June 11, 2007

Full-service; a thing of the past

The ‘Check my oil, please’ exhibit remembers local full-service stations

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

There was a time when a shortage of gasoline was the problem instead of the price of it. There was also a time when a person wouldn’t have to get out of the car to get their gas tank filled.

This is what the Cokato Museum is trying to capture once again with its summer exhibit, “Check my oil, please.”

The title is based on what a person would say when they pulled up to a gas station not that long ago, said Museum Director Mike Worcester.

“You never had to get out of your car. Now everything is self-service,” he said.

Still today, gas stations in Oregon are accommodating to their customers due to a state law requiring full-service stations, according to Worcester.

Full-service meant just that. A person wouldn’t need to get out of their car.

The workers would run out to the car and while filling up the tank with gas, check the oil, put air in the tires and wash the windshield, Worcester said.

Half of the items on display are on loan from residents of the community while the other half is from the museum’s collection.

What can be seen at the exhibit are old oil and gas tanks, signs and photos from local fill-up stations, items that stations would give away, and much more.

Among the giveaways were knives, rain gauges, calendars, ashtrays and key chains – all advertising the station from which they came.

One large item on display is an original gas pump from the old Cities Service/Gulf Oil station on Fourth and Broadway that Lyle Severson previously operated.

Cokato’s first gas station opened in July of 1918 by Oscar Holmer on the corner of Broadway Avenue and Third Street where the current State Bank of Cokato now sits. This came 13 years after the first cars came into Cokato.

As seen in the exhibit and written in the June 3, 1974 Cokato Enterprise, the US faced an oil shortage between 1972 and 1974.

Gas needed to be rationed. Service stationed had little gas to sell; at times gas was sold out, according to Worcester.

“That was a tough time for service stations,” he said.

Severson remembers the price wars when the service stations around town would constantly compete with each other by lowering their gas prices.

There used to be several different brands of gas in Cokato including Midland Coop, Texaco, and Pure Oil, he said.

“People would go somewhere else just to pay a penny less in gas. It was highly competitive,” Severson said.

In his nearly 40 years of service, Severson has checked his share of tires and oil.

“I’ve washed more windows then anybody could think of doing in their lifetime,” he said.

“It was hard work, but it was fun. I got to meet a lot of people,” Severson said.

For the summer months, the museum typically focuses its displays on local connections. During those months, former Cokato residents tend to return to their hometown for family reunions, class reunions and the like.

“By putting up a display like this allows them to reconnect with the community they grew up in,” Worcester said.

“Check my oil, please,” will be on display through Labor Day.

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