Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thank You, Mr. Shea

If ever there was an attraction that belonged on Historic Route 66, it would be Shea's Gas Station Museum in Springfield, IL.

Upon entering the station, we were introduced to the humor and the preservationist drive of Bill Shea, Sr. There on the piece of furniture (right), identified as "The Table of Contents," was a photograph (right and below) of the former Mahan's Station, rumored to be the oldest filling station in Illinois.

In February 2000, Mr. Shea had moved the station 21 miles from Middletown, Illinois to its current location within the museum compound. Over the intervening years, he has fully restored it to its 1920s splendor.

I think this historic station stands as a tribute to the automobile and the Mother Road. My appreciation of Mr. Shea's stunning restoration of this "Route 66 Roadside Attraction" is reflected in my desire to capture in these photos the beauty of the restored station from different angles.

Mr. Shea, a gas station man since the late '40s, turned his vintage former Texaco and Marathon filling station (left) into a petroliana museum, stuffed with old gas pumps, oil cans, phone booths, signs, an Airstream trailer (right), a Ward school bus, and other mementos of the golden age of American roadside travel.

There were a number of gasoline pumps and globes, e.g., Mobilgas (right), Magnolia Gas, Humble Gasoline, Mohawk Gasoline, Frontier Gas, Johnson Gasoline, Red Hat Gasoline, and Polly Gas (left).

We were interested in one particular type of gas pump and asked Mr. Shea how these visible gas pumps worked. He showed the pump on the back of this tank. The pump would force gas into the glass tank from the top. When it was full (10 gallons in the pump in the photos left and below), the attendant would use the hose to move the gasoline by gravity into the gas tank of an auto. As the gasoline moved from the glass container, one could see the amount moving into the car's tank. The glass container also enabled a customer to see the quality (cleanliness) of the gas.

Mr. Shea, now in his 80s, clearly enjoyed answering questions and had a slight grin and twinkle in his eye as we commented on his sayings ("Entrepreneurs should mind their own business") and signs ("Haul of Fame" on the restored 1984 Ward school bus and "Shea Family Wheel Estate" on the 1952 Airstream travel trailer).

Clearly the 50+ years of collecting gas station memorabilia was related to his work in the Shea's Texaco station, but the search for items was also in his blood. This love of finding these treasures (such as the sign, above and light fixture, left) was shared with visitors from every state and over 80 countries.

Interspersed among the gasoline-related items are old TV sets that have photos in front of the screen. So, for example, the image of Mr. Shea from a 1950 photo that appeared on the cover of a 1993 publication (above) appears frozen on the television screen.

As we thanked Mr. Shea and his son, Bill, Jr., I could still hear the "ping-ping," which beckoned the uniformed attendant to "fill-er-up" with 29.9 cents a gallon ethyl.

And don't forget--double green stamps for a fill up.

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