Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating the corner gas station March 14, 2012

THERE’S NOTHING PARTICULARLY appealing about filling up with gas these days. Pull up to a generic convenience store/gas station, pump your own gas and then kiss a sizable wad of your money goodbye.

It wasn’t always that way, though, either in gas prices or service or the cookie-cutter service stations.

Maybe because my Uncle Harold once owned a gas station/garage in my hometown of Vesta, I am drawn to former full-service gas stations, specifically those angled into a street corner. My uncle’s station was neither angled nor on a street—his sat along Minnesota State Highway 19.

Most old-style corner service stations have long closed, although the buildings still exist, either vacant or re-purposed. They possess a nostalgic and architectural charm that spells magic.

Just look at this fine example in Morristown, a town of about 1,000 residents in Rice County, Minnesota, within 10 miles of my Faribault home.

The old corner style gas station and vintage Standard Oil sign on Morristown's main street.

For years I’ve passed by this building, but never once stopped to photograph it. I have recently come to realize that such a plan of inaction, of thinking I’ll photograph a scene when I have more time, is unwise. Waiting equals only regret when a structure is torn down or falls into a rotting heap.

That’s not likely to happen anytime soon at Nordmeier Brothers, in business since 1926. The sturdy brick building with the brilliant blue doors appears, from the exterior, to be structurally-stable. And although the old gas pumps have long been abandoned, Nordmeier still operates a garage and sells used vehicles.

I love how the vintage Standard Oil sign reflects on the windows of the garage late on a sunny afternoon in March. There's a modern Mobil station/convenience store next door.

Old, abandoned gas pumps at Nordmeier.

There’s much to be said for long-standing family businesses like Nordmeier Brothers that have anchored small-town Main Streets and stuck it out through economic difficulties. Not that Morristown is devoid of vacant buildings—it certainly isn’t.

But at least it has this lovely corner gem of a building, a place that hearkens to years past and the memories of full service gas stations and lower, much lower, gas prices.

I'm an appreciator of vintage signs, too. I hope the folks of Morristown value this sign.

It takes awhile to read all the window and door signage, a small-town art form of its own.

You can pick out a vehicle right here at Nordmeier Brothers in downtown Morristown. The business once was a Chevrolet dealer until GM began pulling franchises several years ago.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling