I’ve been chatting with friends about our younger days and how we coped with those in our lives and enjoyed each day. My life changed during my junior high school days. It was during those years that my father opened the Sunoco Service Station on Madison Avenue.
That building still exists on the east side of Madison Avenue just a block north of Epler Avenue. It was during those junior high days that I got off the school bus at Epler and Madison and walked with friends north on Madison Avenue. My home was just north of Thompson Road.
We walked past the construction of the new Sunoco Station each day. I was fascinated watching the construction and was very excited to get started with our new family business.
Our family life changed quite a bit once the station was open for business. My dad had to hire and train four new full-time employees. Two of them worked together on each shift. Those fellows would start their shift at noon and work until closing time, which was 10 p.m. They would then open the station the following morning at 6 a.m. and work until noon. They were off duty until the following day at noon.
Dad worked long hours during the busy parts of each day. I started working on the weekends and learning about the business. The station had two gasoline pumps. When a car drove up to the pumps, it would drive over a small hose that would loudly activate a very loud bell. One of two of us would scamper out to serve the customer in that automobile.
We would pump the fuel, wash the windshield and back glass, check the oil, watch and check battery and sometimes air the tires. Sometimes it was a challenge because the fuel cap was hidden behind the license plate or built behind a taillight.
Family dinners were seldom. Lots of times, mom would deliver our dinner to the station. Dad set up a way to check on timely opening and closing. He required the employee in charge to deliver the cash from that shift to our house after 10 p.m. and pick it up the following morning in time for the station to be open by 6 a.m.
Until I obtained my driver’s license, I mostly rode my bicycle to work at the station. I parked it close to the building on the northside. Sometimes when the asphalt was very hot, the kickstand on my bike would poke a hole in the parking area.
I very quickly learned to wash cars. We had lots of customers that had their cars serviced and washed on the weekends. We had weekend and part-time employees to assist with the growing business. I remember a couple of the full-time employees yelling to the new guys that a car was “all done but the windows”. The new guys got stuck with washing the inside windows on each car wash.
We had a pay-telephone that was attached to the wall in the service area. That was our only way to make a call for several years. Later we had a private telephone installed in the office area. It was difficult to make a private call in the service area. We younger guys learned that a nice quiet pay-phone booth was available in the Woodcroft Pharmacy. It was located in the small strip mall just south of the station. That worked much better.
On a sad note, two of our first employees at the station passed away in the last couple of months. I just found this out in the last couple of days. It really got to me because I had been telling old stories about the station and the guys that I learned from and worked with for a couple of weeks.
Robert (Bob) Toon worked with my dad when dad had his farm to dairy milk route. Bob’s dad had a dairy farm and was on my father’s route. Bob lived near Shelbyville and drove to work each shift. Something happened and he lost his driver’s license for a while. Someone would drive him to work, and he then would sleep overnight in the office of the station and be picked up the next day at the shift’s end.
John M. Stephenson was a couple of grades ahead of me in school. I remember riding with him and his future wife, Patricia, to take her home from school and then we were off to the station. Many years later, I learned that John had become a preacher and had a church in the Greenwood area.
Both of those fellows taught me so much and we had so much fun. I’m very sad that I missed the memorial services for them both.
Rest in peace guys. But jump and scamper when the driveway bell rings.
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a ’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools. He can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.