by Russ Lancaster
In small town America in the 1950's, gas was cheap and independently owned service stations were abundant. Rea's Esso was one of many such places that fit that category.
I first became acquainted with Rea's Esso around 1952. I had been recruited to be a paper boy for the Charlotte Observer, and afternoon newspaper. Rea's Esso was the designated place to pick up your papers, fold and band them and begin your delivery point.
At that time, the station was just a small one room place with a pot bellied stove as the source of heat in the winter. A rotating fan was the only relief from the summer heat. Air conditioning was still new to Hamlet except for the major places like the Hamlet Theater.
Rea's was located on the corner of Hamlet Avenue (Hwy. 74) and King Street (Hwy. 177). The strategic location gave the owner (Leonard Rea) a good source of income and his local business was booming too. His friendly personality kept the locals coming back time after time.
There were no self service stations back then, full service was the only kind of station you could find. Gas was cheap, about 20 cents per gallon. Pulling into the pump area you crossed a rubber hose that rang a bell (as if they couldn't see you) and there was no wait for service.
You were asked how much gas you wanted and while it was being pumped one of his helpers would be busy washing your windshield, checking under the hood for potential problems, and checking the pressure of your tires. Tipping was unheard of, this was the way it was done in the 1950's.
Mr. Rea also made sure he had the right items to attract the lunchtime students from Hamlet High School which sat diagonally across the street. Those who chose to by-pass the bland school lunchroom menu could spend their money on a nickel soft drink and a dime snack like a honey bun or moon pie. He even had a few ready made sandwiches like egg salad if you really wanted to splurge.
There were always kids around the station, us paper boys, kids dropping in for a soda after baseball or football practice and such. Mr. Rea never discouraged us. His was not the only such place in town during those years but certainly one of the most popular. Kids gathered there to set up sandlot baseball games, to talk about their social activities and it was just a popular meeting place. Can you imagine a service station being such a gathering place today? I don't think so.
His son, Bobby, would later go to work for Mr. Rea and then take over the business himself. Having been taught the right values by his father, he too kept things running well. But Bobby would soon have to find another way to earn a living. Service stations like that were disappearing, being taken over by large self-service stations with no regard to their impact on communities.
If you were to look for Rea's Esso today, you wouldn't find it. A Hardee's restaurant now sits where it once was. Fast food became the replacement for many of those old family owned service stations as the big companies gobbled them up and self service took over. You can still find full service stations but not of the type that Rea's Esso was. They are all long gone.
I'm sure that wherever you live, you too have memories of many of the places I write about and that you had your own version of Rea's Esso. I welcome such memories and encourage you to share those experiences with your children and families. Let's not forget the way things were when life was more simple and families really were like the Cleavers and towns were really like Hamlet. Those times and values will probably never be seen again but they were good times and good values.
Yes, I remember Rea's Esso... And... I remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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