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Journeys : April May 2010
Ihave fond memories of when I first acquired my driver's licence back in the mid 70s. A litre of petrol cost around 15 cents. And a cheery, multi-talented chap called Wingnut (something to do with his ears I suspect) at my local ser vice station dispensed petrol, checked the oil, water and tyre pressure, cleaned my windscreen and retrieved change from the cash register without so much as my stepping from the car. But Wingnut and his ilk are a vanishing breed. It's a rare thing nowadays that you have the chance to respond to such pleasantries as 'Which way you headed?' or 'What d'ya reckon about this weather?' In the US they're called filling stations. The British know them as garages. In India they are petrol bunks. To us they are ser vice stations or 'ser vos', although the ser vice nowadays does not so much pertain to our vehicle. Early motorists purchased petrol by the bucket-load from dry goods or hardware stores, with the first petrol stations little more than a shed with petrol pump attached. Sylvanus F. Bowser from Indiana is widely credited with inventing the petrol pump, though these early contraptions were for kerosene used in stoves and lamps, as the automobile had yet to be refined. The introduction of petrol-driven automobiles inspired him to add safety devices and a hose to dispense fuel, which led to the development of the 'Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump' in 1905. That same year the world's first purpose- built petrol station appeared in Missouri, but for years the motorist had to make do with a single skinny pump outside a shop, with little consideration given for queues to top up. In the first decade of the 1900s the Automobile Club of Australia negotiated with country hoteliers to stock petrol, making them Australia's pioneering petrol stations. In Europe many pharmacies sold petrol as a side business, so the world's first petrol station might well be the City Phar macy in Wiesloch, Germany where Bertha Benz filled the tank of the first automobile to set off on a long-distance voyage from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in 1888. With the advent of Henry Ford's Model T in 1908 and its subsequent mass production shortly after, there followed a huge increase in the demand for fuel. Petrol stations sprang up all over the US and began taking on an individuality of their own, as oil companies produced standardised buildings for the distribution of their product. Each station provided the opportunity for corporate identity, with logos and slogans to help the public relate to a particular company. Brand name was important, with many stations making use of eye-catching or namentations such as stars and shields as they vied for the motorist's dollar. Pumps topped with transparent receptacles enabled motorist to see the product being pumped, which led to the practice of colouring petrol with a dye -- red, blue, purple -- as a means to distinguish one brand from another. As maintenance and repair ser vices evolved, the petrol station became an all- round car-care centre. Uniformed attendants were trained in all aspects of servicing a car. Individual companies In Japan, service stations still know how to give great driveway service -- and that's after you've been waved into the forecourt by a pretty girl in smart uniform and white gloves encouraged consumer confidence with logos such as Texaco's -- 'You can tr ust your car to the man who wears the star.' As the years progressed the ser vice station evolved from a strictly functional concern to a multi-purpose facility. Late last century, as repair and maintenance ser vices became increasingly the domain of specialty shops and auto dealerships, and petrol pumps were added to convenience stores as a secondary ser vice, the traditional ser vice station all but disappeared. The petrol station has now become entrenched on the world's urban and rural landscapes as an ever-present reminder of our utter dependence on the motorcar. Charging docks for electric cars already exist in the US, while the multinational conglomerates discreetly tucked off the motor ways of Europe now offer banking, internet access, restaurants, specialty shops and even accommodation -- gosh, you could live there if you so desired! In a very short time the 'servo' has evolved to fulfill the ever-increasing demands of today's motoring public. A far cry indeed, from Bertha Benz's modest concern of some 122 years earlier!. Paul Granston Michael Shaw Remembering the 'servo' 39 April / May 10
Feb March 2010
RACT MNJ June July 2010