Seeing Things, Saying Things

Musings About Writing, Photography and Teaching

No Longer Running

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I keep finding myself drawn to photographing abandoned service stations in my travels. I’m not sure why that is, but more than most abandoned businesses, service stations tend to still have a classic feel to them, even those that are in run-down condition.

Service stations typically were free-standing structures regardless of what era in which they were built. Many of those that have been abandoned and which are still standing were built of brick and featured a standard design.

The oldest ones had a single island for the gasoline pumps. There would be two garage doors for the service bays and a front door leading to the office/waiting room that also sold sundry other automotive-related items. Remember when oil companies used to issue road maps?

Maybe my fascination with old gas stations is rooted in a childhood ritual. During our travels about town Mom or Dad would stop at the filling station to “fer ‘er up.”

You didn’t have to leave your car. The attendant or even the owner would come out to you on the driveway.

My parents often knew the owner and chatted with him for a few minutes. They were guys you felt you could trust.

Service stations were part of the tapestry of small town America, but it is not like that today. In New Jersey a guy still comes out to fill up your car, but everywhere else I’ve been in recent years it is self service.

Today’s service stations — if that is the right term for them because they hardly provide any service — are large modern convenience stores that just happen to sell gasoline among other products.

Shown above is a former Marathon station in downtown Arcola, Illinois, that has been semi restored. The restoration has consisted of new paint and restoring the “best in the long run” Marathon herald.

It is located a block east of U.S. Route 45 just over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. It probably took a major financial hit when Interstate 57 opened in the 1970s east of town. That is a story that is all too familiar in all too many small towns in America.

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