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Last Chance Texaco: 1937

October 1937. "Abandoned garage on Highway No. 2. Western North Dakota." Medium format safety negative by Russell Lee for the FSA. View full size.

October 1937. "Abandoned garage on Highway No. 2. Western North Dakota." Medium format safety negative by Russell Lee for the FSA. View full size.


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Last Chance, colorized.

I had a go at a colorized version.

The price of nostalgia

I'm always saddened and a little depressed to see these once thriving, or marginally surviving, edifices brought to desolation and ruin. The abandoned farmhouse, shop or service station only reminds us of our fleeting nature. Someone once sat in those freshly erected buildings and dreamed the American dream, maybe now gone to dust or glory. Godspeed, you stalwart forebears, I hope you found some joy in your life!

Vintage memorabilia motherlode

How would you like to have been the person that said, I'm gonna go out and get those pumps and that sign before somebody else does. And as noted above, $7500 for one of the pumps. The sign is worth more than gold. And almost worth as much as

Where it was

The alignment of US 2 from Minot to US 85 has been straightened out considerably. Given the comment regarding the sequencing of the pictures, and using a 1933 ND / SD map, and a 1946 map I have showing the electric system as it was in ND then, I offer the northeast corner of 119th Ave NW / 60th St. NW (about 3/4 mile south of Wheelock) as the location of the gas station.

Great photographer!

Russel Lee was really great photographer, almost all his pictures show us real life at those years.

To the electrical comments

Ungrounded delta distribution is still around. It's simply 3 phases with no connection to ground. Each transformer is connected phase to phase and the center tap on the secondary side is grounded to create a neutral for the customer. Usually ungrounded deltas for distribution run at 4800 volts. These systems are rare. Most areas with older distribution systems are running 2400/4160 wye. Most power companies upgrade these systems to 7200/12470 or 7620/13200 wye systems.

No "there" there


Nowadays, primary distribution is nearly always a "wye" system as you have observed. In the early days, the "delta" system was more common, and there was no neutral.

In some cases, even today, a delta has one phase grounded. However, the practice of grounding has evolved over the years. I've read that at one time, ungrounded delta distribution was the norm. I don't know exactly when this began to change. It was certainly beginning to by the late 30s, judging by some old catalogs I have.

But you're right. I don't see a neutral here, either.

Isolated no more

Read yesterday that there has been a huge oil discovery extending out of North Dakota up into Canada and West into Montana. Extreme shortage of labor.

Strong feelings

Most of us in our lifetime have witnessed scenes like this somewhere, sometime. We, as a species, are different from each other yet so much the same. Many thoughts from my past went through my mind as I looked at this image. Most were not even related to the building, the gas pumps or the signage, just the whole scene. So simple in itself but such a strong feeling that came from within me. (apparently a lot of other folks too looking at the number of comments). Thanks for posting this Dave.

Thank the REA

This art most likely brought to you by the Rural Electrification Administration, born just two years earlier. The sign may be leaning, but the power poles are straight and new.


I'm a youngster, only 43, so I haven't been around that long. But looking at the power line it looks like a 3-phase transmission line but no ground. How did they run the ground leg back in the day? Any electricians out there?


Looks like North by Northwest.

Great Photo! The FSA photos were one fo the best things to come out of this time. Just documenting life at the time and is absolutely art!

Really helps me understand

My mother was from North Dakota, a tiny town near the Canadian border. She left around the time this picture was taken, and more than once talked about how isolated and isolating the place was. Had she seen this picture, she would have cocked her head the way she did and said something like, "That's it. That's what it was like."

This is iconic, I tell you.

This is something that Edward Hopper would have loved.

The turnoff

In sequence, this Highway 2 photo appears between photos taken by Lee in farmhouses near Wheelock and photos taken in a general store in Ray. Three miles north of Wheelock and three miles west of Ray is an intersection between Highway 2 and a gravel road that may be this spot. Anybody could go broke trying to sell gas there.

Russell Lee had some kind of eye.

He was without question an artist, and this stunning photograph is a fine example. Long after the Great Depression, Lee headed photo department of the University of Texas art school, and that's the source of a regret I've carried for 40 years. I took a number of classes in that department and was always too much in awe of him to introduce myself. My loss.

You know that Texaco

... it's the one at the corner of Nothin' and Nothin'.

Phrases like "you can't miss it" take on a whole new meaning in landscapes like this!

Stanley? Williston? Cuthbertson?

The 1937 Texaco Drivers' Map of North Dakota noted Texaco stations with a red star, so this might have been located in Stanley, Williston, or Cuthbertson. Minot and Rugby (the exact geographic center of the continental United States) were probably too large at the time.

Amazing to a person living on the East Coast to realize that North Dakota has had the same population -- 645,000 approximately -- since its heyday of immigration, between 1880 and 1910. Eric Sevareid grew up in a very small town north of Minot, and here is how he described it:

"It was a trial of the human spirit just to live there, and a triumph of faith and fortitude for those who stayed on through the terrible blasting of the summer winds, the merciless suns, through the frozen darkness of the winters when the deathly mourn of the coyote seemed at times the only signal of life."

This is It

This is the one. My favorite Shorpy pic of all. I've been in the garage business for 45 years. My building is built around a 1952 Gulf station. I collect old service station and garage photos that I display on my office walls.This is my favorite.I just bought a print.Thanks Dave

Gas Stations Rock!

I love all gasoline related photos, and this may be the best one yet. Just beautiful.

Who would guess

That just three years later they would start sponsoring the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts!

And today

It's been replaced with some glass-and-steel monstrosity, no doubt. It was a crime to tear this place down.

Russell Lee was a genius

No "almost" about it!

Pricey gas

Last week I saw a twin gas pump similar to these for sale in a collectibles store in Sausalito. Could have been mine for a measly $7,500.

Art, Actually

As soon as I saw the image, I knew I had yet another addition to my screensaver. Thanks, Dave and Ken. It appeals from both the technical or artsy side; it's art in my book. That the Texaco sign is leaning just so is a plus.

Art indeed

I would gladly hang this on my wall. I believe it would give me a different feeling every day that I looked at it.

You can trust your car

... to the man who wears the star ...

I'm going to have that jingle in my head for the rest of the night!

I'm Waiting

What, no Google Street View?

Almost art

The FSA photographers were very good in composition and light control. Considering the conditions under which they worked the end product is beautiful to the eye. Sometimes the subject was melancholy (considering the times) but nonetheless appears to have transcended from contemporary photography to an evocation of our historical past.

["Almost"? - Dave]

Last Chance

I wonder, at the peak of the station's business, did the owner bring in enough to make it worthwhile?

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