Monday, July 15, 2024

So I remember driving, driving in your car…

Last summer, a country-singer’s cross-genre cover of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car made it to the top of the country charts and created some unnecessary “culture wars” controversy. Luke Combs said Fast Car was a favorite song of his. Chapman, who released the song 35 years ago, told Billboard, “I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’” It’s a great song that evokes the car’s hold on our American dreams and heartaches.

So, I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped around my shoulder
And I, I, I had a feeling that I belonged
I, I, I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.

West County historian Mary Dodgion has written a new book, Driving Through History, about the history of the automotive businesses in Sebastopol from one-pump gas stations to automobile showrooms, telling the stories of the individuals and families behind each of those businesses.

Book cover

“The book came about from a 2021 exhibit at the West County Museum that I curated. It was called Classy Cars and Their Care,” Mary explained in email.  “The exhibit had some artifacts from auto collectors and included some 1920’s hub caps, radiator badges and more modern mechanic tools from a local garage. There were about 50 photographs that many folks enjoyed because they recognized the building, location, or owners. I also had a map of the downtown that noted where the businesses were located. Because there are many folks still connected to these businesses and families who owned them, I felt that it would be a good candidate to put into a book.”

Mary provided several excerpts from her book, which follow below.


The 1970s brought a phrase we dare to accept, “Gas Shortage.” Lines of cars stretched for blocks. Pumps ran dry. Newspapers warned of a great “gas crunch.” The president urged calm. Panicked motorists turned on one another. This was during the age of 12 miles-per-gallon vehicles. Not only were cars large, everybody was completely dependent and in love with their cars. What did Americans do, they freaked out. They began lining up at pumps waiting to fill their tanks. News stories in 1973 told of gas hoarding practices. Mandatory rationing requirements were not in place yet so some drivers were not only filling their vehicle tanks but bringing 55-gallon drums to fill.

Art Lindberg of Lindberg’s Shell Service reported an increasing number of customers practicing this method. Al Rabinovitz of Al’s Shell Service reported a 40 per cent increase in gas sales. Em’s Chevron sold so much gas on Friday there wasn’t enough for Saturday, and the station had to be closed. All but two of Sebastopol’s stations had complied with Nixon’s request for voluntary Sunday shutdowns. For Rabinovitz, the Sunday shutdown was nothing new. “We’ve been closed every Sunday since July,” he said, “ever since we were put on a quota.” “Nixon,” he added, “is finally catching up with me.” The newly installed Fast Gas Station (1973) counted 156 cars in line at their

Station owners were eager for the City council to mandate hours of operation for each station. There were reports of near-violent confrontations when motorists tried to cut in lines. Police and sheriff deputies began overseeing the situation. A 1979 Sebastopol Times article titled “You’re Not Odd Until Monday,” tells of California Governor Edmund G. Brown’s move to return the state to the odd even rationing plan. It was a plan that would ease the long lines in the form of using odd and even number license plates. Odd numbers fueled on odd days, even on even days, Sunday through Friday. Saturday it was open to everyone.

Enterprising merchants, however, found bounty in the shortage. Some were selling food to long-waiting motorists in gas lines. Like Jack Shriber, owner of the local Foster’s Freeze who sold his food to motorists in line at the Fast Gas station just down the street. Then you have a real estate salesman, Charlie Bush, who used the opportunity to pass out a survey asking for their opinions. Another idea to conserve fuel was to set the vehicle speed limit to 55mph, which is still a mandatory limit for trucks in California.

Myrtle Bates on the running board of an automobile parked in front of Crystal Service Station on North Main Street, Sebastopol, 1942 (Photo link – Sonoma County Digital Collections)


A 10-year vision of Hubert B. Scudder became reality in 1940. Scudder purchased the 50×150 foot lot at the southwest corner of South Main and Willow Streets and envisioned a gas station on the corner. He was a Sebastopol City Councilman from 1924 to 1926, and was elected to and served as a member of the California State Assembly from 1925 to 1940. When the time came for his retirement in 1940, he concentrated on orchestrating the building of the gas station. The home on the property was relocated to face Willow Street and construction began on the soon-to-be Mobilgas and Mobiloil station. 

This building was built in 1940 and is now 82 years old; today the Grateful Bagel Company occupies the space. The former drive through gas lane is now a seating area for their customers. 


Starting to the north of Sebastopol is Homan’s Exxon Tire Service, 840
Gravenstein Highway North. Harold Homan began as a tire salesman when
he came to Sebastopol from Eureka in early 1960.

Homan started his tire shop in 1961 on the corner of Gravenstein Highway
North and Tocchini Street. Besides tires, he pumped gasoline originally with
the Enco and then Humble brands which were later merged into Exxon.

Many remember seeing tires piled high around the building as they drove by. There are also stories of the “back room” of the station. It was a card room where the men folk could be found if nowhere else. Joanne Feige recalls “one night after dark I went there with a tire from my mail jeep. I needed my tire for the next day but had to check with Harold to make sure it could be fixed as it had holes already repaired. As I stepped into the “back room,” behind a stack of tires, a couple of the guys got a panicked look on their faces. Harold calmed the men down with “it’s okay, guys.”

When self-serve stations came to town, Homan once said: “It didn’t matter that all the service stations were changing to self-serve, I was going to provide the best service possible and keep pumping gas.” 

Mary Dodgion self-published the book and had copies printed in Petaluma. “This is the first book I have written, so every step of the way was a learning experience,” said Mary.

The books are available at the West County Museum on Main Street for $23. For books purchased at the museum, Mary is contributing all of the profits from the sales to the Western Sonoma County Historical Society. The museum will gladly ship books directly, plus a small shipping fee. Her book is also available on Amazon.

Mary will do a book signing event at the West County Museum on January 27th.

Mary Dodgion


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