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Pop, Gas, Smokes: 1950s

Pop, Gas, Smokes: 1950s

From a newspaper morgue somewhere in California comes this undated medium-format mid-century negative with the sketchy notation "Oakland service station." Who can help us to fill in the blanks? View full size.


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Bailey's Signal Service

Yes, that would be Bailey's Signal Service at the bottom of Tank Farm Hill* in San Pablo, on San Pablo Ave. at about Lake St.

I passed it every day on my way to Richmond High School in the 1960s. Apartment building in the distance is 14740 San Pablo Ave. - and it's still there with distinctive railing.

* Before Hilltop Mall (1970s) and other development, the storage tank visible at the top of the hill in the picture was just one of many in a "tank farm" on Standard Oil refinery's land between San Pablo and Pinole,

Going up

The automotive hoist in the bottom left of the picture was manufactured by Globe Hoist Co. I have one identical to it in my garage.


Those Salem cigarettes were introduced in 1956. Assuming it would take a few years of promotion to get them popular enough to include in the cigarette machine and judging by the man’s boxy suit and Brylcreemed hair which was in style at the time, I’d guess this photo is from the late fifties early sixties. 1960? '61?

An Anxious World Wants to Know

Is he a Pepper too?

You are correct

I was going to argue the location, but then noticed this detail.


The photo is no earlier than 1954, which is when the streamlined Dr Pepper logo on the side of the bottle cases was introduced.


The apartment building seems to be 14740 San Pablo. The railings are pretty distinctive.

Crude wheel alignments too

The device the wheel balancer rings are hanging on is a toe gauge. The car would be driven over it slowly. This would only check the toe, not camber and caster. It was assumed if the toe was correct, caster and camber were also correct, since changing either of these angles affected toe. Doing an alignment, toe is always set last.

Regarding the Hunter wheel balancer - that assembly was spinning at least 70mph, inches from your body and you hovered over it adjusting the weights to get the smoothest spin. One of the wheels was held to increase/decrease the amount of weight, and another was held to rotate the weight around the wheel. I remember balancing an old 55 Chevy with this contraption. I dialed in too much weight and knocked a whole chunk of body filler off the fender because of the vibration. We still have the motor spinner at work. We use it to find noisy wheel bearings. It has TWO motors and is 220 volts.

Bailey's Station

It is apparently Bailey's, judging from this advertisement selling a La Salle mobile home in the 20 November 1960 Oakland Tribune.

The Year

That we'll never exactly know. The cigarettes in the machine tell me it is the late 50's. The Marlboros are in flip-top boxes, introduced in 1955, so it can't be before then.

30 cents a pack

An Arkansas newspaper article dated 1957 reported prices increasing from 27 to 30 cents in vending machines. At that time, you could buy the whole vending machine itself from National Vending in Brooklyn for $75.00... far less than the cost of a carton of cigarettes these days ($85-$90 in Connecticut).

My First Comment on Shorpy

The business depicted is currently DC Auto Repair, 14673 San Pablo Avenue, in the town of San Pablo, California, a few communities north of Oakland. The apartment building seen across the street is still there, and can be found on Street View at 2836 Del Camino Drive, San Pablo, California.

As an Oaklander, I figured it out with the address shown, "14673," recognizing it as a high address number that would only be on one of the lengthy north-south roads that pass through Oakland. I first tried 14673 MacArthur Boulevard, because those hills and apartment building-style look like those in south-east Oakland/San Leandro. Then I tried 14673 Foothill Boulevard, for similar reasons. Then I tried 14673 San Pablo Avenue. Bingo.

San Pablo Avenue is an old Mission-era road, Camino de la Contra Costa, which is also State Route 123, and runs 23 miles from the town of Crockett on the Carquinez Strait to downtown Oakland.

As with so many environments from the early-mid 20th Century, the area is, ironically, now much more green and wooded despite its greater population density.

[Bravo! For your next trick, what's the name over the address? -Dave]

The Lost Dot

This seems to be shortly after Dr Pepper lost the '.'

Tires balanced while-U wait.

Those round things hanging on the pedestal are part of a Hunter tire balancing system.

Back in the days when balancing tires was more of an art than a science those were attached to the wheels while they were on the car.

The mechanic then spun the tire with an electric motor and adjusted some knobs until it felt the smoothest. After he stopped the wheel the dials on the machine would tell him where to put the weights.

There was a shop in my home town using this system well into the 1980's, now of course a computerized machine is used with far greater accuracy.

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