Petroleum Collectibles Monthly

August 2004 - Scott Anderson - Let's Talk Pumps #23 - Every Good Movie has a Gas Station


I received several different gas pump restoration related questions this month, but after, all you can only talk so much about contains lead signs, cracked glass cylinders, and decal placement. Instead of discussing one of these restoration topics this month, I decided to focus on a slightly different subject. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at another aspect of the vintage gas pump world. Specifically, I’m talking about the use of antique gasoline pumps in the television and motion picture industry.

For many years, I have often mentioned the following expression to family, friends, and business associates: “Every good movie has a gas station scene!” When I first became interested in old gas pumps around twenty-five years ago, I found myself constantly noticing these old pumps everywhere – in magazines, calendars, television shows, museums, on farms, in small towns, and in old movies.

The very first movie that I noticed a vintage gasoline pump in was Bad Day at Black Rock, a classic drama starring Spencer Tracy. The pump shown in this movie was a Boyle-Dayton “VISO”, ten gallon visible, and I was fascinated by it because it was so different than any visible pump that I had seen up to that point in the Midwestern United States.

The second movie that I saw that featured an old gas pump was the comedy, No Time For Sergeants, starring Andy Griffith. This was a fairly funny movie and the pump shown was a Wayne #276.

The next film I remember seeing with an old gas station scene was Bonny And Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. I think the old pumps and filling station were eventually blown up during a gun battle in this great movie.

Additional movies that I recall seeing and enjoying vintage gasoline pumps in included: The Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda, The Hunter starring Steve McQueen, Violent is the Word for Curly featuring the incredible Three Stooges working at a Los Angeles area Mobil Service Station (Interestingly this Mobil Station featured Rheem Clockface Meter Pumps – the first ones that I had ever seen), Fist starring Sylvester Stalone, Driving Miss Daisy starring Jessica Tandy, Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox, The Jerk starring Steve Martin as Nathan R. Johnson, Nixon, the Oliver Stone classic, Capricorn One starring James Brolin and O.J. Simpson, and many others.

Perhaps the best example of an onscreen nostalgic filling station that I remember was Wally’s filling station made famous on the old Andy Griffith television show. Who could ever forget Gomer Pyle (Jim Neighbors) and later Goober Pyle (George Lindsey) pumping ACME gasoline out of Wally’s Martin & Schwartz Model #70, electric computing pumps. Another television show that featured an old gas pump (a Boyle-Dayton Wayne I think?) was the American classic – The Walton’s.

As the years went by, and we began to restore many different antique gasoline pumps, we were eventually hired to actually provide restored pumps and general service station props for a Hollywood movie. The film was Avalon, produced by Barry Levinson. This movie featured a Sinclair Service Station outfitted with a pair of Bennett electric computer pumps. We actually had to build (restore) two different pairs of pumps for this film, one perfect pair for close up shots and one semi-restored pair of pumps for a distant shot. Wouldn’t you know that the distant shot shows a streetcar veering off of its tracks and blowing up the semi-restored pair of pumps!

In subsequent years we were hired to provide numerous gasoline pumps and service station props for the movie and television industry. Some of these films included Short Circuit, The Bridges of Madison County starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, Lolita starring Jeremy Irons, and Pearl Harbor starring Ben Affleck.

Hopefully, many of you readers have the same great memories of vintage service stations and vintage gasoline pumps in some of our favorite old films. Everyone in our hobby and industry knows that vintage gasoline pumps are great to display in homes, back yards, museums, restaurants, antique auto showrooms, and offices. Now you also know that, “Every good movie has a gas station scene!”

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