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Then & Now: Service stations popular until 1970s

Mon., April 8, 2013, midnight

There were cars before the advent of the gas station. Early fuel stops were general stores where a motorist could fill a gas can. The debut of Ford’s Model T in 1908 opened travel to the masses, and purpose-built gas stations appeared quickly. Those early models suffered many flat tires, leaking cooling systems and other failures, so stations usually had a mechanic on hand. To gain customer loyalty, the man at the pump offered to clean the windshield, check your oil and tire pressure, then restart the engine with the hand-crank. The Model T finally got an electric starter in 1919. Harold Dockendorf sold Ford cars for Bronson Motors before opening Doc’s Snappy Service at the corner of Sprague Avenue and Dishman Mica Road. A memoir by Darrel A. Straughan recounts his experience there: “When you drove in the station, out they came to wash your windshield, check your oil, tires, or whatever you asked them to do. They also sold Chevron tires, batteries and belts, or whatever you needed to have done. This was a good service-oriented service station.” Self-service gas stations, still not allowed in Oregon or New Jersey, came into fashion during the 1970s, the era of oil embargoes and rising prices. Motorists began shopping for lower prices in lieu of customer service amenities, and the full-service station died out. – Jesse Tinsley

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