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Petrol, again


This artsy, soft-focus image of a gas station somewhere in Arkansas reminded me that the earliest purveyor of gasoline and healer of the newfangled automobile has yet to be fully designed. There have been a few jabs at it but nothing has taken. Aspects of this station have caught my eye and may very well become part of Cliff’s Garage.

Before it became a necessity, the auto was a mixed blessing. Early internal combustion engines were simple machines that could be disassembled and put back together with little fear that a few miscellaneous parts would be left on the bench. Before the 1950s, when cars became much more complicated, my dad could do both with his eyes blindfold—I’ve watched him and marveled at both his ability and the simple logic of the engine itself. But there was always the matter of fuel: gasoline was highly combustible, whether in the tank or stored for later use. So the private garage tended to be detached from the house itself—not unlike the kitchen during Elizabethan times—or specially insulated (strengthened) to contain an explosion. I’ve just returned from a student field trip to Chicago and a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1908 house for Frederick C. Robie; the Robie’s three-car garage was necessarily attached to the house proper, and the servants’ rooms were placed immediately above it, which required a reinforced concrete barrier between the time bombs below and the maid and cook sleeping fearlessly above.

For those lucky enough to own a car but lack the mechanical ability to keep it running smoothly, the local mechanic served two valuable functions: auto repair and the storage of fuel a safe distance from residential neighborhoods. I wonder how Cliff Pherson’s neighbors felt about the establishment of his business circa 1938 in the depths of the Depression.

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