The growth and devolvement of automobiles in the United States is an interesting history. Many of us who grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s were intrigued with all the new models and makes. I was born in 1925 so I always recall riding in cars. My first recollection was my parents’ 1927 Chevrolet.
Safety-wise it was a far cry from our cars today. It had no safety glass, no seat belts, not much of a heater, no defroster and probably many other safety features not listed. It did come with a jack, a wrench to remove nuts from the tire rim, a kit to patch tires and an air pump. Our car had two doors and even had vases on the sides to place flowers. It also had hand straps in the back seat for grabbing in case of sudden stops.
The car required gasoline, oil and water. I recall that many winters Dad would drain the car, take out the battery, jack it up off the tires and there it sat all winter in the garage. The car was also equipped with a car crank to get it started. If the car was used in cold weather, alcohol was added in the radiator. Some models had heat gauges attached to the radiator cap.
Most of the country roads were gravel and even dirt, so travel in the spring of the year was difficult. We are spoiled today with the paved and blacktop roads, and people forget how it used to be. The road on the west side of West Lake Okoboji was probably the last road to be constructed up to modernday standards. When I was a youth, it was gravel and even after it was oiled or blacktopped it had a poor foundation and was rough. Many of the roads in the Lakes Area were closed in the winter, like Jones Beach, due to lack of city snow plows.
The towns in Dickinson County had many gas stations. The one town I am acquainted with is Milford. Since I was born in 1925, I remember the gas stations. The following is a list of the stations in Milford that I recall. There was a small Standard Oil station across the street from the present Sunshine Grocery Store. Going south was a City Service Station kitty-corner from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church operated by Charlie McQuire. Moving south was the Champlain Service Station. My father, Ray LaFoy, managed it during World War II and it was owned by Ralph Wyatt. There was a service station where the Piccadilly’s office is today on Okoboji Ave. that was open for many years — Royal 400. It was just west of the old Luring Hotel. Further south on Highway 71 was the Barnsdall Gas Station just across south of Mill Creek Restaurant.
In the same block was the Wallace Gas Station. Early on I recall the station had glass containers that you hand pumped the gas into, took the hose, put the faucet into the vehicle gas tank, turned on the nozzle and watched the gas level come down the glass container on the gas pump. This station had an outside grease pit. A hole was dug with tracks placed over the hole; one drove the vehicle onto the tracks, got under the vehicle to grease and change the oil. It was difficult to work in the winter months servicing vehicles because it was so cold. Proceeding further south two blocks on the northwest corner was a DX Service station. The railroad tracks crossed Highway 71 at that intersection. Another gas station in Milford was one block south of the DX Station on the west side called the Green Mill Gas Station. The Green Mill Gas Station originally was on old Highway 71 just before the curve to turn south. The Green Mill Station in Milford also had a small café and car hops.
I am more familiar with the Champlain Station since my father managed the station and also drove the gas truck. The gas truck was used to deliver gasoline and fuel oil to the surrounding farms. I accompanied my father many times. The farmer had storage tanks, and we would pump the fuel into 5 gallon cans and pour fuel into the farmer’s tanks. The gas truck had large fuel tanks on the east side of Milford but thankfully had hoses from the tanks to the gas truck. I recall that when we were kids and had an old Model T, we would go over there, lifting the hose and nozzle, opening the flow and hopefully draining out a bit of gas. Sometimes we got a lot of gas and other times very little. There were several service stations that had gas trucks.
All of the gas stations provided “full service.” This meant that when a vehicle drove up to the pumps the attendant would rush out and ask the customer how much gasoline they wanted. Gasoline was very reasonable. I recall at one time you could get 5 gallons for $1. After the attendant would put the gas into the vehicle they would pull up the hood, check the oil and also the fan belt. They would then clean the windshield and the headlights and taillights. Most stations had a pop cooler. The bottled pop was set in the cooler and chipped ice scattered in and over the bottles. Pop was five cents, and one had to pry the bottle cap off before you drank the pop. Candy bars were also sold in the station.
Not many years ago, when Connie and I started to spend the winter in Arizona, we stayed the night in Grant, New Mexico. The next morning we started out but needed gas, so we pulled into that sort of old service station. We had no more stopped the vehicle when out of the blue a voice asked if I wanted the oil checked and the tires. I said to Connie, “We better watch this operation,” because it seldom happens. The attendant told me that our right rear tire didn’t look very good and my first reaction was, “Better check this out.” But the fellow was honest and after inspecting the tire wondered why it hadn’t blown out sooner. We bought two tires and were able to arrive home safely.
During World War II we were rationed gasoline and tires. The speed limit was 35 mph and my father spent hours and hours vulcanizing tires so people could drive their cars. My father always had a surplus of gas ration stamps since people would give them to him as they didn’t use them. Many times I observed dad supplying gas to people traveling who ran out of ration stamps.
Seven gas stations in a small town of 1,200 seems like a lot but no matter how tough it got, Lake Okoboji was still a drawing card for many. Milford had Highway 71 pass through and it was the “key” to the Iowa Great Lakes Region.