Our tank is full of the history of gas stations in the Pacific Northwest, from the nostalgic favorite places that may not even dispense gas anymore, to a Seattle location that in 1907 may have -be the first gas station in the world.
Dan Ward lives in the Portland area, but grew up in College Place, a small town near Walla Walla in Southeast Washington. Ward contacted KIRO Radio recently because he believes his family business in College Place is “the oldest, oldest and oldest full-service gas station in the Pacific Northwest, operated at the same location, by the same family â.
College Place was named in the 19th century for what was originally Walla Walla College. The institution was founded by Seventh-day Adventists in 1892; it is now known as Walla Walla University and has around 1,500 students. College Place incorporated as its own town in 1946.
The Ward family’s gas station is called Beeline, which is an old brand of petroleum products and a network of independent retailers that operated primarily in the mountain states. The brand died out a long time ago and all other Beeline stations either disappeared or changed their names.
Dan Ward now owns the station, but his late mother and father, Carol and Ben, founded it in 1958 and ran it together.
âMy mom and dad worked as a team, she kept the books and a lot of the important backstage operations,â Ward wrote in an email, âwhile my dad was the perfect outgoing lead man for a gas station. in a small town, kind of like ‘Mayberry’, where he played the perfect ‘Andy’ who owned a gas station, rather than the town sheriff!
The Beeline is still in operation 63 years later in the same location, in the original building with all full-service amenities and half a dozen certified mechanics on duty. Dan Ward is proud that the family business hasn’t become one of those mini-market stations where coffee machines and potato chip racks have replaced hydraulic elevators.
“My dad refused to sell the place, when his retirement years came, because for his love of the place and he continued, because all of us kids got married and moved out. in the big cities!” Ward wrote. “He passed away last March, and as executor of the estate, and by his will, I am now responsible for his operations, which are quite vibrant and flourishing, I might add!”
And, while the average price of gasoline in 1958 was around 30 cents – or just under $ 2 today adjusted for inflation – Dan Ward says that for Beeline customers who want it, they will continue. to pump gasoline, wash windows and even check the oil and tires, no matter how the price fluctuates.
Ward’s mother passed away in 2014. His father had retired and moved to the Portland area to live with Dan a few years earlier, but he still enjoyed visiting the station with his son when he could. That had clearly been a big part of his life and his identity, and the station functioned as a kind of community hub.
During the station’s first decades, Dan Ward said, extending the ever-reliable “Mayberry” metaphor, “you could always count on the latest local news, or gossip, or free advice, just by switching to the own version. from the town of ‘Floyd’s Barber Shop’! â
Dan witnessed all of this when he started working at the train station in the 1960s as a kid, helping out by doing things like sweeping the store or parking lots. He says his father’s friends showed up for a daily ritual that involved chewing on fat and “delaying,” which is a form of tossing pennies to determine who would pay for the soda.
“Around 9 or 10 in the morning some of his buddies were starting to appear out of nowhere,” Ward said by phone last week. “It was just a slow city, slow pace, and that was his style, that sort of thing, but they were going up and ‘holding up’ for sodas.”
The men would “delay,” says Ward, throwing their pennies and dimes at a piece of duct tape on the floor, trying to land the coins as close to the tape as possible.
âWhoever lost just bought pop for everyone,â Dan Ward said.
Speaking to Dan – who now owns the station and has a manager who runs it – you get the impression that her father Ben was the heart and soul of the business, and the reason she never really did. changed a lot since its founding under the Eisenhower administration. . The memory of his father might also explain why Dan – who has retired from his own career and is approaching 70 – is still dedicated to maintaining the station, despite not being a charitable endeavor, because the company is actually stronger than ever.
âThe past four years at the Beeline have been consecutively bigger and better, both in volume and profit, than at any time in the past 63 years,â wrote Ward, âthanks to a great crew and manager. leading general. “
Another thing that has never changed at College Place station is the name “Beeline”. This business was important in the 1950s and 1960s, and there were once hundreds of stations bearing this mark. Ward says the Beeline at College Place is actually the last of the bunch now – or maybe the last of the swarm? – and Dan’s father was granted the legal rights to continue using the name. Ward says they’re in the midst of a large-scale renovation, and they’re really embracing the retro Beeline brand in all parts of the station, including the vintage-style gas pumps with glass globes.
If you’re in the neighborhood and your fuel tank (or historic tank) is on ‘E’, the Beeline at College Place welcomes visitors anytime, and attendants will be happy to refuel and get you there. get back on the road.
Just be prepared to pay a little over 30 cents – and probably a little over $ 2, for that matter – for a gallon of gasoline.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, find out more about himhere, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or know of any other old-fashioned gas stations in Washington, please email Feliks.here.