Remember when you would pull up at the local petrol station and an attendant would rush out to fill the tank, check your oil and tyre pressure and wash the windscreen? Then he or she would take the cash inside and bring back the change. Back then you did not even have to step out of the car.
Listening to ABC radio recently, I heard people reminiscing about those earlier days when driveway service was considered par for the course, whereas these days it’s become little more than a faded memory.
Here’s part of the programme from ABC South East SA’s Friday Rewind.“Mount Gambier historian Laurie Fox was a driveway attendant in his later teenage years during the 1940s war years at Walkers Garage (in Mt Gambier) and remembers dashing out in all forms of weather to service customers.
“All the garages had all four or five different pumps back then, when a person would pull up they would choose the petrol brand they wanted,” he said.
In those days petrol was rationed but people would pull up and ask for 2 or 4 gallons from the young man.
“It was one shilling and ten pence a gallon back then,” Laurie said.
In today’s currency, that equates to 4.5 cents a litre.
In later years, when Laurie was running his motorbike business, he remembered the very first single branded Shell service station opening near the Odeon Theatre.
Nowadays, like most in the western world, Laurie pumps his own petrol, with most driveway attendants disappearing around the 1980s and early 1990s as stations cut costs to compete with miniscule price differences.
“There’s not a great deal of it anymore.
“Some people kept driveway service going a lot longer than others.”
It’s interesting to note customers in two American states still enjoy driveway attendants because the law requires it.
New Jersey and Oregon banned self-service in early 1950 after heavy lobbying by service station owners saying safety and jobs as reasons to keep attendants on deck.
But Mount Gambier historian Colin Thompson fondly remembers the days when you could pull up and enjoy the ‘full service’.
“They’d say, ‘can I check your oil and would you like a dash of Redex lubricant,” for which they would receive sixpence in commission,” he said.”
According to the programme the electric power petrol pumps were first introduced in the early 60s which then led to self service petrol stations and eventually the end of driveway service.
Pete Blakeby recalled on the ARW Facebook page recently; “I worked as a Service Station attendant at BP South Glenelg on Brighton Rd, now Dave Potter Honda, from 1971 to 1976. Pumping Standard petrol at 30 cents/gal & Super at 35 cents/gal, Kero & BP Zoom. Wiping pint & half pint oil bottles with a rag, cleaning windscreens, checking oil & tyres as driveway service. Changing tyres, fixing punctures & minor mechanical work in workshop. Yes that was a Service Station which had a hand written sign around the deriveway clock “Quality remains when price is forgotten”.
Mind you I don’t recall that there was a big fuss about the end of driveway service back then but I guess it happened over a period of time and maybe we just didn’t notice it slip away.