“Oh, we’re the men of Texaco;
We work from Maine to Mexico.
There’s nothing like this Texaco of ours!
Tonight we may be showmen
Tomorrow, we’ll be servicing your cars!”
I was born in 1964 so I’m
not old enough to remember when that song, performed by men in matching service
station outfits, introduced the Texaco
Star Theater, hosted by Milton Berle. But I know it holds a place in
television history. Along with Howdy
Doody and I Love Lucy, it was one
of the early can’t miss shows that compelled millions of Americans to buy their
first television set.
Maybe Uncle Milty was
before my time, but I am old enough to remember when every gas station was full
service, because that was the only option provided. The attendants’ uniforms
may not have been as crisp and tidy as they were on TV, but the men who wore
them would pump your gas, clean your windshield, and offer to check your
I can also still vividly
recall the first time my mother pulled into a station with a self-service
island. Though my age was still in the single digits, I reacted like a 17th
century French aristocrat who was told to poach his own truffles. “What? Soil
my hands on such a menial task?”
Now, of course, I pump my
own gas and bag my own groceries, put air in my own tires, and in another few
years I’ll probably have to remove my own gallbladder at the self-service
So yes, I enjoy glimpses into
the classic TV era, when there were still such things as service stations –
like the one owned and operated by Bill Shappard (James Franciscus) on Father Knows Best. In “Bud, the Willing
Worker,” the usually lethargic Bud gets a job at a station run by his sister
Betty’s boyfriend. It’s a typically strong episode but I confess to being more
taken with the setting than the story.
I can’t put air in a tire
without my hands getting dirty, yet there is Bill, clean as a
whistle in a white shirt, white pants, black bowtie and the kind of hat you
only see nowadays at In-N-Out Burger. The station building is large enough to
contain the mini-mart that is now standard at many gas stations, but
here it’s filled only with replacement auto parts, tires, tools, and cans of
motor oil neatly stacked in pyramids.
A service station is also
the main backdrop for an episode of The
Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet appropriately titled “The Gas Station.”
Mr. Peters, the owner of said station, plans to close for the weekend for a
short vacation. At the same time, Harriet’s woman’s club is looking for a way
to raise money for charity. They decide to take over the gas station when the
owner is away and split the profits with him.
“I can’t see anything wrong
with the idea,” says kindly Mr. Peters – and here we see once again how the
world of Comfort TV differs from our own. Can you imagine the red tape and
union restrictions and liability waivers that
would prevent something
like that from happening now?
“How can a bunch of women
run a gas station?” says Ozzie’s neighbor Joe (okay, it was 1959). But everything runs smoothly – even if Clara
keeps forgetting to replace the dipstick every time she checks the oil.
Granted, there’s not much
of life in America that still resembles what the country was like in the 1950s,
when much of classic television was financed by fossil fuels and cigarettes. So
why should gas stations be the exception? But how about the 1970s, which still
don’t seem all that long ago to me, until I’m reminded of how the child starts
from that decade are now on Social Security.
“The Doom Buggy” was a 1974
episode of Shazam! in which Don drops
out of high school because he plans to become a mechanic. We get some nice
shots of a rural gas station – just two pumps – and Don’s blue jumpsuit is
appropriately greasy, unlike those sharp-dressed Texaco guys. Billy and Mentor
spent a lot of time around gas stations, which isn’t surprising since that
motorhome they traveled in probably needed a full tank twice a day. They meet
another gas jockey in “The Past is Not Forever,” and Captain Marvel is falsely
accused of robbing a gas station in “Double Trouble.”
Anyway, Billy tells Don
that continuing his education is important, because “they’re working on
electric cars,” and he might have to know how to work on them one day. He
mentioned turbine cars too, but those never really took off.
For a more surreal service
station setting, check out “Assignment VI,” the final episode of Sapphire and Steel. The time agents
arrive at a gas station that appears to have fallen into a pocket where time
has stopped – and where they meet a couple from the 1940s that were somehow
transported forward in the future. It’s an intriguing mystery with an
unexpectedly bleak ending.
And maybe nothing all that
strange ever happened at Big Ed’s Gas Farm, but I wouldn’t trust any business
located in Twin Peaks.
But if you asked for my favorite
classic TV gas station, it would be Murph’s Union 76, as seen in a series of
commercials that aired over 14 years. Murph, the gruff-voiced by kindly owner,
was played veteran character actor Richard X. Slattery.
Commercials are never
really welcome when you’re enjoying a show, but a 30-second visit to Murph’s
was always low-key and pleasant enough that hitting the ‘mute’ button wasn’t
I wish more commercials
played like that now. And I also wish service stations still had someone to put
air in my tires. Bowtie optional.
panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4;
mso-font-signature:-536870145 1107305727 0 0 415 0;}@font-face
panose-1:2 0 5 3 6 0 0 2 0 4;
mso-font-signature:-2147483545 0 0 0 1 0;}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;}.MsoChpDefault