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Martinsburg service station hardly changed

October 11, 1998

 

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - While service stations gradually began offering self-serve gas, convenience store shopping and take-out sub shops, Roberson's Chevron stood its ground.

Competing among megasized gas stations with up to a dozen pumps, Willis and Mildred Roberson never blinked an eye, and continued their buiness that's like a snapshot out of the 1940s.

--cont. from news page--

The bell signaling another customer still rings when a motorist pulls into Roberson's for a fill-up.

Vic Kisner scoots out the door of the Winchester Avenue station to deliver full service that includes a check under the hood and a windshield wash.

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He balls up his paper towel and gives a door mirror on a woman's car a shine.

"I think that's what's lacking today, personalized service," said 70-year-old Willis Roberson, who has decided to close his station in December, ending more than 25 years in the business.

Roberson started working at the station when he was 15 years old, earning 45 cents an hour.

While the pay has changed, hardly anything else has.

A pair of two-car bays, blackened from years of use, sit with equipment dating back to the 1930s. Some of the machines, like tire spreaders, became outdated when inner tubes were phased out.

When Roberson started at the station, gas was 20 cents a gallon, lube jobs were $1.25 and oil was sold out of refillable glass jars that were filled in the station. Roberson reminisces about the early days, when chickens were raised behind him and hardly a car passed by.

It's almost like a Saturday Evening Post magazine cover: Roberson standing in his neatly pressed Chevron uniform while Mildred brags about all the things she's been able to do without a computer.

Mildred Roberson said the station's old-fashioned service attracts people from all around, even the "foreigners" from Maryland, as she calls them.

Customer after customer rolled into the station on an afternoon last week. They said they hated to see the station close, which will end up to a 20-year relationship with some of them.

"Tell them they can't do it. That's the only place I stop," said Ruth Pharr as she waited behind another car for gas.

Customer Kathie Martz felt so strongly about Roberson's that she once wrote a page-long poem about the place.

"There's a little Chevron station,

sits down the road from me,

And when I want good service,

That's where I'll choose to be," the poem says in its opening.

About the only time Roberson's Chevron closed was several years when there was an explosion at a nearby service station. The Robersons were shut down for a week while the cleanup was conducted.

Willis Roberson said he decided to hang it up in December because that is when his lease runs out. Another reason is that the tanks in the station will be removed then.

Willis Roberson said he does not know what will happen to the blue and white, castle-like building, which is owned by John Updike.

After December, he will turn his interests to a woodworking shop in his Nollville home and a "couple acres of ground to tend to."

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