Chevy High Performance - - Contents - BY: Brian Lohnes

Brian Lohnes laments the loss of a gear­head class­room: the gas sta­tion ser­vice sta­tion

Like lots of kids in their for­ma­tive years, I had a cou­ple of huge in­flu­ences in grow­ing my love of cars and mak­ing them faster. The first was my dad, who was a racer and hot rod­der long be­fore I showed up on the scene, and the sec­ond was my job at a gas sta­tion while in high school where I worked the pumps and served as as­sis­tant, wrench grab­ber, floor washer, and sac­ri­fi­cial teenager. It was there that I learned so much about what to do, what not to do, and how to get your balls busted into obliv­ion by me­chan­ics that ac­tu­ally did this stuff for a liv­ing and were re­liv­ing their own mis­spent youth through the kids that worked at the sta­tion. That place was less a garage and more a class­room. It gave me the best ed­u­ca­tion ever. Thou­sands and thou­sands more like me got the same ed­u­ca­tion with vary­ing lev­els of pro­fan­ity, sec­ond­hand smoke, and frus­tra­tion. Sadly, these class­rooms are a dy­ing breed.

I love gas sta­tions. Those most hum­ble of Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions are one of the things I pay at­ten­tion to while on the road. We’re not only los­ing gas sta­tions ... we’re los­ing COOL gas sta­tions. Places where gen­er­a­tions of gear­heads spent time learn­ing how to fix stuff and get around a garage or shop. They are be­ing gob­bled up by con­ve­nience stores where crummy food, crummy cof­fee, and aisles of crap have re­placed lifts, lube racks, rows of cheap tires, and gleam­ing-red Snap-On tool­boxes.

The very sta­tion I worked at and screwed around at as a kid has been gut­ted. That once-great shop is now a store where lot­tery tick­ets are now in the very spot where we used to sneak beers in our high school years.

In my time there, about half a dozen guys worked, learned, and went on to make a suc­cess of them­selves with their hands. Any ves­tige of the old-school gas sta­tion where some­one ac­tu­ally took a mod­icum of care in the con­di­tion of your car is gone. Back then we checked oil, filled tires, and used a squeegee or the old man who owned the place would chew our asses. Be­lieve me, there was in­cred­i­ble per­sonal value in that.

But you’re rolling your eyes and tak­ing pity on this old man writ­ing the words be­cause you know that there’s loads of tech­ni­cal schools, train­ing pro­grams, and hand­hold­ing that will take any­one and make them a master me­chanic in a few short months. You know, the types of places you pay tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in or­der to have the op­por­tu­nity to learn, whereas I was paid to be there ev­ery day.

While I am not dis­count­ing the value of an ed­u­ca­tion, I am telling you that many hot rod­ders, gear­heads, and rac­ers have learned more by do­ing than by sit­ting in a class­room. These old gas sta­tions, with their two-bay garages, were the per­fect class­rooms for a gen­er­a­tion of in­ter­ested kids that lived, ate, breathed, and dreamed about hot cars. To­day, they are a place to buy Ho Hos.

How are to­mor­row’s rod­ders get­ting the proper hands-on ed­u­ca­tion in a semi-pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment they need? They’re not. In­stead, they rely on YouTube videos and fo­rum posts of vary­ing lev­els of “ex­per­tise” to make their buy­ing de­ci­sions and in­flu­ence their me­chan­i­cal work.

I am not an ace wrench, but if I didn’t have three years of watch­ing Manny Fer­nan­dez work his magic at the Shell sta­tion, I’d be way lesser for it. Those amaz­ing do-all ser­vice sta­tion me­chan­ics are a dy­ing breed. The va­ri­ety of ma­chines they had to di­ag­nose and fix would flum­mox most guys to­day. My kids don’t be­lieve my sto­ries of help­ing with en­gine swaps and other big jobs at the gas sta­tion. In their world, such a thing doesn’t ex­ist.

The last real shame is that the great sta­tion garages were the spot where peo­ple with cool junk would hang out and bench race late into the night. The clas­sic Amer­i­can gas sta­tion has served as a launch­ing plat­form for so many oth­ers like my­self. Their de­par­ture/ ab­sence leaves a big void in the de­vel­op­ment of the next gen­er­a­tion of hot rod­ders.

Is this some­thing we can fix? Maybe it’s just a sign of the times. Just Sayin’

These old gas sta­tions, with their two-bay garages, were the per­fect class­rooms for a gen­er­a­tion of in­ter­ested kids that lived, ate,

breathed, and dreamed about hot cars.

Brian Lohnes is an NHRA Na­tional Event Staff An­nouncer, host of Mo­tor Trend’s Put Up or Shut Up, and co-owner of Bang­shift.com.

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