100 Years Later: My Great-Grandfather’s 1923 Service Station

Credit: Original article published by Classic Cars Journal.

Automotive history runs deep in my family. I was raised on car culture – attending shows, supporting my uncle at drag races, reading car magazines, browsing vehicle classified listings, and helping my dad detail our vehicles.

As 2023 approaches, I acknowledge a special 100-year anniversary: 1923 was when my great-grandfather, Merrill Vernon Hansen, opened one of the first service stations in northern Utah. Opening day was June 20, and gas was on sale for 26 cents per gallon.

An announcement from The Journal newspaper read: “Fully equipped to give up-to-date service. Complete line of gas, oils, tires, and auto accessories. Logan prices. We cordially invite the public. For better service, College Service Station.”

To put the timeframe into context: The Ford Model A wasn’t even around when Merrill opened his station for business – that car launched in 1927. The Ford Model T, first introduced in 1908, was still going strong. It was powered by a 177cid inline-four with an output of 20 horsepower. Engineering has come a long way over the past century. What would Merrill say if he saw a 1,000-horsepower, all-electric 2023 Lucid Air?

College Service History

I did not know my great-grandfather very well; I was only about three and a half years old when he passed away in July 1985. But I remember him pointing his finger at me and asking, “Are you grandma’s boy?” I would have liked to have known him better because I find his entrepreneurship and business achievements fascinating.

Service stations in the early 1920s were meeting places for political and social discussions. They were places to buy ice cream, bubble gum, and soda pop. And of course, they were hubs of transportation assistance when it came to vehicle repairs, refueling, and tire supply. Merrill, born in 1902, had lived in Logan, Utah his entire life and was a teenager when the automobile was in its early days. He was drawn to the opportunity to open a station of his own.

When Merrill was 20, he and a colleague named Delno Olsen opened College Service for business next to his family’s home, about four miles south of Logan on Highway 89. A couple of blank envelopes identify the College Service mailing address as simply “RFD Number 1, Logan, Utah.”

The following year, he was sent to the “Eastern States Mission” by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years of service. His father Hyrum bought out Delno’s share of the business in April 1924 and handled it himself until Merrill returned in April 1926 to pick up where he had left off. The station remained in continuous operation for over 40 additional years until Merrill shut its doors permanently on Labor Day in September of 1967.

Highlights Over the Years

I remember the station well, since it resided directly across the highway from my grandmother’s house and was clearly visible out the front dining room window when I would visit her. Somewhere along the line, I received a handful of photos of the station that I have since treasured and preserved for over 25 years.

It is fascinating to see the building in its various iterations over the years. From what I can piece together, great-grandpa Hansen distributed Texaco, Parco, Chevron, and Sinclair products at different phases of his station’s operation. I also saw signage for Quaker State and other brands.

An article from The Journal dated March 17, 1925, states that two young men stole seven gallons of gas by syphoning it from the tank. They were sentenced to seven days in jail. Another looting took place in 1934 when prowlers took tobacco and candy. The place was fingerprinted by the deputy sheriff and a patrolman.

One of my prized treasures is a photo dated January 1931 of my then one-year-old grandmother with Merrill, taken outside the station.

Another artifact from around that same time is a small red coupon which served as a movie ticket (valid only until March 15, 1932) with compliments of College Service Station.

The building layout was modified at some point, as shown in some of the photos. Its original overhang to the gas pumps was lopped off, leaving the building with a flat front and exposed windows.

An article from the Cache American Newspaper dated April 8, 1939, states that Merrill was awarded a plaque and a letter from the president of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, P.W. Litchfield, in recognition of 15 years of handling Goodyear products.

Of particular interest to me was a paragraph in Cache American dated March 7, 1941. It states: “Mr. and Mrs. Merrill V. Hansen returned home last week from a two-week trip to the Eastern States. They drove a new car home from Detroit.” I wonder what vehicle that might have been, and I wish it were still around today.

My uncle Jeff recalls grandpa Merrill saying that in the earliest days of the station, gas was brought in via horse-drawn equipment. Grandma shared with me a vivid recollection of her sister Grace falling backwards into the grease pit and having to be fished out of the mess. Some of my family’s fondest memories revolved around helping with operations of the service station during its heyday.

Decay and Demolition

After Merrill retired in 1967, the station was sold and became a snowmobile dealership as well as other types of operations. By the time I was old enough to truly notice it 20 years later, the building itself had fallen into disrepair. Over the years, the highway was widened and a guardrail was installed in front of the house where great-grandpa Hansen and great-grandma Della lived next door.

By around the mid-1990s, the station was overtaken by a large concrete garage next door and was eventually leveled entirely. Not a single piece of signage nor memorabilia remains – all we have is a stack of photos and the memories to go with them

It’s hard to believe that a century has passed since my great-grandfather bravely entered the automotive world as the young owner of a small business. I think he would be proud to know that his legacy lives on, and I’m certain that his automotive enthusiasm is part of why I’ve been so drawn to the hobby myself. Now if only that 1932 movie ticket could get me into a free film today!