In the days when service stations actually gave you service (wiping the windows, checking the oil, topping off the radiator), the establishments often gave you interesting architecture to admire as well.
There were stations built to look like Swiss chalets, oil derricks and Chinese pagodas. One even featured a dinosaur. But the most memorable service station I ever saw was built inside a tree!
Billed as the “World’s Largest Redwood Tree Service Station,” this unique attraction stood on the outskirts of Ukiah, California, a small town about 120 miles north of San Francisco.
The station was built in 1936 from the butt cut of a huge redwood tree that was said to have been 1,500 years old. The log used to create the station was 18 feet long and 17-1/2 feet in diameter. It had been cut into six segments and hollowed out to a thickness of 10 to 24 inches. The wood removed from the inside of the log would have equaled at least 25,000 board feet, enough to build 15 houses. The station’s restrooms were made from hollowed-out sections of smaller redwoods.
My first job was at this station—keeping the soda case filled and passing out postcards to the thousands of tourists who found their way to this roadside attraction each summer.
The soda case was nothing more than a large metal box filled with water, ice and as many bottles of Coca-Cola, Orange Crush and Delaware Punch as I could cram into it. During those 100-degree days, I worked pretty hard keeping that box full.
Some of the tourists turned out to be even more famous than the station. Heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer and his brother, Buddy, came through several times. Bing Crosby stopped once and so did honeymooners Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.
I always enjoyed listening to the comments of the tourists. Plenty of them suspected that the service station was not built from one tree but cleverly crafted from several trees. Obviously, these nonbelievers had yet to visit California’s magnificent redwood forests.
The region was a bustling logging and lumbering community back then, and every night a bunch of the local loggers would come to town and gather at “The Stump” to trade yarns. Often they had a little good-natured fun at my expense.
“Sonny, go get that can of compression behind the seat in my truck,” one would order.
Or: “Hey, kid, ask the boss for a skyhook so we can unload that trailer over there.”
Those dead-end assignments, along with being sent to fetch left-handed monkey wrenches and pre-sized post holes, became valuable lessons in human nature as I grew up.
Most unique service stations like The Stump are gone now (this one survives only as a small museum). But my memories of the hot summer days stocking the soda case and the cold winter nights huddled around the coal stove inside that big redwood tree will live on forever.
Ronald Ford • Redwood Valley, California