I was five years old, and Dad ruled the world. Mom ran the principality of our home, of course, but the land beyond the driveway was Dads domain. When he left the house each morning in the bright red truck, he was off to add his essential gear to the big machine that made things work. Just a year before wed moved into a new house, our first; I will never forget running in the front door and seeing all that room, all that space. Dad did this. Dad, I learned later, paid cash.
But how did he manage to do that, exactly? House, food, clothes, toys - what exactly made all this stuff possible
Bad aim on the part of a Confederate solider
Charles Newton was a soldier in the GAR. Fought at Gettysburg, took a bullet, laid down and wondered what came next. He laid on the field for seven days before he was found and retrieved. He recovered his strength, and moved away from his Connecticut home, looking for a place to start a farm. He chose North Dakota, where he built a house near Harwood, married a local woman, and raised a family on the prairie.
His daughter Agnes married a local lad, Victor Monson. They farmed the land, had a daughter, Eloise, who had her eye on that poor kid Ralph, from the big unruly Lileks clan. When Ralph came back from the war to marry Eloise, Victor loaned him $500 to get into the fuel oil business. My dad worked night, day, afternoon, dusk, twilight and dawn, and every minute in between.
Then came the road. Interstate 94 was a plumb-straight line through North Dakota, part of the national road building program set forth by Ike. For reasons no one has ever quite figured out, Texaco decided to put a station on the edge of the edge of West Fargo, a town on the edge of Fargo. They offered the place to that promising fellow who worked hard and sold a lot of fuel.
So one day Dad drove Mom and myself out to a part of town where no one lived and nothing was built. You heard the whine of the freeway a dozen yards off; and the wind rustling the dry stalks of the crops across the road.
He pulled over the crest of the road, and there it was: The Station. Dads Station. White and crisp with green and red trim, and his name - our name - over the door. The windows were soaped; the pumps were sheathed with plastic bags. We got out and looked. And listened: above us, soared a great sign, as tall as anything I had ever seen, a mile-high pylon bearing the word of Dads boss, the great distant god TEXACO. It creaked and groaned in the wind. At night, Dad said, this was the first piece of Fargo youd see if you were coming from the east.
Sure, I was impressed, but like I said: Dad ruled the world. This sort of thing was what Dads did.
Let's take a look at the early days of a humble American gas station.