Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whatever Happened to...Full Service Gas Stations?

The gas station of yesteryear puts today's modern filling facilities to shame. It's insulting that we must pay close to $4 a gallon for gas, often pump it ourselves, and not get any kind of reward or thanks for our patronage. 

For me, one of the most memorable scenes from Back to the Future is when Marty McFly, upon landing in his hometown during the 1950s, witnesses a full service gas station. A car pulls up and out of the station spring four uniformed attendants who not only fill the tank, but check the tire pressure and oil and wash the car's windows. These perks were free and it was the norm up until the 1970s. Not only that, but gas stations often gave away trinkets such as drinking glasses, toys, key chains, calendars, trading stamps and even road maps. Exxon was known for giving away a plush tiger's tail that could be affixed to your car's gas cap or a bicycle, to go along with their famous slogan, "Put a tiger in your tank." 

Image copyright Chris Donner
This was also service with a smile - one baby boomer recalls here how he was allowed to help the attendant pump gas, earning a small reward as a result. 

The oil crisis of the 1970s marked the beginning of the end for the full service station. Oil companies figured that customers wanted to pump their own gas in exchange for saving a few pennies. Pretty soon, the attendants were no longer needed. Also, the process of getting gas at a full service station took about 10-15 minutes, which sadly is considered too long in today's high paced, impatient world. 

It's sad--especially considering I don't remember visiting one as a kid growing up in the 70s. Interestingly, all stations in Oregon and New Jersey are considered full service because it's against the law in those two states for customers to pump their own gas.

There is one modern gas station that I've heard of that offers full service the way it used to be: Forrest's Duxler filling station Wilmette, IL. Check it out below!


And here's a vintage clip showing one of the originals:



Do you remember full service gas stations? What kinds of freebies did you make out with?

15 comments:

Marlene said...

I was born and raised in Canada, and yes, we had full service gas stations that offered "perks" even back in the 70's when I was a kid.

I remember my parents collecting drinking glasses from them, mostly.

Ah....those were the days.

Luis said...

I don't have to "remember" them because I live in Mexico and ALL gas stations are still full service. An attendant pumps the gas and will check the oil and tire pressure if you ask him to. Also, there's usually some guy that will wipe your windshield for a few coins.
This is mostly because the automated system of paying at a cashier and pumping your own gas just doesn't exist, or at least I've never seen it here in Mexico.

Pam@GoRetro said...

Marlene - I think I've seen collections in magazines of gas station drinking glasses. I'll have to look it up sometime.

Luis - very interesting...I think the U.S. could learn a lot from this.

Marie @ Lemondrop Vintage said...

I can barely remember them, but I do remember a lot of very nice people who worked in the ones we went to.

Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
July giveaway

Tom said...

I don't remember the tiger tails, but I remember the raccoon clip-ons that had a long tail like that. I think those were sold in gas stations to clip on your visors.

Robin@DecoratingTennisGirl said...

Of course. My Dad would say, "filler up with regular, please..." The signs are wonderful on the old stations!

Anonymous said...

My first job was a service attendent in H.S. - Gulf Oil; "Go Gulf!"; Gulf had Orange foam balls you would place on your antenna, they gave away glasses with the "B.C" cartoon characters (IIRC), and most important to me, they gave away a cut sheet of an Apollo 11 model you could put together at that time! Google the Gulf GT40 (Ford repopped it a few years back) one of the most famous, beautiful race cars there ever was. Oh, and my dad is proudly listed as a Service Station attendant on my birth certificate; he did your windows, tires, and checked your oil. Thanks Pam for taking us back - it was a different world, for sure.
s-a-h-d

Retro Hound said...

We have a full-service station in my small Kansas town, but it costs significantly more there.

I feel sorry for the moms of the 70s-90s. They had to either unload the kids to go into the station to pay, or leave the kids unattended in the car while they paid. About the time we started having kids the pumps started having the credit card thing and my wife was so happy about that!

pamelahazelton said...

I so miss this. Even just 10 years ago I always used full service when traveling the NE thruway system. I never minded paying a few cents more to have all the fluids checked.

The only time I get full service now is in NJ, which is law. Other than that, nope.

Lacey said...

Oddly enough I was just thinking of this yesterday when I was getting gas.
I remember the service, but mostly I remember the premiums and how we got gas at the places that had the freebies we wanted.
With a fill-up (minimum of eight gallons) we got glassware, books, puzzles, sunglasses, beach towels, records, other things I did not care about at my young age.

Ah, those were the days.

LaraAnn said...

I wasn't aware that Oregon was like my Jersey gas stations. I'm just glad that I don't have to pump gas and hope that we never have to. I did so only once on the way back from my trip to D.C.

Mom and I love that Tiger tail. Those give-aways sound great. I vaguely remember waiting on long gas lines in the 70's. I enjoyed watching the vintage commercial.

The older attendant at one of the stations near us usually washes the windows but not too many young ones do so around here. If I ask, they will check the oil.

Darrin.. said...

Nice post girlie! The last time I remember going to a full service gas station was when I was about 17 years old in 1987. It was the only one in town. And.. while the gas was 5 cents higher a gallon to offset the cost of the full service, not to many people minded!

Carol Covin said...

We still have one glass left that was from a gas station. I don't know if it's from the 70s, before the oil crisis, or the 80s, when a few gas stations brought them back. I remember tiger tails, though gas at Exxon was a little more expensive and we didn't shop there.

Anonymous said...

You can still find one and maybe the only "Full Service" gas station left in Texas in O'Donnell, Texas (aka Home of Dan Blocker). Owned and still operated by Maurice and Patsy Jackson -for 44 years now.

Charles Whallon said...

I used to work in a full service texaco in phoenix and that was back in 1987. there was 2 of us and we took turns on the only full service lane we had. we never made any tips on full serv the owner made extra per gal. but our pay was the same so why hurry we had to do "all" in full serv anyway.The way we made money was offering to check tires and fluids for the other customers because they would at least show appreciation with a tip. we were not to clean windows or pump gas for non full serve but the boss said anything else was fare game . so when we would here that ding ding it was on. It was a blast and we were not stuck behind a counter selling lotto tickets. the soda machine and smokes were out along with the register .Im 52 now and wish i could get that job back but clearly big gas dont care about the customer at all just the bottom line and what they think a customer wants.they even try to charge for air and water comeon . i know that they can sell gas any way they want since we cant get anywhere without it but customer appreciation wouldnt hurt .

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