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A living reminder of why gas stations once were called service stations

Tamie Meck

Ding-ding.

An elderly gentleman appeared from inside the white stucco building.

“How ya doin’ today?” he asked in a genuine tone of voice as he came around the front of our old Jeep pickup.

“Just fine,” my husband replied, unscrewing the gas cap. “How are you today?”

“Well,” he said, adjusting his oil-stained Sinclair ball cap and grabbing a squeegee from a bucket of soapy water, “I’d complain, but nobody’d listen, would they?”

This all happened Saturday at the Reedy Service Station in downtown Paonia. Let’s be clear on this from the start: It wasn’t a “gas” station, or a “filling” station. It was a “service” station.

From the back of the truck, Rosie greeted the gentleman with a wag of her stubby tail. The temperature hovered at around 100 degrees and the floor in the back of the pickup where the intense sun beat down measured closer to 120 degrees.

This concerned the gentleman, and he suggested as he squeegeed our windows to spotless clean perfection with a few swift swipes of the squeegee that we lay something down so she could get her feet off the hot metal.

“My feet are so tender I can’t even walk around barefoot in my house,” he joked.

I complied by shoving a blanket out the back window, on which Rosie promptly placed her paws.

The gentleman, Mr. Reedy himself, has operated the business, I was told, for a good long time. Unlike today’s filling/convenience stations, his gas pumps don’t offer customers the option of paying inside or out. Nope. Mr. Reedy greets his customers in person. His name and the name of his station are clearly stenciled on the white stucco between the station’s office and two-car garage so that people know just who they’re dealing with.

Getting service from Mr. Reedy reminded me of traveling with my grandparents back in the 1960s. Granddaddy was a Colorado dam inspector and Grammy and I would travel with him from reservoir to reservoir during the summer. While granddaddy inspected dams we would fish.

Service stations back then were equipped with an air hose attached to a bell. The pressure from the tires tripped the bell, which signaled a customer and summoned the attendant.

Out would walk a tall, handsome man in a clean uniform wearing a big, bright Texaco star. (OK, he wasn’t always young nor his uniform always clean, and I think I remember the star from old commercials.)

“Fill ‘er up?” he’d ask. “Can I check under your hood?”

He’d pump the gas, holding the nozzle by hand since automatic shut-off valves were still a few years away. If you needed additional service, he’d pop the hood (they always knew right where the hood latch was) and check the oil, then wipe the dipstick clean with a greasy cloth that hung out of his back pocket. If needed, he’d top off the radiator. He’d eye the tires, and if they looked low he’d either give them a kick or check the pressure and, if necessary, give them a shot of air. All this at no extra charge.

Conversation was almost a given. The attendant would ask where we were from, where we were headed, how the fishing was and so on. Granddaddy would spend a minute or two in muffled conversation while Grammy and I waited in the car. By the time we drove away, with a ding-ding as the tires rolled over the hose, the attendant would know who we were, where we were from and headed to, and what got us on the road in the first place.

Today it wouldn’t be so simple. It’d be more like ordering a cup of coffee at a coffee shop:

“Will that be cash? check? debit or credit card? diesel? premium high-octane? middle-of-the-road octane? low-octane? natural gas?

“Check your oil? water? air? front windshield fluid? back window fluid?

“Your oil’s a quart low. Will that be Pennzoil? Valvoline? generic? or are you using synthetic?

“Can you unlock your gas tank?”

Wouldn’t leave much time for questions, since more customers would already be waiting for their turn at the pump. Today’s roads are a bit more crowded than back in the days of fishing with Grammy.

It’s easier today to slide the ol’ credit card into the slot, pump the gas, grab the receipt and go. It saves time, too.

The job of attendant has changed since the day Mr. Reedy opened his service station. It became clear that hot Saturday afternoon that time hasn’t yet caught up with the Reedy Service Station, but it is catching up with Mr. Reedy.

I do hope I get a chance to go back and chat some more. Besides, Rosie seemed to like Mr. Reedy, and my husband has taken to him, too. Mr. Reedy seems to be the kind of guy you don’t mind paying a few cents a gallon more to for your gas, if for no other reason than to enjoy the conversation.

(A special congratulations to my husband, Rich, who will be sworn in at 1:30 today as Paonia Postmaster. It’s your day, hon. I’m proud of you.)

Tamie Meck is a staff writer for the Post Independent. Her columns appear on Tuesdays.


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