Since our three-day autumn trip to Minnesota in 2009, I have shared what I consider to be several wonderful blessings of that trip. This is the fourth in that series of blessings.
Years ago on a photography trip to Minnesota, we passed through a small town that had an old restored gas station. When we returned to the area last October, we decided to visit this quiet rural town again.
We came through the center of town, but didn’t find the old station, so we drove down one of the other few remaining streets and there it was. The good news was that the building was still well taken care of and the antique gas pumps were still there. The bad news was that there was a big new pickup truck parked right in front of the pumps, so there was no way to capture a nostalgic shot of the front of the building.
It was around 7:00 am and the town was totally quiet at that time, so there was no one to even ask who owned the old station. I decided to take what photographs I could get of the antique advertising signs and other close-ups. As I was finishing up, I saw two gentlemen strolling down the street towards the station with coffee cups in hand.
As they approached, I struck up a conversation with them. They told me a bit about the town, that they had both grown up there, that “everybody knows everybody,” and that they were cousins. After we talked for a bit, I said, “One of you two wouldn’t be the owner of that pickup truck, would you?”
“Yes, I am,” one of them said. “You wouldn’t want me to move it, would you?” he said with a grin on his face.
“Do you own the gas station, too?” I asked.
“Yup, sure do,” he said.
“Then you must be Ernie.” A sign I had seen earlier on the front of the building said “Ernie’s Station.”
We exchanged cards and then he said, “Would you like to see the inside?”
Well, I certainly couldn’t pass up a chance like this, so I followed them to the front of the station. As Ernie approached the door, he noticed that the American flag hanging from the front of the station was a bit tangled around the pole.
“I’ll get that flag untangled for you so that your photos of the outside look better,” he kindly said as he unlocked the door.
I spent the next half hour with them as Ernie showed me his treasures. First he showed me an antique wooden phone booth (circa 1930) with a hand-crank telephone that had been down at the post office for many years.
Then he showed me some of his antique gas pumps and antique signs. And then I took a look at the vehicles that were parked inside – ones that Ernie and his cousin were working on restoring. First, there was a turquoise-colored 1955 Ford Customline automobile. There it sat with its hood up and a rag (what used to be a red plaid shirt) draped over the front fender area. And next to it stood a 1936 Plymouth truck, also in the process of being restored.
As I took my photographs, the two of them went about their business gathering things from the back. They continued to talk to me as they worked, explaining that they were heading out to chop wood so that they could heat the station and work on the vehicles throughout the coming winter. They could see that I was hurrying to photograph the inside because they were hurrying to leave. But instead of asking me to leave when they were ready to go, they told me to take my time and to make sure I closed the door when I left. And then they were gone.
I finished enjoying the old-time feeling of that old garage and the wonder of being trusted again by people I had just met. Then I closed the door behind me, took a few more photos of the outside of that wonderful old filling station, and Ruth and I headed down the still-foggy road in search of a couple of abandoned mills.
Once again, we had been blessed by the kindness of strangers who quickly became friends. This is one of the great pleasures of driving the backroads.