Monday, November 6, 2023

Fill ‘Er Up at the Comfort TV Service Station


“Oh, we're the men of Texaco;

We work from Maine to Mexico.

There's nothing like this Texaco of ours!

Tonight we may be showmen

Tomorrow, we'll be servicing your cars!”


I was born in 1964 so I’m not old enough to remember when that song, performed by men in matching service station outfits, introduced the Texaco Star Theater, hosted by Milton Berle. But I know it holds a place in television history. Along with Howdy Doody and I Love Lucy, it was one of the early can’t miss shows that compelled millions of Americans to buy their first television set. 



Maybe Uncle Milty was before my time, but I am old enough to remember when every gas station was full service, because that was the only option provided. The attendants’ uniforms may not have been as crisp and tidy as they were on TV, but the men who wore them would pump your gas, clean your windshield, and offer to check your oil. 


I can also still vividly recall the first time my mother pulled into a station with a self-service island. Though my age was still in the single digits, I reacted like a 17th century French aristocrat who was told to poach his own truffles. “What? Soil my hands on such a menial task?”


Now, of course, I pump my own gas and bag my own groceries, put air in my own tires, and in another few years I’ll probably have to remove my own gallbladder at the self-service clinic.


So yes, I enjoy glimpses into the classic TV era, when there were still such things as service stations – like the one owned and operated by Bill Shappard (James Franciscus) on Father Knows Best. In “Bud, the Willing Worker,” the usually lethargic Bud gets a job at a station run by his sister Betty’s boyfriend. It’s a typically strong episode but I confess to being more taken with the setting than the story. 



I can’t put air in a tire without my hands getting dirty, yet there is Bill, clean as a whistle in a white shirt, white pants, black bowtie and the kind of hat you only see nowadays at In-N-Out Burger. The station building is large enough to contain the mini-mart that is now standard at many gas stations, but here it’s filled only with replacement auto parts, tires, tools, and cans of motor oil neatly stacked in pyramids.


A service station is also the main backdrop for an episode of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet appropriately titled “The Gas Station.” Mr. Peters, the owner of said station, plans to close for the weekend for a short vacation. At the same time, Harriet’s woman’s club is looking for a way to raise money for charity. They decide to take over the gas station when the owner is away and split the profits with him.


“I can’t see anything wrong with the idea,” says kindly Mr. Peters – and here we see once again how the world of Comfort TV differs from our own. Can you imagine the red tape and union restrictions and liability waivers that

would prevent something like that from happening now?


“How can a bunch of women run a gas station?” says Ozzie’s neighbor Joe (okay, it was 1959).  But everything runs smoothly – even if Clara keeps forgetting to replace the dipstick every time she checks the oil. 



Granted, there’s not much of life in America that still resembles what the country was like in the 1950s, when much of classic television was financed by fossil fuels and cigarettes. So why should gas stations be the exception? But how about the 1970s, which still don’t seem all that long ago to me, until I’m reminded of how the child starts from that decade are now on Social Security.


“The Doom Buggy” was a 1974 episode of Shazam! in which Don drops out of high school because he plans to become a mechanic. We get some nice shots of a rural gas station – just two pumps – and Don’s blue jumpsuit is appropriately greasy, unlike those sharp-dressed Texaco guys. Billy and Mentor spent a lot of time around gas stations, which isn’t surprising since that motorhome they traveled in probably needed a full tank twice a day. They meet another gas jockey in “The Past is Not Forever,” and Captain Marvel is falsely accused of robbing a gas station in “Double Trouble.” 



Anyway, Billy tells Don that continuing his education is important, because “they’re working on electric cars,” and he might have to know how to work on them one day. He mentioned turbine cars too, but those never really took off.


For a more surreal service station setting, check out “Assignment VI,” the final episode of Sapphire and Steel. The time agents arrive at a gas station that appears to have fallen into a pocket where time has stopped – and where they meet a couple from the 1940s that were somehow transported forward in the future. It’s an intriguing mystery with an unexpectedly bleak ending. 




And maybe nothing all that strange ever happened at Big Ed's Gas Farm, but I wouldn’t trust any business located in Twin Peaks. 



But if you asked for my favorite classic TV gas station, it would be Murph’s Union 76, as seen in a series of commercials that aired over 14 years. Murph, the gruff-voiced by kindly owner, was played veteran character actor Richard X. Slattery.  

Commercials are never really welcome when you’re enjoying a show, but a 30-second visit to Murph’s was always low-key and pleasant enough that hitting the ‘mute’ button wasn’t necessary. 



I wish more commercials played like that now. And I also wish service stations still had someone to put air in my tires. Bowtie optional.


  1. A 1979 episode of "CHiPs" entitled "High Octane" was about the then-recent gasoline shortage. "Behind the Wheel," a 1979 episode of Bill Bixby's series "The Incredible Hulk," also made reference to the '79 gas crisis.

  2. A great read David, this sure takes me back as well. Well, at least you never saw Goober decked out in a crisp paper hat & bow tie! But I can well remember us pulling into the local Boron or Esso filling station, we always had a polite, smiling attendant and for all that window washing, oil & tire checking I don't recall my mom ever tipping anyone!

    1. I can't remember if we tipped either! But now that I have to pay two bucks just to get five minutes of air to fill a tire, it serves them right!

  3. Don't forget the hose that dinged every time someone drove over it. Both of my brother's worked at and pumped gas at a gas station in their younger years. When I would visit them, I would always jump on the hose to make the bell ring, at least until they yelled at me to cut it out.