by Jim Bulls
The last time we slid back in time it was to 1950 and I was pedaling around town on my J.C. Higgins ‘Hiawatha’ bike, checking out the auto dealerships around Reedley. Today we are going to slide back to 1958, while “cruizin” in my 1940 Ford Coupe.
“Cruizin”, or dragging main, was a major part of my teenage social life and two things were needed: gas and cheeseburgers. You needed the gas, obviously, for driving countless hours up and down G Street, holding up traffic while talking to friends going in the opposite direction, checking out the girls from other towns or just admiring your own “cool” reflection in the storefront windows. Cheeseburgers were necessary in order to keep up one’s strength while taking part in the activities listed above.
This is also a good place to point out that the cost of a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke was about 65¢ and the cost of regular gas was about 24¢ a gallon (unless there was a “gas war” and then gas was cheaper).
Our first stop is Kelly’s Diner at the south end of Upper Bridge Road, just north of Manning Avenue. Kelley sold Richfield Oil products and also managed a bulk plant for Richfield. He would deliver fuel to packing sheds, farmers, the mountain communities and supply other Richfield stations in his district.
Leaving Kelley’s and going east, we cross the Kings River, making an abrupt left turn at the east end of the bridge to stay on Manning Avenue. To the left, you can see the new Reedley Junior College campus built on the original T.L. Reed ranch headquarters. At Reed and Manning, just across the street to the left, is the Flying A, a service station. A little clarification here, when I say service station, I mean a true “service” station, Not only can you buy gas, but you can also have your car lubed, oil changed, brakes repaired, tappets adjusted, or a carburetor rebuilt. In the 1950s, that was the maintenance needed to achieve 100,000 miles of trouble-free driving.
At Reed, we turn right, passing the bulk plants of Richfield and Standard Oil on the right. Where Reed meets Upper Bridge Road (today it’s I Street), the Rhodes Texaco bulk plant sits on the left. Turning left and continuing south-east, we come to the Beacon bulk oil and service station on 10th and I streets. One block further down at 11th Street, is Jackson’s Service & Buick Agency on the north-west corner, and Richfield Center Service on the south-west corner; both are full service stations. On the south-east corner is Yoon Packing Company. Not only do they pack fruit, but they also sell gasoline. Another block south, at 12th and I, sits Asami’s Texaco Service Station, while on the other side of the Washington School baseball diamond is a Signal receiving plant for used bulk oil.
Now we are in the heart of “China Town.” At the House of Chung or New China Cafe, you will only find oil in the woks and gas from the food, although I can personally vouch for the great cheeseburgers at New China. Down the street at 15th and I, there is Lee’s Service Station. Lee’s sells Mobile gas and Goodyear Tires, in addition to recapping truck tires. Mallory Avenue starts at the cross street of 15th and I–today you know this as Frankwood Avenue. Here is Floyd Hammond’s Sinclair service station and his locksmithing business.
At this point in our tour, we come to the first of the Reedley “triangles”. Take a mental picture looking down at Reed Avenue (formerly known as West), Dinuba Avenue (formerly known as South), East Avenue and North Avenue-these streets are the boundaries of “old town” Reedley. Within this box, the City sits at an angle since it aligns with the railroad tracks. The triangles are all over this area, some no larger than a mow strip, but some large enough to hold a City water well or a residential home or business. This triangle is made up of Frankwood, Dinuba and I Street, with a little mom & pop grocery store that sells gas in front.
Where I Street ends at Dinuba, the Seaside bulk plant is located directly across the street. Turn left, cross the railroad tracks and Olvera’s Norwalk service station is on the right. Get ready to turn left on G Street–this is where we “drag the main”. Out-of-towners sometimes have a hard time finding “main” because it’s not Main Street, its G Street.
At G and 16th streets is the Campus Bowl Drive-In, where the teenagers hang out, listening to Elvis on the jukebox. Adults rarely patronize this business since they find the rowdy teens to be offensive and obnoxious, but in not doing so, they missed out on a really good cheeseburger. Traveling north on G Street we find a Texaco service station on 14th, Enns’ Mobile at 13th, and Eymann’s Downtown Shell at 12th. The high school girls prefer to get gas at this Shell station, since Ralph Jr. is often manning the pumps.
Eleventh and G streets are the heart of down town, but there aren’t any gas stations here, we have to travel on down to 9th and G to find the service station at Ratzlaff Dodge-Plymouth and the Richfield station belonging to Hershel Witter. We wind up the G Street service stations at North Avenue with Kerr’s Chevron on the left, across the street from the first Reedley College (today it is the RHS administration building).
At this point in the tour, we have to backtrack to 11th and I streets, but remember this is 1958 and gas was cheap. What would I do? I would make a right into Willie’s Drive-In for a cheeseburger. I should also let you know that this is where those teens addicted to “coffin nails” (cigarettes) would hang out. Tobacco products could not be used on campus, with one exception: when Reedley College and Reedley High School shared a campus. College students could smoke, so their lounge area was separated from the high school by a big, white line painted on the cement from the corner of the outside staircase to the corner of the snack bar. College to the west; high school to the east. High school smokers would stand near the line and try to breathe in some second-hand smoke; college boys would sometimes help by blowing smoke in their direction.
Leaving Willie’s, we look to the left to check out the girls playing tennis on the high school courts, then turn right on F Street, past the Study and Civic Club where the after-game dances are held. Another right on 8th Street, cross G and pass by the courthouse–you DON’T want to go in front of Judge Eymann–left on I and back to 11th Street. Continuing across the railroad tracks east, we come to the new A&W Root Beer Stand on the left. This is the home of the Papa, Mama, Junior and Baby Burger family owned by the Grays (if I’m lucky, Sherry Gray may be carhopping). Traveling on to F Street, we find my uncle Cecil Emory’s Signal Station catty-corner from Charles Shamoon’s Union 76 Service Station. At 11th and D streets is another Shell service station, where the owner is trying to perfect a home-built steam car.
Approaching another triangle made up of B Street, 11th street and North Avenue, we come to the Dairy Delite Drive-In (a funny thing happened to me and my Model A at Dairy Delite, but that’s another story) and Rhodes Texaco service station, located directly across from Lincoln School. My dad would drive straight out of the teacher’s parking lot at Lincoln to the pump island at Rhodes Texaco. Joe Rhodes’ dog, Diablo, used to nap on the Lincoln School lawn. Between Lincoln School and East Avenue is Jackie’s Junior High Service.
Crossing East Avenue and past the National Guard Armory, we come to Mason’s Mohawk bulk plant. On the left is Olive Point (a triangle formed by East Avenue, 11th Street and Manning), shared by Ernie Perez’s Norwalk service station and Linzmeier’s Alta Oil Company, a Norwalk bulk plant and propane company.
Turning right on to Manning Avenue–remember, this is 1958 and 11th Street has the right of way; Manning has a stop sign heading out of town–we are heading to the “suburbs” of Reedley. Today it is hard to visualize Hemlock Avenue surrounded by a cotton field. I was the first kid to live in Reedley’s first attempt at a subdivision: ten houses, built in 1947. On the left is Kady’s Market, where they sell Shell gasoline and men from the old country play pinochle in a back room. Across the street is J&M Cash Market, where Joe Maulwood sells Mohawk gasoline. Marge Metry runs a little cantina inside the market. Just down the street is the Signal Oil Company bulk station run by Glen Brown, and at Manning and Buttonwillow is Raphael’s Grocery Store, where Mike sells Signal gas–the first Bear Club is located behind the store. And that concludes our 1958 “It’s a Gas” tour of Reedley.
That was then and this is now
We might as well start by having another cheeseburger…this time I’m driving through MacDonald’s for a Big Mac. As we exit MacDonald’s, you can see (on the left) that the once Flying A service station is now Kentucky Fried Chicken. The lube bays and car lifts are encapsulated in concrete, under the kitchen floor. However, there is still a gas station at the intersection: Valero Gas and Mini-mart. It originally started out as a Shell Station, where I worked briefly as a gas jockey and lube man, and then it was a Beacon Mini-mart before selling out to Valero. Heading right on Reed toward I Street, there is only one bulk plant left, Rhodes’ Pacific Pride Commercial Gas and Diesel Fuel. Turning south on I Street, there is the Shell Mini-mart at I Street and Reed, and down at10th and I streets is Robert Jensen’s Chevron bulk plant, commercial fueling station, and Chevron Mini-mart. That’s all of the gas stations left on I Street.
At I and Dinuba turn left, cross the tracks and turn left on G Street. Remember the old Campus Bowl? Well now it is La Familia Market Gas & Mini-mart, selling mystery gas. We can turn around right here in their driveway and head back to Dinuba, because there are no gas or service stations left on G Street. Turn left on Dinuba, round the “round about” to Buttonwillow and you will find the Oaks Texaco Mini-mart. Continue north on Buttonwillow, turn left on Manning where J’s Market (formerly Kady’s), sells Beacon gas. Alta Oil is still in business at Manning and 11th Street, but their business is now mostly propane sales.
That’s right, all that’s left are the mini-marts and three bulk plants selling gas in Reedley.
Hold on there…no, I really didn’t forget something…I am just saving the best for last. Reedley still does have a real, full service, gasoline service station: Kings River 76 on the corner of 11th and E streets, right across from the post office, and that’s a story in itself.
The last, the only full service station in Reedley
In 1935, the 76 Union Oil service station was originally located on the north side of 11th Street next to the alley. By 1941, it had moved to the south-east corner of F and 11th streets. To accomplish the move to its current location on 11th and E, quite a few business puzzle pieces had to fall into place.
Bill George, the owner at that time, found that his antiquated, one-bay station wasn’t as profitable as it could be because of its size. When Allied Equipment left Reedley, George proposed to Bill Kellogg, owner of Reedley Ford Tractor, that he combine his Manning Avenue warehouse, his tractor lot across from the post office, and his shop by moving to the F Street location vacated by Allied Equipment. Western Auto was landlocked at their location on 11th Street, so that business was approached about buying the 76 Union station and Reedley Ford Tractor shop, where they could use station lot for off-street parking. Decker Awning moved into the tractor warehouse on Manning, and George built a new service station on the corner of 11th and E streets. Regardless of how confusing that all sounds, it worked and everyone benefited from the moves. George’s new service station had three work bays, a more efficient overall work space and was twice as big as the old station.
Flash forward quite a few years, when a much younger Moe Donaldson was being towed around by his twin brothers, Dave and Steve. Those two were hot rodding, gear heads that made friends with the older guys because they weren’t interested in VW vans, tie-dye and love beads. They spent many hours in my backyard and garage, or mowing my dad’s lawn, and, like I said, towed little Moe around with them. Moe spent a lot of time sitting in one or another of the many cars in our backyard, but usually it was the 1940 Ford. He really didn’t have much of a chance becoming interested in anything other than cars, between his brothers, and friends like Dave Turner and myself.
In high school, Moe started working for David Harris, current owner of the 76 Union Oil station. Dave found Moe to be reliable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable about cars. It wasn’t long before Moe was also proficient in operating a service station. By the time he was through school and married, Dave and Moe formed a partnership: Dave took on more responsibility for the family fruit farm and Moe took on more responsibility in running the service station. Moe finally bought out Dave to become the sole owner of the business, although Union Oil still owned the station.
One day Union Oil showed up in Reedley, with plans to remodel the station. There were grand visions of turning the three bays into a mini-market, but Moe just said “No.” He said he would not go into competition with his neighbor, Fosters Freeze, and his livelihood was generated by those three bays, not selling micro-waved hot dogs or sodas. Fortunately, Union Oil had a program called Auto Pulse, and the service station remained a service station-the last of a dying breed. When Phillips Conoco merged with Union Oil, Moe was able to purchase the station building and the business is now known as Kings River 76.
Automobiles have evolved to the point where 100,000 miles is considered “just broken in”. The grease monkey of the last generation has evolved into a certified master mechanic. He is as adept at emission systems, as he is with air conditioning or computerized automatic transmissions. Moe Donaldson is a certified ASE Mechanic and is constantly upgrading his knowledge in order to keep up with the new automotive innovations. Yes, the last and only true service station left in Reedley is still alive and well. And to this day, you won’t find a soda machine or snacks sold on the counter. Hungry or thirsty? Go to Fosters Freeze.
If you are interested in retracing our “cruize” in my old 1940 Ford, go see Moe, it’s sitting in his garage.
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