Childhood chums, who once raced to filled up Studebakers and Bentleys, checking tire pressures and flirting with girls in convertibles as they washed windshields, gathered recently for a reunion to share the good old days at their favorite Gulf service station.
"Wonderful memories," said Melvin Barnes, who took over ownership of the Gulf at Washington Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue about 1960 and ran the business until just a few months ago, continuing with state inspection and repair work. He's recently sold the property to a business owner on the block.
One of Barnes' longtime buddies, whose never lost touch and used to live nearby, Howard McMurtrie, 76, of Greensburg, organized the reunion.
The gathering proved to be a sentimental journey back to a hotspot in Williamsport.
As they greeted each other outside the station, hugs and backslaps were the order of the day. The Sun-Gazette was on hand to share in the stories and relive the moments.
"This is like a death in the family," said McMurtrie, a retired accident reconstructionist with the Pennsylvania State Police. He worked for the former owner of the station before Barnes, the late Jimmy Welch. Welch ran the station between 1940 and 1960, and the stories McMurtrie recalled could be put into book of short stories.
"Johnny would take day-trips, sometimes to place bets on horse races or long drives with the top down on a convertible and always with a pretty lady by his side," McMurtrie said. "He timed it perfectly," McMurtrie said of the station's closing hour at 9 p.m. "We'd read meters, and he'd count cash and look at the meter reading."
By that time, McMurtrie said he was 14 years old and had one year of auto mechanics class at high school.
$15 a week
"He'd pay us $15 a week," he said - an acceptable wage for an impressionable boy who didn't mind the work as long as he could drive the cars into the service bays.
"When I was 16 years of age I got to drive a Woodie," McMurtrie said. "It was heaven."
"We'd detail automobiles ... clean them inside and out."
A number of strange occurrences took place back then, too.
Usually on Friday night the boys would sweep out the grease but not before throwing a gallon bucket of gasoline on the floor to sop it up and wash it down the drain.
"We didn't know how dangerous it was," McMurtrie said looking around the tiny office that was filling up with friends and pointing to a glass case, laid bare now, but once filled high with candy bars and snacks.
"It looks the same," he said tearing up a bit. "This was such a part of my life."
He was not alone on the sentimental journey.
Sister will be 'sad'
Virginia Harrison, Barnes' sister, said the reunion meant "goodbye" to an era and a hang out. "I'm gonna be sad," she said. While it was a garage, the guys would "settle the world's affairs," but Harrison wasn't one to be pushed around.
"They all sat around on chairs in a group," she said. "Marlin, Mel's brother, told me, 'Hey, this is for men,'" she said. "But I would sit down with them anyway."
"Brings back a lot of memories," said Bill Finkele, of Wellsboro, whose brother became mayor of the Tioga County borough.
Asked to recall one or two of his fondest moments at the station, Finkele looked across the street at the former Coca Cola plant.
Finkele said he would rush out of the former St. Boniface school, up the street, head home to Clayton Avenue and run down to the station, but not before stopping at a window at the plant where an employee would hand him an ice cold soda.
"I guess he did that until one day he shrugged us off," Finkele said.
As the group prepared to have a lunch at a nearby restaurant on River Avenue, Melvin Barnes thought about what the reunion meant to him.
"All of this goes back a long ways," Barnes said.
"I ran the garage up until the last three months handling state inspections and doing garage work."
The gasoline pumps were removed in 1998.
He and his twin brother remain Marines for life, continuing their patriotic fervor.
Their love of country, duty and honor and a strong work ethic were learned first by working at the station.
Others at the reunion either served in the Marines or other branches of the military.
By the end of World War II, weary war veterans would return to hang out at the station and share stories.
They would eventually marry, remain single and attend schools and universities to earn a living.
"We had a surgeon, a naval intelligence officer, golf professionals and the brother of the mayor of Wellsboro," McMurtrie said.
"This station," he said, ... "It was a neat place to grow old."