was a bit more formal back then. Hell, even US troops went to war wearing neckties, something General Patton was pretty strict about. But working in a gas station was actually an interesting job for young fellows, teaching responsibility, thoroughness, cleanliness (at least where I worked) and some sales chutzpah. Never ever used the oil rag for cleaning windows, either…LOL, but did try to inform the customer when some service or part may have been warranted. Never was told to just find excuses to sell stuff to folks, but there was an incentive for sales based on a small percentage we got for each sale.

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