Petersen Archive: Full Service at Its Best
While the 1955 Studebaker is certainly the intended subject of these Motor Trend Magazine photographs, I was initially drawn to these photos because of the anonymous gas attendant decorously pumping gas into the shiny new car. Historians have many goals, but one of them is to humanize the past and make it relatable, both intellectually and emotionally. That is why delving into black and white photos such as these offer us a vivid way to think about the past and find threads to weave together our own personal narratives.
My grandfather, Eugene, grew up in Depression Era Marceline, Missouri. The only thing smaller than the town was its opportunity. On the eve of World War II, my grandfather joined the Marines with permission of his parents at age 17. It must have been hard for my great-grandparents to let one of their children go off to war, but they knew that my grandfather probably had a better chance at the American dream outside of their humble town. After barely surviving the invasion of Iwo Jima and serving a few months past the end of the war, my grandfather was given two options: a ticket back home to impoverished Marceline or a chance to go back to California where he was stationed during his service. My grandfather, probably with his infamous grin, said, “California because I like the weather.”
Having grown from a rural Missouri boy into a seasoned Marine, my grandfather set out to make a new life for himself on the West Coast. Eventually, many years and adventures later, he got a job as an attendant at a gas station in Los Angeles. The year was 1955, the same year as these images from our archive, a time when gas attendants were commonplace and also served as highly knowledgeable car mechanics. It was at this time that a woman named Patricia pulled into my grandfather’s gas station. He attended to her car, quite dutifully in fact, and asked her out on a date. Just one week later Eugene and Patricia ran off to Las Vegas and got hitched. That next year, 1956, my father was born. My grandparents spent the next 43 years together until my grandmother passed away in 1998.
Looking at these images, some people may see black and white photos of a 1950s era man pumping gas into a stylish Studebaker. I, however, see an unassuming gas attendant with a story and dreams for his future. I see someone’s devoted husband and father. I see someone’s loving and quirky grandfather. I see Eugene, unknowingly waiting for Patricia to pull up in her car. In these photos, I see myself.
By: Laura Fisher