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Pony Mart: 1939

Pony Mart: 1939

June 1939. "General store in Pony, Montana." Back when the brands on stallions, bulls and heifers migrated to the gas station. Medium format negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Let There Be Color

It would be great to time travel back to this homey scene and listen in to the conversation and maybe even lead it to world politics and make your prediction about the start of WWII, D-Day and the A-bomb and quietly leave. These gentleman would have a tale to tell that no one would believe. While watching a little Red Zone today I went goggling signs and here they are in living color.

Processed by GERMS!!!

The Conoco standup sent me off to find out what "germ" processing was all about when it came to motor oil. I found the following explanation from a user called DuceCpe at

"Conoco and Marland both began producing passenger car motor oils as early as 1921. Marland held the patent for the first canned passenger oil product from the new Continental Oil Company, founded in 1929. This product was called "GERM PROCESSED" motor oil. Germ processing was the first motor oil additive ever used by any oil manufacturer. It was a special oiliness additive invented and patented by two British scientists in 1918, made from castor oil components. In 1934, Conoco developed a synthetic version called GD-160, later called MDS. This MDS was the material referred to as "OIL PLATING" on cans and in advertising. GERM PROCESSING was chosen as the name of the first motor oil because it was a "germ of an idea"!? Germ Processed oil didn't come in refinery-sealed cans until the early 30's and was dropped in 1940 for Motorine oil, a low cost paraffin-based oil. There were nine different Germ oil cans in those years."

Gas indicator function

They're gravity feed, so the gauge reads from 0 at the top to 10 at the bottom and measures at the bottom of each 'tag' where it widens out.

On some the gauges were painted on the glass and easy to read, others had the gauges mounted back away from the glass, which seems like you could get a different reading depending on whether it was a short guy or tall guy manning the pump.

Cheap gas

As an automobile tech (now service writer) weaned on points and replacing starter brushes, I sometimes hear my customers complain about how expensive the newer models are to repair compared to cars in their childhood. They don't remember having to do a tune-up every 12000 miles and valve jobs every 50,000 miles.

The spark plug electrodes were made of soft copper, so they spark-eroded in about 20,000 miles, creating a wider gap that the ignition system had to jump. Combine that with a carburetor that was not that efficient when new and poor quality fuel, and you have a recipe for a car that refuses to start on a cold February morning. By the time you finished pumping the accelerator for lack of anything else to try, it was towed to the local shop.

There, they would probably find gas-soaked spark plugs that should have been replaced in the summer, along with a crankcase diluted with fuel. The culprit was usually a malfunctioning automatic choke. Sometimes you might find a tell-tale stick on the front seat they used to hold the choke open. Everything has to be right for a cold engine to start.

Cold cylinder walls don't allow the fuel-air mixture to ignite so they dump fuel in the cylinder (choke off the air) and hope science takes over. We frequently saw the ignition system was inadequate and couldn't deliver the required voltage to jump the spark gap. Fuel back in the day left a lot of carbon deposits on the back side of the intake valve. This carbon could get lodged in between the valve head and valve seat, which prevented the valve from seating. The valve is cooled when it touches the valve seat so if the carbon was keeping the valve off the seat, the valve would burn and cause a compression loss in that cylinder.

We have not done a valve job at the shop in years. We also have not used our behemoth Sun analyzer, which was top of the line in 1980. Everything is hand held. Vehicles ARE more expensive (and harder) to repair, but they don't go in the shop nearly as often. Electronics are becoming more reliable.

I would like to see a study comparing total vehicle expenditures (fuel and maintenance) over the lifetime of the vehicle from 1950 compared to 2010 (adjusted). I would be surprised if the 2010 car cost more over its lifetime than the same model from the 50s. Picking a Ford Crown Victoria would give a wide sample.

How did the gallon indicator work?

I see the gallon indicators in the glass gas container. They look like Capital Ms. Was there a gallon in the gas container when the gas rose to the bottom of an M, or to the top of an M?

I was in Rockmart, GA one Sunday morning at 8 AM. I went in the town McDonals, and saw 10 people sitting around talking like the guys in front of the Pony Mart. At 8:15, they left for church.
The Rockmart folks sit around inside for the air conditioning in summer, and heat in the winter.

Gas price

Mighty expensive gas at 25 cents a gallon. The current cost of gas in Montana, at roughly $2.50, converted to 1939 dollars, is 14 cents. Factor in the fuel consumption today being less than half of what it was in cars of the era, and you're talking about one-fourth of the cost per mile to go somewhere using gasoline today vs 1939.

Shooting the breeze

I have to wonder if people from small towns still congregate on a frequent basis to just chat idly and be with others with whom they have things in common. I was raised in a place like that and it seemed like the local gas station, the post office, the liquor store and even church on Sunday would be meeting places (especially for men) who were either retired, unemployed, disabled or just had some time on their hands who would stand or sit out front, like birds on a wire, and kibitz, gossip and exchange local news among themselves over happenings in their area. One local doughnut shop even had empty, lidded lard cans (coincidentally also my nickname in eighth grade) placed out front to be used as seats for the long-winded lingerers who liked just hangin' out. Of course, that was before computers, cell phones and texting took over the world. I don't see this anymore.

Wish I were there

Porlock, while you were making those great observations, I was pondering the likelihood of Conoco, Shell and Quaker State brands all confined to about twenty feet of store. Must be crowded in there.


Will Rogers and FDR, and you missed it!! Don't know who the standing guy is, but probably Harry Hopkins.

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