Whatever Happened to...Full Service Gas Stations?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The gas station of yesteryear puts today's modern filling facilities to shame. It's insulting that we must pay close to $4 a gallon for gas, often pump it ourselves, and not get any kind of reward or thanks for our patronage. 

For me, one of the most memorable scenes from Back to the Future is when Marty McFly, upon landing in his hometown during the 1950s, witnesses a full service gas station. A car pulls up and out of the station spring four uniformed attendants who not only fill the tank, but check the tire pressure and oil and wash the car's windows. These perks were free and it was the norm up until the 1970s. Not only that, but gas stations often gave away trinkets such as drinking glasses, toys, key chains, calendars, trading stamps and even road maps. Exxon was known for giving away a plush tiger's tail that could be affixed to your car's gas cap or a bicycle, to go along with their famous slogan, "Put a tiger in your tank." 

Image copyright Chris Donner
This was also service with a smile - one baby boomer recalls here how he was allowed to help the attendant pump gas, earning a small reward as a result. 

The oil crisis of the 1970s marked the beginning of the end for the full service station. Oil companies figured that customers wanted to pump their own gas in exchange for saving a few pennies. Pretty soon, the attendants were no longer needed. Also, the process of getting gas at a full service station took about 10-15 minutes, which sadly is considered too long in today's high paced, impatient world. 

It's sad--especially considering I don't remember visiting one as a kid growing up in the 70s. Interestingly, all stations in Oregon and New Jersey are considered full service because it's against the law in those two states for customers to pump their own gas.

There is one modern gas station that I've heard of that offers full service the way it used to be: Forrest's Duxler filling station Wilmette, IL. Check it out below!

And here's a vintage clip showing one of the originals:

Do you remember full service gas stations? What kinds of freebies did you make out with?


  1. I was born and raised in Canada, and yes, we had full service gas stations that offered "perks" even back in the 70's when I was a kid.

    I remember my parents collecting drinking glasses from them, mostly.

    Ah....those were the days.

  2. I don't have to "remember" them because I live in Mexico and ALL gas stations are still full service. An attendant pumps the gas and will check the oil and tire pressure if you ask him to. Also, there's usually some guy that will wipe your windshield for a few coins.
    This is mostly because the automated system of paying at a cashier and pumping your own gas just doesn't exist, or at least I've never seen it here in Mexico.

  3. Marlene - I think I've seen collections in magazines of gas station drinking glasses. I'll have to look it up sometime.

    Luis - very interesting...I think the U.S. could learn a lot from this.

  4. I can barely remember them, but I do remember a lot of very nice people who worked in the ones we went to.

    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
    July giveaway

  5. I don't remember the tiger tails, but I remember the raccoon clip-ons that had a long tail like that. I think those were sold in gas stations to clip on your visors.

  6. Of course. My Dad would say, "filler up with regular, please..." The signs are wonderful on the old stations!

  7. My first job was a service attendent in H.S. - Gulf Oil; "Go Gulf!"; Gulf had Orange foam balls you would place on your antenna, they gave away glasses with the "B.C" cartoon characters (IIRC), and most important to me, they gave away a cut sheet of an Apollo 11 model you could put together at that time! Google the Gulf GT40 (Ford repopped it a few years back) one of the most famous, beautiful race cars there ever was. Oh, and my dad is proudly listed as a Service Station attendant on my birth certificate; he did your windows, tires, and checked your oil. Thanks Pam for taking us back - it was a different world, for sure.

  8. We have a full-service station in my small Kansas town, but it costs significantly more there.

    I feel sorry for the moms of the 70s-90s. They had to either unload the kids to go into the station to pay, or leave the kids unattended in the car while they paid. About the time we started having kids the pumps started having the credit card thing and my wife was so happy about that!

  9. I so miss this. Even just 10 years ago I always used full service when traveling the NE thruway system. I never minded paying a few cents more to have all the fluids checked.

    The only time I get full service now is in NJ, which is law. Other than that, nope.

  10. Oddly enough I was just thinking of this yesterday when I was getting gas.
    I remember the service, but mostly I remember the premiums and how we got gas at the places that had the freebies we wanted.
    With a fill-up (minimum of eight gallons) we got glassware, books, puzzles, sunglasses, beach towels, records, other things I did not care about at my young age.

    Ah, those were the days.

  11. I wasn't aware that Oregon was like my Jersey gas stations. I'm just glad that I don't have to pump gas and hope that we never have to. I did so only once on the way back from my trip to D.C.

    Mom and I love that Tiger tail. Those give-aways sound great. I vaguely remember waiting on long gas lines in the 70's. I enjoyed watching the vintage commercial.

    The older attendant at one of the stations near us usually washes the windows but not too many young ones do so around here. If I ask, they will check the oil.

  12. Nice post girlie! The last time I remember going to a full service gas station was when I was about 17 years old in 1987. It was the only one in town. And.. while the gas was 5 cents higher a gallon to offset the cost of the full service, not to many people minded!

  13. We still have one glass left that was from a gas station. I don't know if it's from the 70s, before the oil crisis, or the 80s, when a few gas stations brought them back. I remember tiger tails, though gas at Exxon was a little more expensive and we didn't shop there.

  14. You can still find one and maybe the only "Full Service" gas station left in Texas in O'Donnell, Texas (aka Home of Dan Blocker). Owned and still operated by Maurice and Patsy Jackson -for 44 years now.

  15. I used to work in a full service texaco in phoenix and that was back in 1987. there was 2 of us and we took turns on the only full service lane we had. we never made any tips on full serv the owner made extra per gal. but our pay was the same so why hurry we had to do "all" in full serv anyway.The way we made money was offering to check tires and fluids for the other customers because they would at least show appreciation with a tip. we were not to clean windows or pump gas for non full serve but the boss said anything else was fare game . so when we would here that ding ding it was on. It was a blast and we were not stuck behind a counter selling lotto tickets. the soda machine and smokes were out along with the register .Im 52 now and wish i could get that job back but clearly big gas dont care about the customer at all just the bottom line and what they think a customer wants.they even try to charge for air and water comeon . i know that they can sell gas any way they want since we cant get anywhere without it but customer appreciation wouldnt hurt .

  16. I clearly remember sitting in the back seat of the car when my Dad pulled into a full service (was there any other kind?) gas station in the 1960s. It was a new Impala and it took Dad a long time to take down the "AIR CONDITIONED" sticker on the window. An attendant in a uniform pumped the gas, cleaned the window, checked the oil, and collected the money. My Dad would give him a fiver and get change back.

  17. Well, before the end of 1973, I lived on Long Island, NY. Before 1973, I can remember Sinclair (Later changed to BP), Shell, Gulf, Texaco, Esso (Later changed to Exxon), The Flying A. At Sinclair they offered glasses with a fill up and always gave out S&H Green Stamps or Plaid Stamps. Every gas station my mother went to gave out those stamps and always would clean the windshield back and front abd check the oil. If my mother thought she needed air in her tires, they would check them and add air if needed for free. After 1973, I moved in with my so-called father in Upstate, NY in the Catskills and he was a mechanic and had a gas station. I worked for him pumping gas. He sold Texaco. He didn't get a lot of gas business because he had to charge higher than the other gas stations because he had to go through a middle man. In 1979 he charged .69 a gallon. The other stations were charging .57. I was told when I pumped gas to clean their windshields and ask them if they wanted their oil checked. If they asked me to check their tires I would do that too. All for free. I continued this practice until I ran away from home in 1979.

  18. I am 52 and can remember when stations offered both self serve and full service. Full serve cost 30 to 40 cents a gallon more and only peopl I ever saw using them was a well dressed women or a guy in a suit. And my mother collected Texaco Glasses that they gave for fill ups. We still have them.

  19. We used to have at least tree full service gas stations in our town two had the little rubber hose that sounded a bell when you drove over it and the pumps would go ding for every gallon and the little glass bulb with the whilygig in it and they cleaned all your windows and checked the oil while the gas pumped one even had a Coke vending machine in front

  20. Full service provides jobs and safety. My 90 year old handicapped grandma has to pump her own gas, check her tires, oil, and clean her windows.


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