Quincy Gulf Station History

by Craig II

If you ever worked in or hung around service stations in the 1950’s or 1960’s, the Quincy Gulf Station is a mandatory stop.

Quincy Gulf Station

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Driving up to the Gulf station transports you to a simpler time, when you could pull in for a fill-up and the attendant would not only pump your gas, but also would check the oil, transmission fluid and coolant to make sure the engine was well supplied with vital fluids. They’d even wash your windshield, all with a smile and a friendly word. If the car had a minor problem, such as a broken fan belt or balky carburetor, it would be fixed immediately. Even with more complicated problems, the mechanic on duty could get started on it then and there, as long as there wasn’t another car on the lift in the service bay ahead of yours. If the car couldn’t be started, the mechanic would jump in the tow truck and come get it.

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Frequently the owners of these service stations doubled as the mechanics. Besides having to know a lot about many makes and models of cars, they also had to be businessmen, bookkeepers, inventory managers and personnel managers to be successful.

Visiting the Gulf station always brings back great memories. In my hometown, there was a strict hierarchy of jobs for kids, and working at the corner service station pumping gas and checking oil was the most prestigious, especially if you got to help in the service bay on a slow day. The top-ten jobs for teenagers when I was one, in order of prestige:

Hierarchy of Jobs for Teenagers (Best to Least Desirable)
  • Service station attendant
  • Motorcycle shop gopher
  • Bicycle shop mechanic
  • Lifeguard
  • Marina attendant
  • Grocery store stock clerk
  • Baby sitter
  • Restaurant dish washer
  • Mowing lawns
  • Doing odd jobs for parents & relatives

All these jobs are important and I personally performed each of the last four as well as a couple of the others, but the pinnacle of childhood employment and the surest way to gain the respect of your peers was achieved by working in a service station. Getting to be around cars all day, opening the hoods and gaping at the engines, getting grease under your fingernails—work just didn’t get any better than that as a young teenager.

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Even those of us who were not fortunate enough to work in a service station spent plenty of time hanging around them. We would ride our bicycles up to the station where my friend Mario worked to put air in our tires and see what type of cars were in the two service bays. We would focus on the various states of disassembly and marvel at the surgeon-like skill of the mechanics (until the ball-peen hammer came out of the toolbox and ruined the metaphor). One day Mario’s boss noticed my eagerness to get into the service bay and taught me how to change the oil and filter on a Ford V-8 engine. I’ve done hundreds of oil changes since then using those basic, but valuable skills—but that first one is the one I remember!

Bobby Bobby and Nell Hollingsworth, long standing members of the Tallahassee Regional Antique Automobile Club of America, have a special connection to the Gulf Service Station located in Quincy, Florida. In 1951 Bobby’s dad, Robert Hollingsworth, leased this Gulf station from Gulf fuel distributor B.E. Williams. It was called ‘Gulf Oak’ when it opened because of the large oak tree in the back and to distinguish it from the other Gulf station in town. Bobby began working there after school helping his dad. Nell was a student at Florida State University, but would take a bus after class to meet Bobby at his job. After the day’s work was done, Bobby and Nell sometimes went to the movies, for a soda or just cruised. One could easily argue that all of Bobby and Nell’s dates, and the beginning of their life together, started at the Gulf Station.

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Nell graduated from college and began work as an elementary school teacher. Bobby and Nell married, children arrived, and Bobby spent quality time in the Army during the Korean War.

Even with the demands of jobs and family life, Bobby and Nell still made time to help out at the station. The kids later accompanied them to the station and Nell remembers their son’s preference for JoJo chocolate flavored soft drinks, which were sold out of the station’s drink machine. Nell’s preference was always Coke, which is why she now has a large collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, some of which is displayed in the station.

The 1950 Chevrolet fuel truck belonged to Gulf fuel distributor B.E. William, the man from whom Bobby’s dad leased the station. This truck was used to deliver fuel to Bobby’s dad. Sometime in the distant past, the tank was separated from the truck and dumped in a field. Fortunately Mr. Wilson Hinson, the current owner of the station, remembered seeing the abandoned tank and knew where it belonged. After removing a few saplings that stood silent guard around the tank, the fuel tank was re-united with its truck and restored to 1950s condition. This truck is always a big hit with visitors as Bobby encourages everyone climb up in the cab and “take the wheel.”

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The station began performing auto inspections when Florida made that a legal requirement. When inspections went away, a lot of the business left also. Business practices moved on and the margins for fuel sales decreased to the point that not much revenue was generated from pumping gas. Cars became more complex, expensive diagnostic equipment, special tools for each make, and a much larger stock of parts became necessary. Smaller stations just weren’t commercially viable and they began to close or be converted to other uses all across the country. Bobby’s dad closed the Gulf Oak station in 1975. Mr. Wilson Hinson purchased the Gulf dealership from Mr. Williams. After leasing the station to various businesses until the early ’90s, Mr. Hinson realized the value in keeping and preserving the Gulf station as it was in the 1950s. Thanks to the stewardship and efforts of these previous owners and operators, Gulf Oak is now on the list of historic gas stations.

Nell will tell you proudly that she and Bobby are not lost in the fifties, they never left. She cruises to club events in a 1953 Ford Crestline convertible and Bobby drives a 1959 Ford Galaxie. The station is fixed up like it was in 1951 when it opened complete with an ice cream cooler box, Coke dispenser loaded with bottles, snack rack, kerosene tank to run the heater and mechanically metered fuel pumps showing 20 cents per gallon.

Bobby & Nell’s Rides
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Wandering through the station, visitors constantly come in contact with artifacts from the past. There are oil cans with paper sides and metal tops that require a spout to be jammed through the top of the can, which makes a satisfying ‘thwack’ sound when done properly. Plastic and twist tops were not in vogue in the 1950s. Rubber v-belts hang from the wall just below the stock of air and oil filters. A spark plug testing and cleaning machine stands ready to rejuvenate fouled plugs. I triple-dog-dare anyone to go to a modern car dealership and ask to have their spark plugs cleaned. Please remember to take a picture of the service writer’s face because it will be priceless!

Artifacts from the Past
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Even in retirement, Nell’s love of teaching endures. She hosts countless elementary school classes at Gulf Oak and enjoys using the station as a living history experience for the children.

Once a year Bobby and Nell invite the Tallahassee Regional Antique Automobile Club of America and other local car folk for a barbecue and pot luck cook out. They wear their best Gulf uniforms and welcome everyone like they were their oldest friends. This year there were at least 32 classic and antique cars with their owners in attendance. The cars and station create a period correct experience, which is why this is such a popular and well attended event.

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During these club functions, a local citizen will invariably pull up to the pump and ask if they can fill up for 20 cents a gallon. Bobby always tells them they can have as much fuel as they can get out of the pump for the posted price. He doesn’t tell them the fuel tanks were removed in 1975.

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When it was time for Bobby and Nell to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, there was a large contingent of family and friends who wanted to throw them a very fancy party. Bobby and Nell let everyone know in a firm, but friendly way the anniversary party must be held at the Gulf Station– there would be no swanky motel ballrooms involved. Bobby and Nell will soon celebrate their 62nd anniversary!

Ford Model A & 1933 Dodge
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The hydraulic lift was removed years ago and the most recent renovation has upgraded the garage bay doors, but the Quincy Gulf Station experience is as close as one can get to the 1950s. If you are in the area and drop by on a Friday around lunch time, you will find Bobby at the station accompanied by some of the other guys from the car club. Many drive their antique and classic cars. Bring some hot dogs to throw on the grill, sit a spell, and listen to discussions about cars, catch up on local events or just relax. Expect the usual good-natured Chevy vs. Ford ribbing, but visitors are welcomed just as they have been since opening day in 1951.

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Copyright 2015 Craig II & TRAACA