Tag Archives: gas station

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fill ‘er up

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Polly want a pit stop?

If you’re going to take a road trip, at some point you’re going to need to refuel. And nobody knows how to fill your tank like the folks on Route 66. Of course, since the route crosses a big swath of American oil country, you’ll know that the milk of the Mother Road is petroleum.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

The thing is, though, the designers and architects and advertisers and engineers responsible for putting gas stations all along the route got into the spirit of 66 in their own unique ways. Forget what you know about ugly garages lining Interstate exits—many of Route 66’s filling stations are downright works of art.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cuba, Missouri

And many of them look absolutely nothing like gas stations.

Interestingly, the Mother Road was built at a time when more and more Americans owned automobiles—all over the country there was an increasingly large demand for petrol. Filling stations moved into town centers and residential neighborhoods, and some oil companies wanted their fuel stops to blend in with the neighborhood architecture.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Since American architecture is highly regional in nature, many of these “camoflaged” filling stations took on the look of their local culture—Spanish-Mission-style canopies in California, limestone façades in the Ozarks, clapboard farmhouse lookalikes in the Plains, etc. And then, of course, architectural tastes changed over the years, so you’ll find examples from the Victorian era to midcentury pop-Googie, and everything in between. (Not to mention the tradition of kitschy filling stations shaped like random objects or weird ho-made roadside giants.) Finally, each oil company wanted to attract customers away from the others, so they relied on creating distinctive architectural styles as a form of branding. The result is a veritable encyclopedia of diverse and spectacular specimens—and Route 66 might just have the best collection of all.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Albuquerque, New Mexico

After a few hundred miles, we started getting really good at spotting the buildings that used to be filling stations (this is an obvious one, but many had been deeply camoflaged, or totally remade in some other image, or else fallen into ruin). And we also developed a knack for pegging which style belonged to which company (above is a classic 1930s Texaco design).

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Then again, sometimes a building would throw us completely—the sealed-up garage bays hint at the Blue Dome’s history, but if I didn’t know better, I would have guessed this was once a Greek Orthodox church or something.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Spencer, Missouri

The filling stations of Route 66 also serve as markers of time’s passage, and the rise and fall of communities along the way. This one is all that remains of a ghost town in Missouri that fell into disuse when the highway changed its route. (I’m not talking about the advent of the Interstate, either, although that’s a common story—this place lost its prime spot decades before that, when the 66 alignment was simply moved to a spot further south.)

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Ranco Cucamonga, California

While many petroleum relics have faded into oblivion, others are being brought back, at least in some form or other. Above is one of the oldest specimens we found (it actually predates the birth of Route 66 by nearly a decade). While part of the structure has been torn down, at least the main part of the station is getting a lovely facelift.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Needles, California

It’s not just the oldest samples being preserved, either. This guy is only a little over fifty years old, but it, too, has been returned to its former glory.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Normal, Illinois

For many old stations, however, the opposite is true. Countless specimens either sit empty, their original purpose unknown to the average passerby—or else they get cannibalized and transformed into some other creature, usually without any fanfare.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hydro, Oklahoma

These stories of disrepair and restoration interest me greatly, of course, but what really gets me is the story of each place: the whys and wherefores of each station, and the tastes and quirks of the people who either built or ran them.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cool Springs, Arizona

After all, Route 66 crosses through some seriously unpopulated territory. Many of these old filling stations were the only game in town—or in the most remote corners, something closer to the last chance for salvation.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Commerce, Oklahoma

While others, meanwhile, live on in notoriety, attracting tourists to the spots where blood was shed or infamous characters once stood.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Odell, Illinois

Still, most tell the story of perfectly ordinary people running perfectly ordinary businesses along one of the backbones of American travel and commerce. They might be extraordinary today, but usually that’s boils down to having somehow lasted long enough to stand out amongst more modern surroundings.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Shamrock, Texas

I’m glad, at least, that I’m obviously not the only one who has noticed these things—that there is an army of conservators and historians and artists and boosters out there, preserving as many of these old filling stations as possible, and documenting the ones that can’t be saved.

I know that these days, oil companies have fallen out of public favor (heaven knows I have my own beef with the oil industry)—regardless of their nostalgia, these places are also reminders of American excess and the damaging effects of fossil fuels. Yet however we may be careening toward Peak Oil, these relics still have a place on the Mother Road—the path that might just traverse this country’s Peak History.

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Palm Springs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Desert welcome

Well, since I posted my sketch of “The Palm Springs of Washington” the other day, I think it’s only fitting to show you the Palm Springs of…uh, Palm Springs. I have to admit, I don’t like this welcome sign quite as much as the charming ho-made white lie in Yakima, WA, but I guess the real Palm Springs requires a gateway with a little more polish and panache.

I was chatting with someone who grew up in Yakima the other day, and these signs came up in conversation. He said, “Maybe one day Palm Springs will call itself ‘The Yakima of California!'”

It could happen, right? Well, I can at least picture what the sign would look like…

Bob's Java Jive sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Short and stout

I am pleased to tell you that Washington is the proud owner of not one, but two teapot-shaped buildings. (Well, one is a teapot and the other is a coffee pot, but since the designs—and even the colors—are nearly identical, I think that’s close enough.)

The first might just be, as advertised, world-famous. Tacoma’s very own coffee pot was once a well-known landmark along old Highway 99, until the Interstate was built and businesses along the old thoroughfare faded into obscurity (a story as old as the Interstate itself). The place is no longer a restaurant, but is still in operation—now a dive bar with a different name and a cult following. Now that the coffee pot shape is a non-sequitur, it seems like everyone in my town loves the place all the more.

Teapot Dome Gas Station sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Lesser known, slightly older, and much farther off the beaten path is the Teapot Dome Service Station. This beauty sits on the eastern side of the Cascades, though it has been relocated a few times around the area. It now sits, newly restored (though now with cheesy fake gas pumps), in the tiny orchard town of Zillah, WA. It’s much smaller than the Java Jive, and has more of a ho-made flair to it, but what really interests me is that it was a political statement.

In 1922 Zillah resident Jack Ainsworth constructed the building in response to the Teapot Dome oil scandal (bribes, conflicts of interest, no-competition bids for military contracts, corrupt land leasing, the works!), which was in the news at that time. I love that Ainsworth made such a witty statement about the oil industry by building a gas station.

And his patrons? Well, they would have stopped at the teapot for a tankful, probably asked in jest for a cupful—and in return received an earful.

Sturgis Rally motorcycles sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Road hogs

I have no idea why, but it seems like every time I pass through eastern Wyoming or western South Dakota, it ends up being in the thick of the Sturgis Rally. (Hmm…I wonder if the Hell’s Angels are there right now…) It’s really the one time of the year where taking the back roads in that part of the world doesn’t guarantee you a highway all to yourself—as evidenced by our attempt at stopping for gas in the tiniest of towns. Still, the long wait for the pumps provided plenty of sketchbook gold—so I’m not complaining.

If you happen to be reading this from the Black Hills, have a great time at Sturgis this year—and drive safely!