Commentary

Of gasoline service stations, filling stations

Those of us who’ve been around for more than 50 years understand the distinction between “service” stations and “filling” stations. Plus, in today’s hurry-up world, we’ve added “self-service” stations.

Actually, it’s probably splitting hairs to try to distinguish between filling stations and selfservice stations. However, a filling station is a phenomenon from years ago when an attendant would just fill your car. Oil changing and lubricating came from another station attendant on a service rack in a covered, garagelike setting.

Today’s self-service could be defined as yesterday’s filling station minus an attendant. Modern self-service usually just involves paying with a credit card at the pump. Most “self-serve” stations today offer a cashier in a pay booth.

One rarely sees a full service station anymore. My definition for a full service station, however, is where they have driveway/ pump attendants who fill your vehicle with gas, check your oil and either add to it or change it. Full service at some stations might also include washing the car and/or lubricating (greasing) it.

In my teen years, my hometown (Teague) had a full-service Sinclair (now Arco) station operated by a Mr. Umberfield. He wore a Sinclair uniform of dark green pants and a light green shirt with pin stripes and the Sinclair logo patch over the pocket. I was better acquainted with the Sinclair stations since my weekend and summer job was driving a tank truck for the gas distributor. We delivered gas, oil and lubricants to dealer stations.

A kindly man, Allen Seale, was the Sinclair distributor in Teague and I use the term “kindly,” convinced that he was one of the best people I ever knew. He had to be to put up with a greenhorn like me.

There were separate tanks on the truck for regular and premium gasolines. Once, while delivering to Mr. Umberfield’s station, I crossed the truck hoses, putting premium in the regular underground tank and regular in the premium storage. Since more regular was sold at most stations, and that tank was much larger, I had regular gasoline overflowing the smaller premium tank, covering main street and filling its gutters.

On another occasion, I was delivering gas to the one station in neighboring Donie. Some of my high school “buddies” decided it would be funny to put one of those old wooden Coca-Cola cases under one of the truck’s rear wheels. When I tried to ease away with the standard, five-onthe floor shift, I couldn’t get over the box and had to get out and move the box.

I did that, but I forgot one important thing. I left the motor running, thus had to pull up the hand brake on the truck’s floorboard. I was so angry at my “buddies” that I didn’t remember to release the brake when I got back in the truck and took off. About a mile out of town I smelled something funny and looked at one of my outside rear-view mirrors and saw a big trail of black smoke. Well, the dual-storage-tank truck still had some gasoline in one tank and I quickly pulled off on the right shoulder, jumped out of the truck and ran to the opposite side of the highway and laid down in a ditch, feeling an explosion and fireball were imminent. When nothing had happened in 60 seconds or so, I raised my head to look and saw no flames or smoke.

So, I cautiously made my way back to the truck and, while the smell was still strong, I saw no indication an explosion would occur. Then, I noticed the emergency brake fully engaged and I knew I hadn’t pulled it in my hasty exit. I sheepishly released the brake, crawled in and started the engine, driving slowly and gingerly for a way until I decided the truck was not going to explode.

I quietly completed my day and never said a word about the smoke until now. And, there still may be retribution for that Coke case under my wheel. I know who did it.

wwebb@wildblue.net


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2012-06-14 digital edition



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