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Vintage Gas: Marathon, Sunoco, and No Name Filling Stations

Today’s installment in the “Vintage Gas” series begins with an image of Wendell’s Marathon service station located at the intersection of East Lincolnway and Garfield St in Valparaiso, Indiana.

The 1950s photo illustrates why there are very few full-service gas stations left today. Squeezed by the oil companies with high monthly station rental costs and the ability to only earn pennies on the dollar for gasoline sales, most filling station operators have to earn their money in the service bays. Today a recent street view of the intersection contains a no-name service station, an oil change shop and a 7-11.

Share with us what you find of interest in these photographs found via the Great American Gas Station.

  • This Sunoco station appears to be a one man band where lube jobs and car washes were performed when there were no cars at the pumps.

  • This Bowser “Red Sentry” fuel pump is setup next to a “Pool Room” in Ekalaka, MT in the 1910s.

29 responses to “Vintage Gas: Marathon, Sunoco, and No Name Filling Stations

    • And look where the license plate is it’s under the windshield. It has the letters SD at the end of it which I would presume stand for South Dakota. The other two cars have their license plates in the correct position and with the letter M at the end which would stand for the state of Montana. No dates on any of them though, so I would presume that the photo dates from around the year 1910, or early teens at the very latest.

        • Or maybe not. That box in the back seat of the South Dakota car kind of says travelling salesman. He may have been an out-of-stater on his way somewhere.

        • Ekalaka, Montana is still extant, in the southeastern area of the state, near enough to South Dakota for the car to be from that state. Can’t imagine driving across those wide open areas without extra gasoline and oil in those early decades of motoring. Took brave, self-reliant people to do it.

          Many service stations I recall were attached to the home of the man who ran them. It usually was a good location on a busy corner or crossroads where the residence became essentially commercial property. When the oil companies began building their corporate-designed operations, those places were acquired and razed to be replace by the modern facility. Very few still exist.

      • The South Dakota plate is a 1914 – it was white on red. Montana plate is a 1913 / 1914, black on white (front plate was perforated with holes to allow air passage to the radiator).

  1. 1st pic, another 2 door on the lift, Pontiac this time. Back from a time when you could go right in the service bay, in fact, station owners encouraged it. Today, you have to be escorted to the bathroom, if they even let you use it, while they gouge you and heaven forbid, you’d like to see what they’re doing. That secrecy behind the wall as you wait nervously watching Wendy Williams. 2nd pic, “No Hurry Up Jobs”? Sure wouldn’t make it today with that attitude. Apparently, “Sunflush Whirlfoam Service” was a Sunoco oil additive used to remove sludge. Used to be so many little garages behind the homes, all gone. Last, if this is Montana, the car getting gas is from South Dakota and carrying something important in the back. Looks like a low right front tire too. Nice tire chock, and what looks like horse dung in the road. The West was a rough place.

  2. Some station operators even resorted to renting out part of their buildings to tenants.
    How would you have liked to lived over a gas station?

      • And Martin Mull wrote a song about exactly that.

        “You’ll see I’m happy here livin’ above my station
        I got no complaint at all about my life
        Cuz there’s just one way to live above your station
        And that’s with your friends and Dr. Pepper and your wife.…”

  3. Ha, ha ! Howard, I also noticed that “un-regulated emissions” from the “other” mode of transportation laying in the street. Guess you can take the boy out of the country, but can’t take the country out of the boy ! As always, great pics David.

  4. “Today a recent street view of the intersection contains a no-name service station, an oil change shop and a 7-11.”

    It also shows a 62 Chevy Impala 2dr hardtop parked next to the oil change shop. What are the odds of that in a modern street scene?

    (I copied your quote to Word, then changed your link font to non-italic, non-underlined, and to black to (hopefully) eliminate your link.)

  5. In the Montana photo, the cars second and third in line are pre-1916 Model Ts, but the lead car is something fancier. The resolution on my screen isn’t quite good enough to make out the script on the radiator — Locomobile?

    • No, its too early to be a LaSalle as they did not come about until the late 20’s. My first thought was that it was a Packard as they always put their company name on the front grill, only problem though is that the grill doesn’t match that of any Packard. With so many different makes around back then it would be very hard to correctly determine the right make, but perhaps an expert from that era may be able to identify it for the rest of us.

  6. The last photo, the SD car sure looks interesting. I wish I knew what it was. I have a couple ideas, however, none have panned out yet. I tried zooming in on the radiator and its script, but there isn’t enough detail in the photo to make it out. It appears to be between about 1909 and 1911. Gasoline tanks under the front seat were common during those years. Even such marques as Cadillac and Pierce Arrow had under-seat gasoline tanks on some models during those years.

    The T behind the SD car appears to be a rather dirty 1913 model T Ford touring car. It could be a ’14, however I think I can just barely make out the windshield forward folding hinge. The ’13 folded forward, the ’14 folded backward (with some crossover when both styles were used on the very early ’14s). An interesting detail of that T is that the oil side lamps have been replaced by after-market electric side lamps.

    The third car also appears to be a ’13 or ’14 model T Ford. Although much less dirty, I cannot see enough details to guess which of the two years it is.

    The second of three photos is also a nice one. Can’t see much of the cars, but the service station is very interesting. The car way in the background behind the pumps appears to be between about ’32 to ’34 model. I can’t be sure of the make, but Studebaker looks promising? The Coupe behind the service bay looks nice, and probably ’27 to ’29. I wonder if it has a rumble seat? Looks like the stepping plate on the rear fender? (But could be something just laying there?)
    Great pictures David G! Thank you.

    • Wayne,

      The upper windshield support was curved like that to allow the upper windshield to fold to the rear, making it a 1914 model. You are correct that there was some overlap and different models were produced at different locations at the same time.

      Neil

    • Wayne…thanks for trying to learn it’s make.
      Another clue to age is the oversize wooden firewall/dash. They were largely gone by the mid-teens.

  7. I suspect that the demise of the full-service station had less to do with oil-company depredations than with the considerably lower manpower requirements of self-service operations, including those incorporating high-markup convenience stores.

  8. And don’t forget that those girls crossing that such-as-it-is street in a little town in Montana are now the barely remembered ancestors of their great and great-great grand children. The cars have been recycled for their steel and then recycled again….

  9. The Marathon station photo is a professionally taken advertising or pr photo. My wife was a Marathon station owner and petroliana collector and has that shot among a group of photos she was given by the Marathon Oil company

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