Currently viewing the tag: "gasoline"

 Terry Pryor

Did you know that gasoline was initially discarded as serving no purpose? Edwin Drake dug the first crude oil well in Pennsylvania in 1859 and distilled the oil to produce kerosene for lighting. Although other petroleum products, including gasoline, were also produced in the distillation process, Drake had no use for the gasoline so he discarded it. It wasn’t until 1892, with the invention of the automobile, that gasoline was recognized as a valuable fuel. By 1920, nine million vehicles powered by gasoline were on the road, and service stations selling gasoline were opening around the country. That included Thurmont’s, which is now known as, Direct to You.

(Throughout the 1920s, gas prices averaged 21 to 30 cents per gallon.)

The earliest image I rounded up of Direct to You, thanks to John Kinnaird and David Q. Fisher, is from when the Kifer family owned the garage. Not surprising, it was called Kifer’s, and at this time, the main building was the only structure. The service bays had not yet been built.

The exterior of the main building remains almost unchanged since 1940. It is unclear if the garage was established by Kifer or Hahn & Baker. At some point, it belonged to Hahn & Baker. Mr. Baker lived across the street in the two-story house at the corner of N. Altamont and N. Church Street. Baker also ran a furniture repair shop in the structure behind his house.

(Gas prices during the 1940s averaged 18 to 29 cents per gallon.)

Vernon Myers ran the station for several years before building his own garage. The Langdon family from Westminster took over after Vernon Myers. James Langdon, Sr., (called Joe) owned a garage in Westminster, which is still there and owned by the family. Joe traveled all over the state, delivering minerals to farmers, and spotted the Thurmont property for sale. He purchased the property in 1957. Almost immediately, the old tanks had to be dug up and replaced.

(Gas prices during the 1950s averaged 27 to 30 cents per gallon.)

My interview with “Joe” Langdon’s son, Jim, took place at his Westminster station. As we sat in two very old, saggy, but comfortable chairs, time stood still as he spun the stories of his father’s life. The Westminster location has quite a tank of its own history.

The name, Direct to You, was thought up by Joe and his wife, Ina. For years, Ina took care of the books. She had taught accounting and typing, and together they created quite a nice business life for their family.

Early in the 1960s, the IRS came around and wanted to see all of their receipts for the stations. Years of these slips of paper were stored in boxes in the Langdon’s attic. On one of the many up and down stairway trips, Ina asked one of the agents why they didn’t want to see the books instead of all this paper? “Books?” he replied? “You have books?”

“We certainly do,” she exclaimed. In fact, there were two sets, one of which the IRS left with. That was the last time the IRS made a call.

(Gas prices in the 1960s averaged 31 to 34 cents per gallon.)

There are other stories associated with this little spot in town where “the boys” serve you up your gas while you wait in your car.  If you need to know something, they know about it at Direct to You. Vetting any of that information is up to you, however.

Truth is, you don’t find this kind of service anymore. In fact, it was in 1947 that a man named Frank Urich opened the first modern self-serve gas station at the corner of Jilson and Atlantic in Los Angeles, California. His slogan? “Save 5 cents, serve yourself, why pay more?”

It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that two periods of gasoline shortages (1973 and 1979) caused higher fuel prices, which in turn, resulted in the permanent closure of many full-service gas stations, as consumers looked for pricing relief.

(Gas prices nearly doubled in the 1970s).

My burning question was how they keep the gas prices so low. Besides being an independent, James (aka Joe) Langdon, Sr. would call daily to check on all the suppliers pricing. Luck and timing are a big part of what you pay, and he seemed to have a knack for ordering on the low end. That practice is still followed today.

At this writing, gas prices in Thurmont are $3.85 to $4.19. Don’t blink, that will change.

Photo was taken around the late 1950s when James (Joe) Langdon, Sr. purchased the station.

James Langdon, Jr., still pumps gas at his Westminster location.

Blair Garrett

Mountaindale Convenience Store offers more to its customers than just quality foods, hot meals, or gasoline.

Owners Rida and Julian Mitchell bring a warm, inviting atmosphere to the people of Thurmont, along with great service with a smile.

The family has followed and finally capitalized on their dream of doing something bigger and better, opening up a second convenience store back in October. The new store provides all the same services as the existing previous one, but with expanded room and variety, and, of course, the same friendly customer service.

Owning a convenience store for nearly thirty years teaches you a thing or two about how things work. You learn to effectively manage costs, how to balance a budget, and the intricacies of how a business is supposed to run. But one thing you do not learn is how to connect with a community. That is a skill that must be cultivated, practiced, and then implemented with perfection.

The Mitchell family has cornered that country market feel, hitting home with the residents of the greater Thurmont area, and giving customers the exact atmosphere to make them feel at home while grabbing a bite to eat or a pack of their favorite sweets.

The initial store, still on Mountaindale Road in Thurmont, was taken over by the Mitchells in 1990. The store has that blue-collar town look, featuring the same faces that have been stopping in for decades, day after day. And even though the new second location has a brand-new kitchen, larger floor space and more varieties of sodas than a person could ever ask for, it has not lost an ounce of that same country charm.

“The bottom line is, we are a country store,” Julian said. “That old building was built in 1870. It’s always been a country store. I wanted to be able to do something bigger.”

The new location just off U.S. Route 15 on Putman Road offers a wider selection of goodies, deli meats, and bakery items, but the same friendly faces that have been there to offer a helping hand remain the same.

The business features a plethora of custom-made benches, frames, and counters made by locals, for locals. The countertops from the deli to the checkout counter all come from local people, which shows that the roots of this community run deep in Mountaindale Convenience Store. 

But with the location of the new store, it is no longer just the same crowd passing through. “We’ve got locals that have been checking us out to see what’s going on,” Rida said. “Most of the people are new people who we’ve never seen before, but I can see them becoming regular customers because we’ve already heard them say this is going to be their regular stop.”

The store has even been catering to a younger demographic, packing the coolers with popular craft beers and specialty drinks, gaining popularity in breweries across the nation. “My son has been helping us out with that,” Rida said. “We have got shelves and shelves and shelves full of craft beer, so when they come in here, they’re shocked to see it all.”

Through the highs and lows, Mountaindale Convenience Store is still thriving and looking forward to building new relationships with customers who stop in from places near and far. But one thing is certain, no matter how much growth and development the convenience store has, that comforting country-store feeling will always stay the same.

Mountaindale Convenience Store owner, Rida Mitchell, is shown inside the store’s second location, just off of U.S. Route 15 at Putman Road.

Photo by Blair Garrett