The Norman Transcript

May 19, 2013

Gas stations used to command loyalty

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — More than 50 years ago, Ed Ruscha set off on a road trip from California to Oklahoma City and back. The young artist was driving to see his mother, who still lived in Oklahoma.

Along the way there and back, Ruscha photographed 26 gasoline stations and published them in a numbered edition book titled simply “Twenty-six gasoline stations.” It’s a revered piece of work that still sells at art auctions for thousands of dollars.

This week, 20 OU students left on a similar, albeit reversed, journey to find and photograph the gas stations or what’s left of them and then meet the artist. Ruscha was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. The 10-day, 3,000 mile journey will traverse the old Route 66 and other 1960s highways.

The students are from art and art history, geography and meteorology, geology, film and media studies and advertising. The trip will include real-time GPS tracking and multimedia iPad reactions to the gas stations and the trip by students.

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Those students, if they are of traditional college age, likely had to research the iconic, full-service gasoline stations of the 1950s and 1960s that Ruscha photographed. They have all but disappeared from most cities. The Phillips 66 at Lindsey Street and Berry Road may be the last full-service station standing in Norman.

Full-service stations were staples of American life for decades. Families “traded” at specific stations and knew the operators. Our family bought Texaco gasoline at Robinson Street and Porter Avenue.

J.D. Vaught was the man who wore the Texaco star. He usually had a pocket full of candy for kids and an ice scraper for Dad. That kind of service commanded loyalty.

Gibble Gas, a few blocks south, usually tried to lure commuters along Porter with cheaper gas. Later, we were Christian’s Deep Rock customers at 2100 W. Main St., or Blackburn’s Deep Rock. Radiator work went to Abe Martin’s at Main Street and Porter Avenue. Any station could fix a flat.

The 1968 Norman telephone directory lists five pages of service stations here, all promising great service, “good” mechanics on duty, “personalized car service” and more.

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The operators were proud to use their names in their Yellow Page ads. “For Friendly Service It’s Johnny Hawkins” at the Mobile, 101 N. Porter Ave.

Some of the stations were Willie Seay’s APCO, Bob Cohlmia’s Sinclair City, Charlie York’s Texaco, Jim Manning’s Champlin, Jerry Shinault’s Conoco, Jasper Jones DX, Jack Masters Texaco, Shaver’s Texaco, Bill Davis’ Sinclair, Farmer Houck’s Phillips 66, Van Pick Texaco and Kuhlman’s Conoco.

Customers paid cash at the car door or charged it to their account. Pay at the pump came later, further reducing human contact and station loyalty.

Many of the old station buildings in Norman are gone. Some have been converted to repair shops and even a few are restaurants. (The Service Station, Van’s Pig Stand, Blu and others).

In the modern stores of today, a single employee can watch a dozen pumps, tend the cash register and sell the firewood out front. Sure, it’s more efficient, but who doesn’t miss the man who wore the Texaco Star?

Andy Rieger