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.