By Ray K. Erku
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RAWLINS — What illuminates the night with its bright-red, manually-operated pumps and its iconic Texaco sign, there’s a gas station in Rawlins that keeps motorists stopping for everything other than a quick fill up.
Found on E. Cedar Street, the Hays Texaco Station, a neatly-restored house of petrol originally built in 1920, is like putting the shifter in reverse and accelerating far enough until you reach James Dean.
At least, according to the Hays, the family who owns the station and has operated the same area truck-hauling business for the past 100 years, this place is simply a vintage piece of uncut Americana.
“You look at these gas stations now,” said Kurtis Hays, a 20-year-old family mechanic, “they’re not like these old ones.”
Which is perhaps why this relic keeps growing in popularity. When people exit off Interstate 80, there’s a decent chance, according to Steve Hays, Kurtis’ father, they’ll cruise extra slowly when they spot the classic, circular Texaco sign sticking out in the sky.
“There’s damn near a dozen wrecks a day out here,” Steve said. “People be driving into town, see this and slam on their brakes.”
Last week, a traveler headed to a car show in Denver from Canada made sure to stop in Rawlins to check out the station, Kurtis added.
The Hays, in fact, welcome as many visitors as they can. During pretty much any reasonable time of the day, Kurtis said people are free to park their cars, take pictures and even receive a brief tour through the place, which has even more grease-monkey artifacts than what’s standing out front.
“Anybody can come down here,” Kurtis said.
Inside, the collection is almost too vast to count. There are trophy cases of old, beat-up oil cans. Some of the walls are covered in classic Firestone and Havoline banner advertisements as well as restored Wyoming license plates. The glass showcases are filled with an assortment of historic momentos, like a 1937 Carbon County Fair Guide and an original Texaco shammy cloth from when the place was operated by the old Kelly Oil Company.
There’s even a 1930s-era Coca-Cola ice chest. It’s not electronic. It’s more or less a gigantic, but seemingly priceless, cooler.
As to how this all came to be, it was about a year ago when the Hays purchased the property and began the sixth-month process bringing the building back up to snuff. Kurtis said the station, which went defunct about 30 years ago, was in “rough shape.”
During this time the Hays would discover the absolute treasure trove of artifacts resting within the broken windows and the leaking roof. Meanwhile, they thought they’d simply combine all the cool pieces of history they, from their years of all things mechanics, have already collected and possessed into one big exhibit.
Additionally, Kurtis said his family’s community fixture trucking business has all this time operated primarily on old tools and old equipment. No newer technologies, no computerized gadgets. Just a little bit of elbow grease and a distinct romance for what ingenuity used to be.
For instance, ask the Hays about their fleet of vehicles that predate 1960.
“We restore a bunch of old trucks and cars,” Kurtis said. “We’ve been collecting Diamond Ts mostly.”
Restore is not even the best word to describe it. Kurtis said his family rebuilds these classic trucks, which resemble back-country guzzlers, with heavy, detailed frames with the rounded edges.
One truck in their almost 10-truck fleet, an old Diamond T model 951 – only 20 have ever been made – was first purchased by Kurtis’ grandfather. Kurtis said his grandfather was working for the Pierce Packing Co. when, in the early 1950s, he first came across this beast, which was literally the second one off the line.
The logo was even first sprayed on its side by an inmate at the Old Penitentiary in Rawlins. After it sat practically lifeless in a garage since 1960, Kurtis said the Hays finally fixed it up.
And just like the Texaco station itself, the Hays showcased their Diamond T 951. Only this time, after actually taking the time, energy and money to get the truck’s fuel pump rebuilt in South America, they exhibited their piece of history at a truck show in Reno, Nev.
“That’s the only one of them 951s that’s completely original,” Kurtis said. “Never been chopped up, hacked up, changed.”
Just like the tall, visible fuel pumps and the other vintage vehicles surrounding the station, not one bit of history is altered. Even the ‘39 American LaFrance fire truck parked out front looks like it just got done with a call.
And as to what all these artifacts do for the Hays, it perhaps reminds them of the old adage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At least, when asked to compare old to new, Steve took the latter.
“The past is just more friendly,” he said.