Friends often give me ideas for this column. But Dale Hagfors went beyond the call. Not only did Dale come up with an excellent topic, he also wrote it up himself:
Back in the ’50s when I needed a job to pay for college, I went to work as a service station attendant at a local Phillips 66 station in north Minneapolis. Then, customers weren’t allowed to fill their own gas tanks. Safety was the primary reason, since a gas spill or careless smoker could easily destroy property.
The level of service that customers expected in those days was significant. We cleaned windshields, checked the oil, coolant, wipers, fan belts and air in the tires, the list goes on. Of course, some of this attention was an opportunity to sell additional products, but mostly it was to encourage customer loyalty.
This being long before the era of credit cards, another expectation was the availability of credit. The typical request was, “Fill her up with ethyl and put it on my charge!”
Of course, this meant the station owner wound up with a lot of overdue accounts. It always pained him when he saw one of his delinquent customers stopping at the competing station and paying cash because he was over his credit limit with us.
Oil changes and lube jobs also were full-service products at these stations. We sprayed rubber lube on rubber components, oil on hinges, stick lube on latches, swept the floor, checked the battery, emptied ash trays and cleaned the windshield glass — inside and out.
In addition, a service station attendant was expected to be able to identify strange rattles, squeaks and squeals coming from under the hood or elsewhere in the car.
He needed to know how to repair a tire and replace a headlight. And he had to be adept at responding with a smile when the customer growled, “Just put in a buck’s worth of regular — and make it snappy! I’m in a hurry.”
It must have been 10 years since the last full-service station like this one went out of business. Today, you have to do it all yourself!
Dale Hagfors and I are lifelong Minnesotans, with small town backgrounds, and the progeny of immigrant farm families. And we’re both nearly 100 percent Norwegian!
Each of us also earned a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Minnesota while working our way through. We were employed by Northwest Airlines at about the same time — I as a stewardess and Dale as a pilot.
Hagfors’ “full service” memory brings to me the realization that there are many other Memories-worthy topics that are simply out of my depth.
And that it might not be a bad idea to ask Dale to write some of them up from time to time.
Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess.