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Yankee Gas Station Used Engine Oil Dumped into the Park River

Back in the pre-EPA days, it was fairly common to dump waste engine oil onto the ground. This set of circa 1925 images contain a Yankee Filling Station located on Wells Street next to the Park River in Hartford, CT. Oil drums visible in the lead photo point to were gas station employees dumped used oil and gear lube over the bank in two spots. Note the glistening appearance the oil adds to the rock retaining wall before it drains down into the river. The H.G. Murk & Co. next door was located at 25 Wells St. in the Capital City.

Please share with us what you find of interest in these Hartford City Parks Collection photos found via the Connecticut Digital Archive.

  • An earlier view when it was a Dixie filling station. Note “The Cylinder and Piston” sign.

22 responses to “Yankee Gas Station Used Engine Oil Dumped into the Park River

  1. Interesting pictures.

    The 3rd & 4th photographs were taken a bit of time apart, maybe a month or two. The building on the left appears occupied in the 3rd picture & in the process of demolition in the 4th picture.

  2. We sure gave Mother Earth our worst. I realize in these photos, mechanization was new, but you can’t tell me, even in this time period, it had to known, dumping oil in a river was wrong. I heard, one quart of oil pollutes a million gallons of water. In my youth, we dumped coolant, which was mostly rusty water, down the storm sewers. I knew some that dumped drain oil, but I just couldn’t do that, even though, my friends dad worked at the sewage commission, and he said, go ahead, it keeps the sewer pipes from rusting,,,and it goes well beyond oil. When I pulled rail cans out of Chicago in the 80’s, many container yards were near the river, and always big potholes and stench. I asked the attendant why all these yards are like that, he said, in the 20’s and 30’s, the cattle slaughter houses were right on the river, for obvious reasons, and many times the guts were buried in those now container yards. Pretty gross years later and this isn’t much better.

    • Howard, I’m ashamed to admit I did the same. I’d been told the same thing and using reclaimed oil on dirt roads was done daily. Our storm sewer ran directly to Boca Ciega Bay in St. Petersburg, FL and no one thought anything of it. When you’re a 16-17 year old jerk kid, you don’t think about the consequences. When I worked in service stations, the road crew people were who emptied our drain oil tank. And then we wondered while all the marine life and vegetation was dying off. It’s only come back recently.

    • Some of the thoughts expressed here may be a bit harsh, given the context of the times and places represented by the images. What were the business operators supposed to do with the used oil? (We had the good fortune in Milwaukee of having a guy with a small refinery on 73rd and Burnham [Warden Refinery] and he recycled the stuff, then sold it for 25 cents a quart. Warden was an exception though.) Was dumping oil in a river any worse than sending children into coal mines to lose fingers and other assorted body parts? Or worse than buying another human being at auction, forcing them to toil for the buyers profit for the rest of their life? These practices, like dumping oil, were once accepted as acceptable and normal…again, given the time and place. Like laws that finally made it into the books abolishing slavery and child labor (think Lewis Hine), The Clean Water Act finally made dumping oil into rivers a major no-no. Does that make those who did it a hundred years ago or more worthy of our contempt? Careful how you answer.

      • I don’t think this was a wide spread practice, I’m sure there were responsible station owners( that didn’t have a river in the back yard) that contained the oil. There are drums laying around, and this seems a blatant disregard for responsibility, with few laws, nobody was going to stop them. I think you are getting carried away comparing this to child or slave labor. This guy was just too lazy to pour it back in a drum, he wasn’t killing anyone, directly. I wonder if the oil was the subject matter of the photo in the 1st place?

        • The point was not to compare slave and child labor to dumping oil. It was to emphasize that if collectively we accepted slavery and child labor, dumping oil could never have been an issue. So you actually support my claim by saying I’m “…getting carried away,” As Bob Croslin points out, under certain circumstances “…you don’t think about the consequences.” How can you if you don’t know what they are? Thus…” and no one thought anything of it.” As Bob also points out, the ecosystems in Florida have “come back.” Nature has a marvelous way of restoring itself, so there’s no surprise there. The real issue, I believe, is nature is not on the schedule we would like her to be.: ours.

  3. UMass Amherst has a photograph of the 1936 Hartford Flood where the Murk building looks almost the same except for a pair of Motorola signs. The Stewart-Warner sign is still there, along with the Murk sign, and a bunch of cars are parked in the same area with water up to the top of the earthen bank (the left side cuts off in the middle of the cars, probably before the service station would be visible, but the Socony Gasoline sign is gone and there’s a metal fence where it used to be).

  4. That tall structure looming in the background in the third photograph down is the Travelers Tower building. Completed in the year 1919 and made out of pink granite while standing 527 ft tall with a total of 34 stories it was built for the Travelers Insurance Company and at the time of its completion was the seventh tallest building in the world. Still standing today, but it is now the second tallest building in Hartford by about eight feet.

  5. I can remember when it was common for people to pour their used motor oil along their fence lines, making it easy to mow the lawn and not have to trim near the fence.

  6. It’s appropriate that Stewart Warner be part of this story . Their plant in Chicago was seriously contaminated and it took many years before the vacant site was cleaned and redeveloped.

    • I’m curious if it was S-W in earlier pictures. This picture’s circa 1925, and 1924 was when they bought Bassick-Alemite, which had factories in Bridgeport and Meriden and did castings and lubrication systems.

  7. When will we learn that the selfish action of some are not only destruction to each of us and Mother Earth.

  8. Very interesting pics from the past, but the first pic of the oil being drained down the bank by the river . The makes me think back to my childhood in the 70’s at the farm in South West Michigan which was on a gravel road ,so the near by neighbors would bring old oil over to be sprayed by the farm equipment on the road to control dust. I am sure that wouldn’t get in your 50 foot well or drainage ditches ???? People weren’t really thinking about stuff like that back then – out of site out of mind !

    • Hi Brian, that was the mindset, that and money. When I had my farmette in rural S.central Wisconsin in the 80’s and 90’s, tri-chloroethylene, a powerful, but toxic degreaser started showing up in peoples well water. Turns out, they traced it to a farmer in the 70’s that let Chrysler Marine, of nearby Hartford , Wis. dump drums of that on his land, for a price I’m sure. Can you imagine?

  9. That’s ok, they buried the river and it doesn’t exist anymore. Do a image search for Park River, Hartford CT. More interesting than these photos, and these are interesting.
    The Army CoE took care of the pollution by making it disappear.

  10. All of this polution talk reminds me of the road work being done by the prisoners in the Paul Newman film “Cool Hand Luke”.

  11. Growing up on a Michigan Farm we repurposed and reused everything I can assure you nothing of value was poured on the ground or into the rivers.
    All are used motor oil was placed in a barrel the cleaner oil would float to the top and be reused for lubricants Onslow moving Parts like chains and sprockets and rust prevention. The product from the middle of the barrel would be siphoned off and mixed with boiled linseed oil or flax oil with beeswax to make paint and wood preservative. The sludge from the bottom of the barrel would be mixed with wood chips and Sawdust for fire starter and fuel. This was the norm not the exception.

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