Vintage Service Stations.

A friend of mine sent me some terrific old photos of bygone era gas/service stations. They were fun to see and brought back some memories.

I’m guessing that most guys our age worked pumping gas. For me, there was Harold Lehman’s Esso station at the corner of Broadway and Bayview, three houses away from my childhood home and two houses from my grandmother’s house next-door, and where my mother lives now. 

When I was a kid, Toronto-the-Good had a silly rule that gas stations couldn’t be open 24 hours. Because our house was on the border between Toronto and North York, Lehman’s Esso was located in North York, so they were allowed to stay open 24/7. The only day of the year they were closed was Christmas Day.

In the 60’s, I worked pumping gas at Lehman’s Esso, being paid 50-cents-an-hour and the occasional tip for installing light bulbs and wiper blades. In those days, Detroit auto makers got their jollies hiding the gas filler cap in cars, such as; behind the license plate or behind a tail light. The owners of those cars got a kick out of watching underpaid young gas jockeys search for the gas cap.

Lehman’s original service station looked exactly like the one in this photo except it said Esso on the building instead of Gulf.

Lehman’s Esso didn’t have any convenience store items like today’s stations do. All they had a small hot water dispenser for powdered coffee, hot chocolate and chicken soup for 10-cents and a cigarette machine that sold packs of 20 for 50-cents.

The original Lehman’s station was small, with 2 pumps, 2 service bays and an office/waiting area. As Harold Lehman got wealthy selling gas and repairing cars, he bought the two bungalows between my grandmother’s house and the station, and eventually built a much larger service station in the late 60’s, with 4 pumps, 3 service bays and a larger office/waiting room. It was a noisy and smelly business which caused tension between my quiet artist parents and Lehman.  

In the early 90’s, Harold’s son Freddie, who had inherited the business, sold it and the property to Imperial Oil and they built what we typically see today, a gas station with 6 pumps and no service bays. It has a large On the Run convenience store where you can buy all kinds of items, from jerky to condoms.

At first, the new and enlarged corporately-owned station wasn’t very busy, and then they leased space for a small Tim Horton’s. Ever since then, it has caused major traffic and parking problems at the intersection, and attracted rats, mice and other wildlife to the open waste bins.

Yup, times sure have changed from when I was a kid. Back then, there were four gas service stations within two blocks of my house. Esso, B/A, Texaco and Shell all thrived. Motorists actually enjoyed going to the gas station and having a guy or two, dressed in a snappy uniform, pump the gas, check fluids and clean the windows…  and all for about 40-cents a gallon. That, my friend, is service.

Now it’s all self-service for about four-bucks a gallon.  

To make matters worse, if I have to go inside to pay for my fill-up, there’s usually a long line of customers waiting, because some loser; who probably doesn’t even own a car; is playing ProLine Sports and arguing with the cashier… who can’t speak English and thinks that Tim Horton is an evil infadel. 

Cheers and Happy Motoring,


Tom Coucill is a Freelance Columnist & Track Instructor