GAVS Restorations bringing back gas-station glory days
It used to be the case that when a traveler stopped into a gas station, a man in a uniform came out to greet the driver at his car window. The uniformed man would ask how the driver was doing that day before asking how many gallons of gas he would like put into his car. Perhaps before pumping the gas, as he wiped his hands on a rag in his back pocket, the uniformed man would ask if the driver would like his oil level and battery condition checked, as well.
Then, he would pump the gas, depending on what year it was, from a manually operated gas pump. In later years, the driver could watch a meter ticking off how much gas was going into his car and how much he would owe the attendant — 25 cents, 50, 75, one dollar. At $0.25 per gallon and an average fill-up of 10 gallons, a driver could expect to part with $2.50 worth of silver coins in his pocket.
This time period and those gas pumps are the things that inspire Vincennes resident Gary Strate. Strate is a restorer of old things, in particular, those old gas pumps that used to line the roads of America when automobiles were literally Space-Age inventions. He is of an age which he can still recall those uniformed attendants working hard to earn the business of local residents and drivers just passing through alike. Even though the gravity-fed gas pumps of the 1920s were gone by the time Strate was a kid, the feeling of a culture heavily influenced by cars and everything that came with them remained.
“They used to ask you if you wanted your windows washed and they wore uniforms. It was a neat thing,” Strate said as he stood in his shop on the corner of 14th and Main, surrounded by old pumps waiting to be brought back to life. “It brings back a lot of memories.”
Strate, along with his wife, Veda and their 14-year-old son, Andrew, run GAVS Restorations. GAVS is an acronym of the family’s names. They work together, traveling the countryside looking for those old gas pumps, which in many cases, time has forgotten in a farm field or decrepit barn, far off the beaten path. Gary and Veda have been at it for more than 20 years. It started for them long ago when Gary Strate, who was working at the now-defunct Essex Wire plant, saw a restored gas pump at a friend’s antique store and decided to give a go at restoring one himself. That first project went well enough and Gary got pulled into the car culture of yesteryear. From there it
became an ongoing passion.
“I said if he can do it, I can, and I figured it was a good way to earn a little extra money,” Gary Strate said. It’s a detailed process to turn an old piece of yard scrap back into a shining piece of memorabilia and the Strates are not ones to try to do everything on their own. Certain things, like the sandblasting of rusted metal, and specialized painting, is left to be outsourced to a few trusted people. Some projects will require special parts, as well, and there are only a few sources left in the country where one can find an original or reproduction lighted globe for the top of a gravity-fed gas pump. Gary Strate knows where to find them.
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