GROWING UP IN RAMSEUR: Ramseur Service Stations of the ’60s and ’70s

The next time you drive down US 64 toward Siler or Asheboro, think about how that road was originally built. Here’s a pic probably from the 20s (maybe earlier) showing the men that started it all. There is no power equipment, only teams of mules. The stone for the road was mined in a quarry owned by Vulcan Materials just off Foushee Road in Ramseur. Stone for the courthouse in Siler City was also mined from that quarry, then it was closed down and a new quarry opened off of Lee Layne Road east of Ramseur.

Picture Courtesy of The Ramseur Page and Gregg Pell

The highway gave Ramseur statewide recognition. While the coming of the railroad gave Ramseur a window to the outside world, US 64 put us on the map. Thousands of travelers came through each year heading east to Raleigh or west to Charlotte. Before the age of the interstate highway system, US64 was a major highway going all the way from Matino on the Outer Banks to Teec Nos Pas, AZ, a total of 2326 miles. Because of its importance, US64 was designated a Blue Star Highway in honor of the men and women who served in World War II.  Ramseur was the quintessential “one-stoplight town” back in the ’60s.  Stately homes lined the two-lane highway in and out of town and the three-story Ramseur School in the center of town made for a picturesque stopping place. Ramseur was a great spot to fill up with gas, grab a soda, and rest a bit before continuing on to eastern NC. For this reason, Ramseur had an abundance of Service Stations. No fewer than 8 stations lined the highway in a stretch of just under two miles. 

If you were going east, the first station you encountered after you crossed the Deep River Bridge was the Amoco Station. This station was owned by Tracy Brady and was a popular hangout for car enthusiasts. The station had three work bays in the front and a wash pit and tune-up bay in the rear for a total of five bays. This was a service station that could handle all sorts of automobile repairs. They also sold tires and had a wrecker service. Tracy eventually retired and rented out the business during the ‘70s. Roger Brown took over in 1976 and ran the business until 1979 when US 64 was widened to a four-lane and the building was torn down. 

A little further down the road, across where NC22 branched off toward Franklinville was the Service Distributor Inc. This station was a stopping point for late-night revelers because it stayed open 24/7. The station had vending machines that sold “hot” sandwiches and snacks. If you were hungry after a night on the town and did not want to drive another 5 miles to Blue Mist, the SDI was your best and only option.

If you took a left onto NC22 toward Franklinville, immediately on the right was the old Hunter Brady ESSO there was a small cafe that sold cold beer, a dam on the creek behind the station, and Cabins for rent. The building was purchased in 1960 by Sam Rankin and Ramseur Interlock was moved to the location. The cabins were sold off and an addition was added to the building. The old service station became the offices for the new manufacturing operation. 

Picture from the 1959-60 “Finer Carolina” scrapbook courtesy of the Ramseur Community Museum… Taken from the “Ramseur Page”

Another couple hundred yards down the road where NC22 veered to the right toward Coleridge was the Shell Station. It was originally owned by Wosley Marley, then later sold to Page Craven, Dick Reed, and Charlie Williams who sold out to Grady Lawson., who operated the station for almost two decades. The Shell station was where the Esso Tank and Tummy is today.  They were a full-service station and sold tires, did oil changes and mechanic work, installed breaks and did tune-ups, or most anything else that was auto-related. The Shell station was always a popular place for the locals.  The original Shell Station was a large stucco building with a tile roof.  There were two pumping islands, one facing US64 and one facing NC22. I don’t remember ever stopping in there when there were not several guys sitting on the wooden stools in the store or on top of their car hoods parked next to the drink machines on the side of the building.  Grady also ran a wrecker service.  He is credited with pulling many a teenage boy out of a ditch when they were on their way home late at night. Grady said he was glad that it was a simple tow job and not a wreck.  In my case, Grady pulled me out of several tough places, including a couple of wrecks. He was always there when you needed him. He closed the station so he could concentrate on the NAPA store on Main Street downtown Ramseur. After he “retired”,  Grady spent his time supporting and fundraising for Eastern Randolph Athletics and Legion Baseball.   Most people remember Grady standing out in the cold and rain, selling Christmas Trees right after Thanksgiving to raise money for Eastern.

Picture from the 1959-60 “Finer Carolina” scrapbook courtesy of the Ramseur Community Museum… Taken from the “Ramseur Page”
Getting service at Grady Lawson’s Ramseur Shell.  Photo Courtesy of Gina Lawson Young.

In the fall of 1961, US 64 was widened to 4 lanes from NC 49 on the east side of town to NC 22 on the west side. Curb and gutter and storm drains were also a part of the project.

Right beside the Shell Station was an ESSO. It was located directly behind Loflin Funeral Home, where the BB&T Bank once stood.  It was operated by Cleo Cain.

The picture above is looking west, shot from near where The Shortstop is located today. You can see where the Esso station was and the original Shell station. In the background, you can see the town’s original water tank located on the McAlister property.

Picture Courtesy of The Ramseur Page

You did not have to travel much further down Hwy 64 until you came to the Crown Station.  It was on the corner of Moffitt Street and across from Hayes Variety Store. The Crown station was owned by Julian Brady, who ran the store into the early 70s. The building later became Pat & Al’s  Diner and then Sherry’s. Today the lot is home to Edmonds Motors.  The Crown station did not do major auto repair but was a popular place for the locals to visit.   

Just one block further down the road was the iconic Gulf Station. I have many fond memories of this place while I was growing up in Ramseur. Claude Hardin and Tate Kirkman started out at a Texaco station that was located near the old Coble Dairy on 64.  They purchased the Gulf Station on the corner of Liberty Street across from the Ramseur School in the late ’60s from Howard Wright, and the rest is Ramseur history.   

The H&K Gulf Station was the place to go if you were a teenager from Ramseur in the late 60’and early 70’s.  Claud Hardin and Tate Kirkman had to be very tolerant for putting up with the dozens of young people and cars that converged on the small station on weekends.   Their location across from the Ramseur School made for an ideal stopping place for a lot of kids on their way to school and when they got out.  There was always a cabinet full of tootsie rolls, mellow cups, chewing gum and jawbreakers, and a variety of cakes and snacks to choose from.  Cigarettes were 25 cents a pack and drinks from the Coke machine outside were 15 cents.  It was” the” place to meet up on weekends before heading out to Liberty Drive-In or some other hangout.   On Sundays when the station was closed, the horseshoe pit in the back of the lot was busy.  Boys would sit on top of their cars listening to the latest soundtrack and looking for girls that sometimes circled the block.  The only stoplight in town was on the corner, and a perfect place to be seen.  Once when Claude and Tate found a bunch of trash in their parking lot on Monday morning when they opened the station, they stopped everyone from hanging out there… That lasted for about a week.  After that, everyone made sure the parking lot was clean and all trash was picked up. Tate and Claude operated a full-service station. They sold tires and did just about everything you would expect from a full-service station.  When a car pulled over the cable that rang a bell, someone would come out and pump your gas for you.  If you wanted your windshield washed or tires checked, they would do that too. Gas was 32 cents a gallon in 1969 and you could drive clear to Myrtle Beach on $5.00.  The Gulf changed hands several times after Claude and Tate retired.  It was sold to Hal Leonard who ran it from 76 -79, then Albert Burr who sold it to Don Owens in 81, and then to Roger Brown and Jerry Wolf who operated it for a couple of years until it was sold to Gene Coley… then back to Roger and then it was demolished. Now the space is occupied by BP and McDonalds. 

Picture Courtesy Nick Siler

Back in the 1950s, Paul Smith operated a Pure Gas Station where the car wash is now on Hwy 64. In 1958 he converted it into Paul’s Bar B Que and Grill. It closed a couple of years later.  Howard Brady opened his Oil Company and Gas Station next door where Allen Insurance is today.  While Howard’s was not the “hang out” that some of the other stations were, the customers always received a friendly welcome.  Their main business was heating oil, but you still got full service when you drove up for gas. 

Picture Courtesy of The Ramseur Page
Photo Courtesy of Chris Brady.

A Texaco station was located beside where Domino’s is now and just west of the old Coble Dairy site. The business was originally owned by Ed York, who had a Texaco distributorship on Watkins Street  The business was operated briefly by Claude Hardin and Tate Kirkman for a while, then sold to Carl Cross around 1971 and later became known as Lee’s Texaco.  Roger Brown and Jerry Wolfe operated it from ‘82 thru’83.

There were at least three more service stations along US 64 going East before you got to Siler City.  One was owned by another Brady from Ramseur.  Bill Brady built a station at the intersection of Lee Lane Road and US64, where the Citco is now.  He operated the station and a small grocery there for several years.  It had two pool tables and was also popular with the locals.  The station was later sold to Red Hurley before it became a Citco station.  

 Going west, past the Deep River bridge, there was a Sinclair station just down from the intersection of Pleasants Grove Church Road, and at least four more before you got into Asheboro.  Automobiles did not get the gas mileage that they do today, but gas was cheap, and there were many stations to choose from.   Highway 64 was North Carolina’s “Route 66” and Ramseur was right in the middle.