2017-06-15 / Life in Leelanau

Northport gas stations, one on every corner

By Dick Hanson
For the Northport Area Heritage Association

THIS SINCLAIR OIL STATION, owned by Gilman Dame, was one of many places motorist could ‘fill ‘er up’ in Northport. THIS SINCLAIR OIL STATION, owned by Gilman Dame, was one of many places motorist could ‘fill ‘er up’ in Northport. When we were looking at some of the choices we had for an article, we remembered the number of physical locations in Northport that had a gas station. In this little town of 600 people, we recalled that there were five gas stations. We didn’t think that much about it back in the 1930s and 1940s but today we have only one. Here are the locations of the five stations in Northport: I remember every one of them.

As we look back over the history of Northport gas stations, a more startling observation is that there were an innumerable number of people who tried their hand at operating a Northport gas station. Some of these include: Bud Farber, Delmar Peyton, Hugh Cook, Sr., Bud Deering, John & Cindy Wroten, Fred Fredrickson, Cy Middleton, Alvin Fredrickson, Cedric Fredrickson, Gilman Dame, A.W. Hall, Orval Kellogg, Ted Hanson Jr., Walter Houdek, Wayne Husby, Larry Flees, Otis Lawson, Blain Leabo, Ward Liebler, Douglas Lundy, Marty & Cherry Scott, Ross Martin, Mike Morey, Gerald Mork, Jackie Bowen, Mike Parker, George Irvine, Richard Steffens, Basil Stowe, Everett Strickland, Robert Wroten, Baumberger & George, Robert Dalzell and Julius Bourdo.

THIS BOX, created with information from Dick and Sue Hanson, outlines the different gas stations in Northport and how they’re used now. THIS BOX, created with information from Dick and Sue Hanson, outlines the different gas stations in Northport and how they’re used now. Some of these names tried their hand at one of the five locations and then, for some reason, moved to one of the other station locations. It appears that some station operators exchanged one oil company for another. As an example, one went from Shell to Standard to Cities Service. It appears that it didn’t make much difference - gasoline is gasoline. I thought that this led to a strange situation – I recall oil tractor/trailer trucks coming in to replenish gasoline underground tanks from different oil companies. As an example, a Standard Oil truck would fill up a Mobil gas station. As I said before, this was during the time of World War II when supplies were limited and it was a matter of getting gasoline supplies from wherever you could get them.

A GAS STATION has anchored the corner of Waukazoo and Nagonaba for generations. The site is now occupied by Deep’s Corner Store. A GAS STATION has anchored the corner of Waukazoo and Nagonaba for generations. The site is now occupied by Deep’s Corner Store. It’s amazing how many people ran gas stations in Northport. Many of them were short-term business operations. As far as having the longest longevity, that probably goes to Marty and Cherry Scott when they operated the gas station at Nagonaba and Waukazoo Streets. In fact, when Marty was just a teenager, he worked at this gas station. He probably had thoughts of running that station when he grew up. As history shows us, in 1969 he and Cherry bought this station and ran it as a full-service car repair facility. It had multiple bays for car repair facing on Nagonaba Street and a car wash facing on Waukazoo Street. The Scotts also added a grocery outlet for those times of quick purchases.

At one time, Alvin Fredrickson ran this station many years before the Scotts owned it. Alvin changed his location from here to a Mobil station at the corner of W. 3rd St. and N. Mill St., Alvin’s brother Cedric Fredrickson I believe was a partner. Another person I vaguely remember who was involved in the operation was Fred Fredrickson. What relation Fred had with Alvin is very nebulous to me; so at this point, I will just say that Fred was involved. Historically, this goes back to the 1930s and 1940s and I remember them operating this station but being a teenager, I did not know their business relationships.

Another interesting operation was A. W. Hall’s Standard Oil Station and Storage Garage. Willard Hall (He went by his middle name.) owned this very large garage that was used for storing school buses and winter storage of cars owned by Northport Point residences. He operated this business in the late 1920s.

One other source for buying gasoline for vehicles was at the Farm Bureau on Rose Street. It was intended mainly for farmer’s use but they wouldn’t turn away a car needing fuel. I recall this station getting its bulk gasoline from either Julius Bourdo’s, John Schiffeneder’s or Cy Middleton’s big bulk trucks. These three men were local residents and delivered fuel throughout the township.

When I was 15 years old in 1946, I spent all of my four years of savings that I made from working on Northport Point and bought a new 1946 Plymouth. I had my choice of five gas stations to buy gas. I do remember from back then, you couldn’t just go into any gas station and buy gasoline without having a book of war gasoline coupons. That truly put a crimp in my style! During World War II, if you are old enough to remember, many retail items were rationed. I was fortunate to have loving grandparents who gave me many of their coupons. (Today, I still have a “Coupon A” book and a “Coupon C” book, which I kept for posterity.)

To think that back in the 1930s and 1940s, we had all these sources of gasoline for our car! Another surprising thing was that the gasoline was 29.9 cents per gallon! That is 1/10 of what we spend today! Also, the population of Northport has not changed that much – roughly 600 people then and today! (But let me note that Leelanau Township has vastly grown because new beach homes and hilltop homes have been built.) It seems that back then somehow station owners made enough money to stay afloat. The vehicles back then had terrible mileage – 10 to 15 miles per gallon. The farm vehicles were worse than that! At least back then the inflation was very low compared to what we have to put up with today.

As I look back to those early 20th century years, we had a much slower pace of life; the cost of living was lower; family relations were closer, you could leave your doors unlocked at night – I say these things concerning our local area only. I certainly can’t speak for the rest of our country. These factors of life have their examples as noted in the following. . .

The old Sinclair Oil station that was owned by Gilman Dame, was run by Wayne and Chuck Mervau when I was a teenager. Wayne had many war stories to tell, which were exciting to us who were not well versed with the magnitude of killing in World War II. Wayne was shot up so badly that he was hospitalized off and on for a few of years as they tried to remove the shrapnel from his body. Several places the medical doctors could not remove them so they left the shrapnel in his back, in his arms and legs. When he came home to Northport after all this excruciating time, he was very happy that he could continue his life, though it gave him physical and mental blocks occasionally.

A whole group of us who were teenagers would come over to the gas station and Wayne would relate the various World War II war fronts that he was involved in. We were totally intrigued by all the events that Wayne went through. He would tell them in such detail that we were astonished that war could be so involved. Most of these hair-raising stories were told while Wayne and Chuck worked on cars changing oil and giving lube jobs. (They worked down underneath the cars in 6-foot deep oil change pits that cars had to straddle – and not a very clean place to be!)

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