Last Full-Service Station Closes Pumps
By 3 p.m. Friday the last full-service gas station in East Texas had served its final customer. The Polk’s full-service station on South First Street in Lufkin, which held on longer than most, finally gave way to the modern custom of swiping a card, pumping gas and speeding away.
“Today’s group is just used to self-service,” said Keith Williams of Polk Oil. “They just fill up and they’re on their way. They are used to that aspect of life.”
While the glory days of full-service stations has long past, Williams said Polk Oil kept the station operating to serve the loyal customers who continued to use it.
“That station has been there since 1949,” Williams said. “In fact, it wasn’t called a station back then, it was called a garage. We didn’t want to walk away from the loyal customers we have had there throughout the years, even though the station itself has not been profitable for several years now.”
As Williams noted, “there’s a lot of history at that location,” and the decision to close the doors was not an easy one. But Polk Oil does not want the elderly or disabled customers who frequented the station to feel abandoned, company officials said.
“The economy impacts us in a variety of ways,” said Emily Watts, director of business development for Brookshire Brothers, Ltd. “Self-service pumps have been in existence for a long, long time, and we finally had to make a tough business decision based on economics. We hope our valued customers will understand our decision. For those who are disabled and need assistance fueling their vehicles, if they will please call us at (936) 634-6500 ext. 223, we will arrange for them to receive assistance at one of our other locations.”
Williams agreed that it was difficult to let go of the history that surrounded the last full-service station in the area, especially since he can remember what those stations meant to him as a child.
“You could go fill up on gas, and get a little toy,” Williams recalled. “The service this station provided is something you can’t get anywhere else. We always kept our fuel prices the same as at our other stations, because we didn’t want people to have to pay extra for the service, especially our older or disabled customers. It was tough to let go, but with our lease expiring in July and the fact that the station has not been profitable for quite some time, it’s something we had to do. Full-service is a dying breed.”
The loss of the full-service station closes the chapter on that aspect of Lufkin’s history, something that longtime customer Nelda Hargrove believes will happen to many of the traditions with which she grew up.
“This world has changed so much from the time I could remember,” Hargrove said. “I remember when going to the bank meant you were going to talk to your banker, who you knew by name. Now it’s walking up to a machine to get money. And at the grocery store, pretty much everybody carries their own grocery sacks. When I was growing up, that would have just seemed odd. I’ll bet that one of these days you all will have to do a report on why there are no more bankers or grocery clerks.”
In today’s fast-paced society, online social networking and instant cell phone updates are based on interaction and “interconnectivity.” But with the rise of the techno-bubble comes the fall of traditional means of communication and interaction. As Hargrove recounted, people used to know gas station attendants by name.
“Going to get gas was like going to the toy store when I was a little girl,” she said. “I remember the man who pumped my mother’s gas and changed her oil and anything that needed to be done. His name was Edward, but we all called him Eddie. I would get so excited because Eddie would always give me a piece of hard candy and sometimes he would show me how to do the gas pump. Plus, you could get a soda for just a few cents.”
Filling the role of “Eddie” for customers at the full-service station in Lufkin was D.J. Padrick, who checked the oil, break fluid levels, power steering fluid and tire pressure while pumping gas for patrons. While Padrick is staying with the company, he knows the experience will never be the same.
“Most of my customers here are elderly or disabled; sometimes they are mothers who don’t want to get the kids out of the car,” Padrick said. “Seeing this place close, you know much times have changed.”