We needed to attend two funeral services in Las Vegas, Saturday and Sunday, in addition to a rehearsal dinner and wedding in Albuquerque on the same days. Though rushed, the trips were trouble-free. They made us wonder whether such trouble-free driving would have even been possible in the old days of Highway 85.
Today, a tourist is hard-pressed to find a place after hours that fixes. When auto travel began to seriously compete with the train and bus, there were problems with tires and roads.
In the forties and fifties, the blocks of Grand Avenue with which I was most familiar had about a dozen filling stations, replete with gas-pumping, under-the-hood-checking personnel. I don’t guarantee, however, that they all existed at the same time:
*Milt Callon had a station near where today’s Better Stop is;
*A full-service station was located about where Pancho’s Roadside Cafe is located;
*A station was located where today’s Trading Post Saloon is;
*Ralph Connell and Herb Gaussoin had a station, at different times, where today’s Firestone/Bridgestone tire shop is;
*Floyd Chavez operated a Mobil station where Hair We R is now located;
*Doc Izard’s station was on the spot now occupied by the Fina station;
*On the 800 block of Grand was a Studebaker dealership with gas pumps. *There was Murray’s service station at Grand and University;
*Werley Auto, in addition to being a dealership, had a full-service station;
*James Lujan operated a gas station across from Werley Auto; later, James Sampson owned and operated the station there;
*A Humble station was across from the Home Cafe and Deluxe Cafe;
*There was a gas station 400 block of Grand, operated by Hilton;
*A Tenneco station was across the street, near Lincoln Park;
*There was a station on the 300 block;
*Finally, a Phillips 66 station was located at Grand and Independence, where Main Street Station sits.
Clearly, all of these station owners were primed for service, and each boasted the fastest hot-patch kit in the west.
They kept busy repairing flats and performing repairs, in addition to maintenance. Werley Auto, at Grand and University, repaired its share of flats. In the olden days, tires had tubes, and because of the extra layer, they generated more heat, and consequently failed often.
A mechanic named Bob Hood performed some of the tire repairs for Werley. The process consisted of clamping a patch to the damaged tube and “welding” it by igniting a sparkler-like substance. A familiar rubbery aroma permeated the area. Hood once showed me a huge pile of tubes that had been discarded. There must have been several hundred. And if that amount represented the failed efforts of only one of dozens of service stations, it’s clear people didn’t get 40,000 per set of tires, unless it was measured in feet.
Once, when I was 10, Dad invited me to an exhibition game in Santa Fe featuring the Harlem Globetrotters.
The trip was years before the old highway became Interstate 25. By the way, the short stretch that goes through Las Vegas was the only incomplete section of the entire I-25 system, and it opened, coincidentally, on the day Prince Charles arrived to help dedicate the United World College. Years back, Highway 85 was a narrow, winding two-lane road with separate night-and-day speed limits of about 50 and 55. Pin-dot communities, now just a memory, appeared roughly every 10 miles to welcome motorists.
My dad had borrowed a used car from Werley Auto, and was aware that it lacked a spare and a jack.
But “what the heck,” we thought, “we’re not going to get any flats.” Our first one happened near Sands, NM. The area was dotted with service stations, open long hours, waiting for our business. I ran no more than a mile to a station where the owner loaned me a jack. We removed the tire, rolled it back to the station, waited for the repair, rolled the fixed tire back to the car, returned the jack, and were on our way.
Our second flat happened just outside of Santa Fe. The owner of the nearest station loaned us his jack, a floor model capable of picking up a semi. We went through the same process, and still made it in time for the game.
In an awkward attempt to cover our respective hind areas and shift the blame for our own oversight, Dad chided the used car manager with, “Next time, make sure there’s a spare tire and a jack in the trunk.”
The next time, the used car manager complied. We discovered—fortunately before needing them—that the spare was flat and the lug wrench was the wrong size.
Once, years later, on our way to Springer, we stopped at a local station, where the attendant inflated the tires. About a mile out of town we became aware that the car was pulling w-a-y to the right. I fished out a tire gauge from the trunk and saw that the attendant had inflated one tire to 85 pounds, when standard pressure was 32.
We returned to ask the man why we’d been so privileged as to have been gifted with all that free air. His reply was that someone had stolen the station’s only gauge and he was guessing the pressure. He said he’d been doing it for about a week, without any complaints.
We promptly presented him with a gift of our own—our tire gauge—and determined instantly that we weren’t deserving of any further largess from that station.