Saturday, September 17, 2016

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Grease and Cars

Here I am as a baby with Dad and my cousin Linda Guenther. We are sitting on the yard
of John Kuhn across Rosemont with our house and gas station behind us. 1952
I have already shared Dad's story about his father Alger Gochenour building and running a gas station and garage. This selection talks about the cars Dad bought as a young man and the men who worked at the station.

"This photo shows the walls of the garage are up, and parked in front of the garage is the first car I owned, a 1930 Chevrolet. The house behind the car belonged to the Keller family. Mr. Keller was killed in the accident at this loation that my father had seen years before."

"Dad installing the garage windows. My 1930 Chevy is parked on the left side."

"Dad with his 1938 Buick."

"Dad at work preparing the driveway. Dad signed a contact with Frontier Oil Company to sell their product. Frontier was a small, local company. It had a refinery on River Road by the Niagara River. They agreed to install the gas tanks, pumps, lights, signs, paint the station, install a hoist and air compressor. Soon after we opened they blacktopped the driveway."

"The pumps are in." [In the background is John Kuhn's barn.]

"The station is painted."[In the background is the family home.] 

Emma Becker in front of the station. 

"The sign is up." [You can see Military Road in the foreground. This was before Rosemont Ave. was built.]

 The completed gas station at 1851 Military Road, Rosemont Service.

 "A few years after we opened the station we bought a fairly new 1950 Ford pickup truck. I spray painted it blue and white, the company colors. Then we had the station name painted on the doors. We called the station Rosemont Service because that was the name of the street that would one day be built next to the station."

Uncle Levant Becker painting the fence along the gas station property.
Military Road in the background.
"There were people who helped Dad build the station. There was my uncle Lee, and a close friend of Dad's Carl Yotter, Uncle Rueben Becker, and myself. But Dad did most of the work. Mother always did her share also. Here Lee is painting the fence. Years later I replaced the fence and I said, "the first person that damages this fence will be killed!" Well, soon after I was working on a car that had no brakes and had to park it so I could work on another car. When I drove out I forget it had no brakes and drove right through the fence. So much fo thereats and predictions!"

Gene and friends working on a car at the service station.
Gene and Tom Richards working in the service station.
My parents Joyce Ramer and Gene Gochernour in 1949, just about the time of their marriage in front of Dad's car

"When I became seventeen I took a driver’s test and got my Junior Driver’s license. A buddy of mine, Archie Henderson, had an old 1930 Chevy two-door sedan, and he sold it to me for fifty dollars. Someone had torn all the upholstery off from the front seat back, and it was not much of a car, but it was my first set of wheels. He gave me a huge oil can that had a long spout, and looked like something that would be used on a railroad locomotive. He said whenever the engine got noisy, to take the engine cover off and lubricate the parts, using the oil can. So every once in a while when I was driving down the road, I would hear the noisy engine, pull over, lift the hood, take off the engine cover, and lubricate the engine parts, using the oil can. People passing by must have wondered what that jerk was doing! 

"[My girlfriend] Joyce probably thought the same thing, but she never did comment. There were no floor mats in the car, and the wooden floor boards had cracks in them, so whenever it rained, and there were puddles on the road, Joyce would have to lift her legs so her feet would not get wet. Riding with me was probably quite an experience for her! 
Gene Gochenour and Joyce Ramer, high school sweethearts
"A neighbor, Phil Ensminger, had an old 1930 Dodge coupe setting in his garage and he said he would sell it to me. The car was in good shape, since it had always been parked in a garage. So I sold the Chevy to some lucky person and paid twenty five dollars for the Dodge. It looked good after I cleaned it up and gave it a “powder puff” paint job. Paint was applied to the car using a puff like cloth dabbed into the paint, then wiped onto the car. It did have a nice smooth appearance. I chose to paint the car blue with yellow trim and wheels. Not long after I finished the car, a customer offered me eighty dollars, because he liked it. 

"I really liked the car. It had hydraulic brakes, comfortable seats, and it stayed dry during rainstorms. Quite a change from my first car. The only problem I had was once when I was going up the Grand Island Bridge and the car just made it. It did not like to go up hills, I think it had a gas problem. But I decided to sell it, because a buddy of mine talked me into buying another car. 

"Dick Watkins lived at the Sheridan Housing Project and I think I met him through Joyce, my girlfriend. We became close friends and he hung around the station a lot. He had a 1935 Ford coupe, and I spray painted it two tone red and cream. Before that he had a 1939 Lincoln Continental, and on that car we removed the twelve cylinder engine and installed a V-8 engine in it. 
Dick Watkins

Dick Watkins and Gene Gochenour
"Johny Parker was a customer at the station, and his family owned a trailer park south of us on Military Road. He had a 1936 Ford club coupe convertible and it was a beauty. He came into the station one day and said he was selling it and asking two hundred dollars. I wasn’t sure I wanted to part with that much money, but Dick finally talked me into buying it. So I sold my '30 Dodge and bought it. As soon as I got it I spray painted it maroon and put a new convertible top on. It had both musical and air horns. The air horns sounded like a semi-truck and I could play a tune with the musical horns. It had maroon leather upholstery and seats, A radio, a gasoline heater, and white wall tires, so it was a beauty."

"The station was a hangout for many young guys from the project and surrounding areas. Almost every week we would have a party, sometimes at one of their parent’s houses, or at a bar on Grand Island. We had parties when one of them was getting married, going into the service, moving out of the area, or any other reason.

"One evening my brother-in-law Ken Ennis and I took my boat across the Niagara River to a bar on Grand Island, docked it, went in, and joined all the guys at the party. Dave Wilson and a couple of the guys then took the boat back out on the river for a ride. When they came back, Dave fell into the river as he got out of the boat to get onto the dock. Well, he came in to the bar soaking wet and dripping, with a big smile on his face, but then the bartender told him to get the heck out of here! So he left, but soon returned, wrapped in a blanket. Everybody laughed when he walked back in looking like an Indian, but he was not going to miss the party! Some of our parties were pretty rowdy, and some ended with beer fights, but I never did see a serious fight between any of the guys.

Ken Ennis who married Alice Gochenour worked at the station

Dad's Uncle Levant Becker working at the station

"This is a list the guys of most of that hung around the station:

Tom Richards
George Horan
Ken Ennis
Ron Anderson
Vic Lemieux
Skip [Gifford] Marvin
Bill Patterson
Mel Coburn
Adam Ott
Ed Horan
Tom Braun
John Molnar
Dan Miller
Dick Hoadly
Don Clarke Don
Linquest George
Harold Brown
Gus Morrison
Dick Kusmierski
Smitty Aldrich
Arnie Krebbs
Dave Wilson
Bill Linforth
Louie Grace
John Morrison
Bob Kusmierski
Rod Mahoney
Leo Rodrequiz
Butch Wilson
Frank Cucinelli
Ronnie Oates
Louie Randall
Mort Kearney
Emma Gochenour and Tom Richards
"Many of the guys came to the station with their parents when they were young. When they were old enough to get a car of their own and drive they were accepted into the group. Many of them were given credit at the station, and I found out later that it was a big deal to them, that someone trusted them.

"Once a year the whole gang would gather at the station, gas up, get in line, and take off for a park about twenty miles away for a picnic. Many had worked at the station at one time or other. There were probably about twenty cars, and a truck or two to hold the beer, pop, chairs, etc. As time went by the picnic included wives of the gang and children.

"Ken Ennis was my sister Alice’s husband. After they got married they moved into the downstairs apartment of our house behind the station. Ken worked at the station with me for a few years. We worked well together, and it was a blessing to me that I could take my family on an occasional vacation and not worry about it, knowing Ken was there.

"Ken and I went together buying old cars and restoring them. One of them was a 1929 Ford two door sedan. Ken’s brother John had worked as a surveyor and he spotted the old car sitting in a field. We contacted the owner and bought it. We fixed it up, painted it maroon, got an antique license, and drove it around. After a while we sold it and bought a 1930 Ford pickup. We fixed it and painted it blue metallic. It had come without rear fenders, and we never did find any to put on it.

"When we first opened the station we sold gas for 18-cents a gallon for regular, and 21-cents a gallon for high test. We washed cars, sold and repaired tires, sold batteries, polishes and accessories. As time went by we could not compete with the specialty stores so we had to do other things like towing, snow plowing, and heavy repair work.

"I weighed about 129 lbs in those days and wrestled with truck tires that weighed more than I did. I had a five-foot bar that I used when I removed a tire from a semitruck. I would put the lug wrench on the lug, insert a five foot crowbar in the wrench and jump on it to loosen them up. When I got the tire off, I used a sledge hammer and some pry bars to take it apart. Since we bad no power tools, it was all bull work.

I remember when the following story happened! Sometimes I would go with Dad when he plowed the parking lots on a winter night. It was cold in the truck!

"In the winter I only wore a T-shirt and a Navy turtle neck sweater because if I sweat, then went outside in the wind to pump gas, I would freeze, so I was always cold. One night after I had worked about twelve hours during a snow storm, I went into our apartment. All I could think of was to hop into a hot tub to warm up. I stripped and jumped in when the tub was filled. Then I noticed that some of my toes were black. This scared me because I knew they must be frozen, so I jumped right back out so I could slowly thaw them. I felt colder than ever then! I had bought new boots, and that day decided to wear them. They were too tight, that is why my toes froze. I learned a lesson that it is better to have boots too loose than too tight! Since the boots were new, I gave them to a friend, Bob Cole, that worked at the station. Luckily, I did not loose any toes.

"Work during the winter was hard. Sometimes when it stormed, it would drop up to 18 inches of snow overnight. The wind always seemed to blow, and when it stormed there could be snow drifts six to eight feet high. Then I would have to get up early in the morning to plow out the station, the house driveway, and snow blow a couple hundred feet of sidewalk, before I could open the station.

"During bad storms, many customers’ cars would not start, and I would take mother with me in the tow truck. She would steer the broken car and I would tow her back to the station to repair it. Mother also did bookkeeping, drove to pick up parts, went to the bank, and took home customers while we worked on their cars.

"During the winter storms, the cars we worked on were loaded with snow on top, and underneath. Sometimes when we had them on the hoist, large chunks of frozen snow would drop on us. Also icy water dripped on us as we worked from below. Even though the engines were like blocks of ice, we had to work with bare hands, because gloves were too bulky. Since I could not afford to hire someone to repair things around the station when they broke I did the work myself. I repaired the roof when it leaked, replaced broken windows, built shelves, sent out monthly bills, made out tax forms, and any other thing that had to be done.

"Sister Alice was a big help by entering the daily sales into the ledger. Occasionally I would have to hire Charlie Tingly for a plugged sewer, or a plumbing problem. The Oil Company repaired the gas pumps, hoist, compressor, lights, signs, and other equipment. Many hours were spent plowing snow from nearby business parking lots in the winter.

We always had Lava soap and Dad worked to get his hands clean, but the oil was always in the lines of his hands. I used to kiss Dad's owies better.

"Because my hands were wet so much of the time, they were calloused and cracked, and black with dirt and grease. When I got married I used steel wool to try to clean them. They looked bad! It was dirty work, and at the end of the day I would remove my shoes before I went into the house, and change before I sat down."

My parents, Gene and Joyce Gochenour, with my brother 'on the way'
1959. Rosemont Ave in the background. The car belonged to family friends seen below.

Skip and Katie Marvin with their jazzy car
A love of cars runs in the family. Alger has several photos of himself with his car. Dad became a mechanic and later was an experiemental mechanic at Chrysler in Highland Park, MI. And my brother Tom is an engineer with Ford.

Alger Gochenour with his car. About 1930.
A young Alger Gochenour with his car. 1930s.

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