Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Ripon Monument

On Monday I drove through Ripon, Wisconsin on a work trip and passed this little house type station. Closed long ago, the station has found a life as a sometimes office for a monument company. I shot this ironic photo, with the little station sitting amongst the cemetery markers wating their final inscription, like just another grave marker, where a little entrepreurial dream came to rest. You could see it as a sad little reminder of the sweeping changes that pushed thousands of these little stations to the side in the 1970s and 80s, or you could see it a tough little survivor, bucking the odds and surviving as so very few others have, to continue into the 21st century. I prefer to see it as the latter, a Ripon monument to the lives of the hardworking people who toiled in this little building for decades.

My hunch is that this station was built by the Biegick Brothers, who we feature in our book, Fill 'er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations. If you know something about this station, drop us a line, we would love
to hear from you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Picture perfect

Photographing almost sixty gas stations spread throughout the state of Wisconsin is no small task. Just finding them all can be challenging. Thankfully, this task was entrusted to a skilled photographer, Mark Fay.

Mark logged over 5,000 miles capturing each of the stations in their present condition. His beautiful color photographs are a wonderful addition to Fill ‘er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations. Jim and I are grateful for his contribution.

An exhibit of Mark’s work, including some of the gas station images, is currently on display at the Eau Claire public library. An Exhibit of Photography is on display through October 14, 2008.

And speaking of Eau Claire, we'll be doing a book event there October 9, 2008. We’re hoping to post a list soon of all of the book events taking place. In the meantime, you can view a list of some of our upcoming events at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press website.

We’ll look forward to sharing the book and meeting you at an event this fall.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Its been a long time coming

Bobby Tanzilo of published an interview with Mark and I about our forthcoming gas station book which I thought was interesting enough to share. A particularly interesting question Bobby posed was "Is there any movement to preserve this part of American history?"

It is our hope that this book will help to celebrate the gas station's colorful and interesting history and to show readers that these stations are not only important pieces of Americana, but are useful structures that are adaptive and flexible in meeting modern needs.

Unlike the train stations of the 19th century, which found their place along the extremities of communities, gas stations were constructed near the vehicular heart and veins, making the locations excellent choices for adaptive reuse. Depots have survived as local chamber office, museums, and occasionally small offices, but gas stations hold more potential. We see a day coming where the lowly historic gas station will become something of wonder and interest. Appreciation is awakening and Mark and I are doing our small part in opening the eyes of people to the fascinating history of the ordinary buildings around them.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hold the Presses!

I opened my mail Monday and was surprised to see two photographs and a handwritten note. It was sent by an owner of a gas station that is featured in our forthcoming book, Fill ‘er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations. Perhaps you have seen the small station in the companion documentary Wisconsin Public Television produced. If not, you can watch it online here.

The photographs I received in the mail, shown below, were not labeled. The note said a man in his eighties dropped them off recently at the little Platteville station. The images show his aunt and uncle who worked at the station in the 1930s. They likely spent many hours pumping gas and keeping customers happy.

The note didn’t say who the two were though. It didn’t say if they owned the station or just worked there. No matter what they did, it's likely the little station was a big part of their lives.

For the past two years we were unable to uncover a historic photograph of the station or anyone who worked there. It was pretty funny the photographs arrived just as the book is due in stores, but I am still glad Tom Nodorft of B&B Service chose to send them to us.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at this nice gesture. I am sure it will happen again and again. Jim and I know photographs and stories (and maybe, corrections) will come in after the book is officially published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

Although it’s too late to stop the presses, we want to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to drop us a line and let us know about a station you just saw, photographs you have, or your connection to a Wisconsin station.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Jake and Irene having a gas!

Finding this photo was one of those strange accidental discoveries that anyone who has ever done research can relate to. This 1957 photo depicts the Wisconsin History Mobile, a traveling history exhibit once operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The building in the background is the Clark Oil Station at South Park in Madison, which we document in our book. Finding this station's photo in the historical society's public relations collection just points out that you never know where you will find those goodies that stir the blood of the researcher.

I love the contrast between the nebbish historical society workers and the Clark Oil attendants in their jump suits. If you want to know more about this picture, click here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Greasing the skids

We are authors of a new book on Wisconsin featuring a guided tour of 59 of Wisconsin's vintage gas stations—from cottages to pagodas. We offer a spirited and nostalgic look at these historically significant examples of roadside architecture. Since their unremarkable beginnings as cheap shacks and curbside pumps, gas stations have taken many forms, worn many guises, and have been designed by some of Wisconsin’s most distinguished architects.

Our intent in creating this blog is to share the wealth of historic photos, classic advertisements, newspaper clippings, patent drawings and other gas station paraphernalia, that came our way over the course of preparing our book, Fill ‘Er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations. Top off your tank, and get ready for a sweet ride.