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Rusty Gold by Mike Wolfe: Life in the Slow Lane

Cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, tractors; whatever you’ll be riding this spring, it’s time to get ready. Go on out and kick the tires! And get your repair kit ready.

Talking about cars reminds me of a great thing I found years ago. I was outside Blackwater, Missouri, and I turned off Highway 70 onto the first gravel road I saw, figuring it might take me nowhere, but you never know. A quarter-mile later, there was a ruin of a gas station that looked like it had been there for at least 75 or 80 years—closed, of course, and pretty much untouched since the owner locked up for the last time and moved on.

Beacon of hope

Back in the day, a service station was more than a place to fill up on gas and buy some chips.A gas station was a beacon of hope. If you were lost, now you were found. If you had a flat tire, you were rescued.

Back then, when you got a flat, you repaired it yourself. You could buy patches and valves and pumps—whatever you needed—right there at the gas station. The biggest company in the tire repair business was founded by August Schrader in 1844.They made valves for rubber products and in 1905 they introduced pressure gauges.

Everything you need

That’s what this is—or at least what it looks like. It’s actually a 14 ½” tall replica of a Schrader tire gauge. When you open it, it’s full of boxes, patches, air chucks, everything you might have needed if you got a flat on whatever wheeled thing you happened to be driving in Blackwater, Missouri circa 1930.

I found it in the attic of that old gas station. Covered with decades of dust, it still had the bright red paint that got your attention the minute you walked into the station. It was a brilliant point-of-sale display that reminded you to check your tires and fill up your repair kit before heading down the road. Eighty-five years later, that’s still a good idea.

Part sleuth, part preservationist and part cultural historian Mike Wolfe is the star and creator of American Pickers on HISTORY. Find him online at antiquearchaeology.com.

-by Mike Wolfe