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Expert Lubrication: 1939

Expert Lubrication: 1939

February 1939. "Service station in Harlingen, Texas." Medium format negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


Cans Along the Border

This is the service station of Lonnie Wade Molder (1911-1993), the son of Abraham Molder and Pearl Adair. Lonnie graduated from Harlingen High School in 1928, and then Brownsville Junior College in 1930. He married Edna Faye Swisher in 1935, and they had four children. It appears that he owned this station based on Harlingen city directory entries from 1944 to 1948.

Of interest in the photo is the array of oil cans that are the border to the shrubs at both the left and right of the photo as well as the change in gas price, from 16 to 15 cents, as seen on the sign on the canopy above the pumps. All of the planters, including the ones attached to the windows, appear to be reutilized gas tanks. A clearer view of the "Won Up" soda sign is below.

The Chevrolet pickup truck is a 1937 model and cost $515. This was the first year for the all steel cab (no wood). Based on the license plate, I believe this photo is actually from 1938 (the 1939 - 1941 commercial plates had "Texas" at the top). The enlarged license plate is also below.

Molder continued to own and operate the station into at least 1948. By 1950 he was a partner in North Side Welding & Repair down the street at 622 Commerce. By 1956 he had become the assistant manager for the service station at Harlingen Air Force Base (now Valley International Airport). He eventually went back to welding, and he was employed with Gulf Welding Supply in Harlingen for many years.

It appears that he retired in 1975. He and his wife then moved to LaFeria, Texas, in 1979, and by 1992 they were living in Ingram. He died the next year, Edna in 2006. From her obituary we learn that they met while she was still in grade school at South Ward School (now Bowie Elementary). Since he was seven years older, they would not have attended school together for any long period of time.

Molder's obituary mentions his involvement in the Masonic Lodge of both Harlingen and LaFeria. He served as the secretary for the Harlingen lodge for 35 years, he was a 32nd Degree Mason, and he received their Golden Trowel award in 1991.

An original "pumping gas story"

During WWII, my uncle in Vinita, Oklahoma, owned a wholesale gasoline business. He had a 750-gallon tanker truck and would deliver to nearby country gas stations and to farms that had their own small storage tanks. My cousin and I, both 10 years old, would ride along to add interest to our lazy summer. In those days, there were two grades of gas, Ethyl and Regular. At one stop, he made the error of filling the Ethyl underground tank with Regular. In a hurry, he left the two of us to hand pump the Regular into the glass bowl and then drain it into the Regular tank. Ten gallons at a time. When he returned, both of us kids were really worn out. An aside: all gas was rationed. Civilians had 3 classes: A, B, and C. I think for 4, 8, and 12 gallons per week. Then there were commercial and farming classes based on need.

Who dropped the ball?

Unless my vision is failing me, this is one of the first pictures of a service station, convenience store or street scene that does not have an advertising sign for Coca-Cola, although I do see that the 7 Up rep and some other unknown beverage did get advertising signs as did the telephone company that is also a fixture in most old Shorpy photos of this nature.

[No Coke. Pepsi! - Dave]

Flowers by Ford

I believe that the planter on the ground at center is made from a Model T gas tank.

Competing Brands?

This is the first gas station I've ever seen with pumps for at least two different brands of gas, and the third pump seems to be unmarked. Was this common before WWII?

[For more buffet-style gas, click the links below. - Dave]

Try that today

Texaco and Shell pumps at the same station!

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