VINTON–In the 1950’s and 60’s gas stations were neighborhood gathering places. Vinton had several “filling stations” where groups of friends—mostly men–hung out to socialize, buy gasoline, and work on cars, or have their cars worked on.
In Vinton there was Doc’s Filling Station, Eanes’s Esso, Bob Wood’s Pure Oil, and Jack Anderson’s Amoco station, among others. Most all of the oil companies had a service station in town.
According to “Vinton History 1884-1984,” Doc Edmundson opened his Sinclair Station on Pollard Street in downtown Vinton in 1931 when he was unable to find work. A couple of years later he moved to the Atlantic Station located where the Vinton Library now stands. His filling station became a favorite “hang-out.” When he passed away in 1953, his wife continued to operate the business with Jack Anderson as the manager.
Anderson later moved across the street and opened the Amoco station in 1958, where he remained until the building was bought and demolished to build the Vinton Municipal Building in 1980.
According to Anderson’s stepson, Jim Cunningham, the station was built and leased to Anderson by Darnell and Bill Vinyard.
In an interview with the Vinton Messenger in 1980, Anderson said that when he opened his business, gas was 33 cents a gallon, General Motors was making wide cars with fins which sold for $2,500, and Vinton had 13 service stations.
The Amoco station had two bays for mechanical work and one island with two gas pumps. It was a full service station where the gas was pumped for the customer, windshields were cleaned, and tire pressures checked. The station did tune-ups, brake work, and oil changes.
They also sold bread, ice cream, and drinks.
Men stopped by during the day or after work. The station was open from about 7 in the morning until 9 at night Monday through Saturday until the laws were changed to allow opening on Sunday as well. At one point it was the custom, as with other businesses, to close on Wednesday afternoons.
Cunningham says there was always a crowd around. As a boy, he hung out at the station with Anderson when he wasn’t in school and started washing cars on weekends. He learned how to repair vehicles from his stepfather and the others who worked there.
Anderson had one employee. When he needed to leave the station for lunch or business or illness, some of the men who hung out at the station would cover for him.
Ronnie McGuire, who was a friend and customer, said that many of the men had keys to the station. They would buy gas, put it on a ticket, and pay every two weeks as was the custom. They would also sometimes let themselves in to wash their cars or work on their vehicles themselves.
McGuire says that Anderson was “one of nicest men who ever lived.” He recalls that when he was hospitalized for open heart surgery and out of work, his wife continued to stop by the gas station on her way to the hospital to fill their car with gas. After two weeks she stopped to pay their bill. Anderson insisted that there wasn’t a ticket with her name on it anywhere and refused to take her money.
Anderson was Assistant Fire Chief and a lifetime member of the Vinton Fire Department. Before emergency dispatch came about, all fire and first aid calls were routed to the gas station during daytime hours. There was a siren at the station which was activated to call the firemen and rescue squad members to duty in case of emergencies. At night the calls went to Fire Chief Frank Spradlin who lived in an apartment above the Fire Department on Pollard Street. A line was strung between the station and the Fire Department so both could receive calls.
In 1980 when the town decided it needed to build a new municipal building, several sites were considered but eventually they settled on the one where Anderson Amoco was located. The town already owned about one and a quarter acres across from the Vinton Police Department and Fire Department. The purchase of the Amoco station property gave them an L-shaped, two acre lot for construction of the building and a parking lot. They bought the property from the Vinyard family for $85,000.
When the station closed, Anderson said he was going to retire but he was going to keep the equipment because his sons liked to work on cars.
One of the little girls in town asked if she could have the “A” off the Amoco sign so he “climbed up and got it and gave it to her.”
Nancy McGuire, a friend and customer sent a letter to the editor, saying that the Town of Vinton needed a new Municipal Building, but they also needed their “outstanding businessmen—especially those who have patronized and supported Vinton for 22 years.”
“Mr. Anderson has serviced our cars for the last five years,” wrote McGuire. “He is a fantastic person and wouldn’t take a dime extra from anyone.”
A while before the gas station closed down, Anderson suffered a heart attack. He said that three or four customers and his sons kept the station running for three months while he recovered—“we never missed a day. I’ve had the best customers in the world.”