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Retro Petro: A station where they pump gas

(This story ran in the Columbus Dispatch on Jan. 21, 2016)


When Frank Gillespie started working at his father’s gas station in 1966, customers didn’t have to pump their own gas.

Fifty years later, they still don’t.

Gillespie, owner of Frank’s Marathon, 3116 Riverside Drive, maintains some throwback services at his Upper Arlington service station: free air for the tires, mechanics on duty and one pump reserved for people who want an attendant to fill the tank.

The temperature was 6 degrees Tuesday morning when I went there to see the place for myself.

It’s a measure of how accustomed we are to self-service gas that even on a day with biting windchill, just one customer in two hours came seeking full service.

“Frank’s been a godsend blessing to me because I’ve tried repeatedly to read a dipstick, and I’m not able to so,” Jacqueline Alkire said as Gillespie popped the hood of her car to check the oil.

She would have had Gillespie fill her tank, too, but the full-service pump was blocked by another vehicle, so she did it herself.

Gillespie said it’s not unusual for a day to pass with no one using the full-service pump, where the gas costs 40 to 50 cents more a gallon than self-serve. But he continues to offer the option because that’s how Frank’s Marathon rolls.

“It just goes back to that old-school approach, I guess,” said Gillespie, 61.

The core of the business, he said, is the two-bay garage for car repairs. The station also has a small convenience store, where Gillespie cards cigarette buyers (“Sorry, you have to be 21,” he tells a woman not quite of age), and a small table where a customer waiting for her headlight to be changed worked on a laptop computer.

Gillespie’s late father, also named Frank, opened the station when young Frank was in school. He’s been there ever since.

The station has a family atmosphere: Both mechanics have been there for 20 years, and Gillespie’s mother, Peggy, visits every morning at 11.

Gillespie’s friend Joe Kaiser stops by once a week with an Egg McMuffin, for which he refuses to let Gillespie pay him.

“Frank’s an institution,” he said after delivering the sandwich. “I’ve known him for a long time.”

The station’s free air was a draw on Tuesday because the low temperature was triggering the onboard air-pressure sensors in new cars. Regulars know to come inside and ask Gillespie for the pressure gauge.

In Franklin County, at least one other station — Reynoldsburg Sunoco, 7008 E. Main St., for example — has a full-service pump, and you might find free air at a few. But I’m not sure you’ll find anywhere the same guy has been pumping gas, checking oil, replacing headlights and shooting the breeze with friends and his mother since 1966.

Said Gillespie: “I guess we bucked the trend.”