The Service Stations
By Russ Lancaster
With lots of help from:
Murrie Lee, Doug Gray, Nancy Pollard, Jean Raby Nelson
and Thelma Gene Bullock Piland
Service stations were plentiful in Hamlet in the 1950’s, even more so than today. But, none of them were Mom and Pop combination fast food stores and none of them were self-service. In fact, pumping one’s own gas at a service station was either forbidden or frowned upon during that period of time.
Gas was cheap, most of the time in the 20 cents per gallon range. Free road maps of all 50 states were available on racks. And, there were the freebies. Most stations offered free things just for filling up at their location. These freebies usually were drinking glasses, coffee mugs and an occasional stuffed animal or toy for children.
Price wars were common as each station kept lowering prices to get more customers. Volume was a primary concern.
Hamlet’s most popular service stations ranged from Tug Jones’ Esso between the Belk building and the railroad tracks on Hamlet Avenue to Pop Nettles combination service station and taxi service next to the bus station. But the three that were the most popular and waged constant battles for your service all existed on one small corner, highways 177 and 74 adjacent to Hamlet High School.
Baulk Bullock owned a Amoco station on the southeast side of the corner, Leonard Rea an Esso station on the southwest and Jim Samuels Gulf station was on the northwest side. Of course, Hamlet High was on the northeast corner or else we would have probably seen yet a fourth station there.
Of these three service stations, Leonard Rea’s may have been the most popular. I have written a story about it elsewhere on this site. Jim Samuels and Baulk Bullock were good competition for Mr. Rea. And, I’m not talking about competition for gas money, at least not just yet.
As most of you already know, the students at HHS were given an hour for lunch during the 1950’s. Many of them chose to either go home for lunch or spend a little money in the neighborhood rather than eat at the bland lunch room the school offered. Many chose to go to Stewart’s Candy Kitchen, Ma Crofton’s or even Bradshaw’s grocery (stories of all these places are written elsewhere on this site). But those wishing to deal with shorter lines chose to go to one of the three service stations for a cola and moon pie, sandwich or some other treat to tide them over until the evening meal.
Baulk Bullock’s place was a good choice. The prices at all three stations as well as the offerings were much the same. Baulk was a large, light haired man that at first glance looked intimidating. But, once he got to know you, you found out that he was as friendly as anyone. Service was fast, the treats were good and the crowds were of people you knew. He had no problem granting credit either so folks tended to come back often.
Since I first wrote this story, one of Baulk's grown children provided the following information: "Baulk Bullock was my dad. He owned the American station across from the school. He was quite an athlete at HHS, drafted by St. Louis Cardinals junior year in high school, loved the HHS athletics, especially football and baseball."
Jim Samuels station was not quite as popular but still drew its fair share of students looking for lunch. His group was probably the smallest yet the most loyal. Mr. Samuels never had too much to say; he left the talking to a big black man called "Bo". Bo kept a sharp eye on the kids and seemed to know a little about anything that was being discussed. This place also was recommended by high school coach JV Pruitt who insisted that carbonated drinks robbed athletes of oxygen. This place was the only one of the three that sold "Bireley’s" non carbonated soft drinks. Mr. Samuels was also a big baseball fan as were most of Hamlet’s students back then and you could always count on him to have the Mutual game of the week on the radio. During the world series, he would even have a black and white TV set up in one of his service bays. Yes, his place may have drawn the smallest crowds but the loyalty counted a lot.
Rea’s Esso was probably the most popular of the three stations. Most of that was due to Mr. Rea’s personality alone. Back in the 50’s it was a one room station with a big old stove in the center for warmth. The drinks and treats were much the same as at the other places but Mr. Rea’s smooth personality and warm smile put everyone on ease. Here was an adult that you knew you could trust; One you could talk with when he wasn’t too busy pumping gas. Please read our story about his place elsewhere on this site.
The competition they had for their primary business, selling gasoline, was even fiercer than their battle for students at lunch. Once in a while they would have price wars, each eyeing the other as they put big folding signs out by the street announcing their prices for all passing motorists to see. If one were to drop their price to 19 cents, the other would quickly follow suit or even drop his price to 18 cents. But after a week or so of the "gas wars", they would usually agree on a fair price and all would be back to normal.
It was a friendly time for motorists. All stations in Hamlet as well as in most of America at the time were full service. You pulled into the stations, ran over the hose that rang a bell inside the station and two or more attendants were quickly at your car. One pumping your gas, one under the hood checking your oil, water and other essentials, yet another washing your windshield and sometimes yet another person checking the air pressure in your tires. We were spoiled and took all that service for granted back then. Look where we are today.
Today, there are few premiums ever offered by service stations. You have to pump your own gas, wash your own windshield, check your own oil and tire pressure. The price of gas is high, most service stations treat you as if you were a stranger and if you visit a full service station the prices will be even higher. You will pay for a road map (if you can find one) and you won’t see your kids buying lunch there.
But, you and I remember how it was back then. We have even better memories of those places now, the ones we took for granted so long ago. We remember Tug Jones, Leonard Rea, Pop Nettles, Jim Samuels, Baulk Bullock and even others I failed to mention. We remember those lunch hours, our first trips to gas up when we were treated as well as the adults. We remember the RC Colas and the Moon Pies. We remember when gas was cheap and service was given with a smile. But most of all… We remember Hamlet.
Webmasters note** The following comments about this story were sent in by Bruce Osburn:
HAMLET SERVICE STATIONS response: I read Russell's tale of the three service stations on the corner of US 74 and NC 177 and it brought back memories I have of Mr.Rea's station. I favored Mr. Rea's station over the other two, for what reason I can't remember, after all, an RC cost 5 cents no matter where you bought it so prices were not the issue. My Mom gave me 25 cents each day to eat in the school lunch room but Rea's station offered something the lunch room didn't have; a BIG ole package of cinnamon rolls. I'm not talking about the little bitty cinnamon rolls one finds in a quick-stop gas station of today. No siree! I'm talking about a huge package of rolls, six buns to the package, each bun about the size of one of your Mama's biscuits. And each bun slathered in a thick, sticky, white, sugary icing. There was so much icing poured on those rolls that a kid could take two or three minutes just to lick all the excess from the clear cellophane wrapper. And it only cost 15 cents! A big ole belly-washer RC and a package of cinnamon rolls were more than a kid could, or should, eat. But I did my best, forcing every crumb into my mouth! And with a nickel left over from my quarter I had enough to go to the Sandhill Candy Co. just down the street and get a bag of my favorite candy, broken pieces of coconut bars.
We juveniles (not yet delinquent) would sit outside on the raised walkway next to the restrooms and eat and drink and smoke and lie and watch the cars go noth and south on NC 177. Watching cars go by was actually an educational process; most boys of that era could name practically every make and model car, including the year! (Car watching proved to be such a popular pastime that Gomer Pyle and his cousin Goober indulged in watching out-of-state cars pass by just up the road in Mayberry. But the kids in Hamlet did it first!)
One day I was bragging to my buddies about how, just the afternoon before, I had brought down my first Mallard. With just one shot from my Dad's double-barreled 16 gauge I got the duck as it was rising in flight from our pond. I probably embellished it just a bit; about how fast the duck was flying and how difficult the shot was. I was enjoying every minute of my time in the spotlight; the other kids looking at me with admiration, for some of them wished they could do the same. And then Mr. Rea asked me one little question that deflated me with a rush and put me in such a panic I never again raised another gun at a duck.
Mr. Rea looked at me and asked, "Do you have a duck stamp?" Stamp? What stamp? I don't know nothing about no stamps. Mr. Rea then told me I needed a Federal Duck Stamp to take migratory birds and I had broken the law if I didn't have one. Oh, my gosh! I was going to jail! But I didn't, so I guess no one ratted me out. If a kid kept his eyes and ears open he was likely to learn something new each day.
Bruce Osburn, Brunswick, Ga, 3-1-2000
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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