Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Gasoline Pump from the Past

by Nancy DeWitt

The first automobiles arrived in Fairbanks in 1908, but it would be another eight years before the first gasoline pump was installed in the town. Until that point, motorists had to buy their gasoline at a hardware store, or, as this ad from a June 1910 issue of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner shows, the local gun store. One could buy gasoline by the case--the Northern Commercial (N.C.) Company charged $5.25 to $6.50/case in 1915, which was about the price of a case of Carnation canned milk. One also had the option of bringing their own bucket to the store and having gasoline ladled into it from a barrel.

On July 10, 1916, the Alaska Citizen described the wonder of the new "gasoline pumping device" that had just been installed at the N.C. Company. "And from the tank from which the gasoline is taken quantities of the fluid ranging from one pint to one gallon can be secured. The pump brings the gasoline from the tank and puts it directly in the gasoline tank of the automobile by the hose. The tank holds 300 gallons. Therefore, all an automobilist needs to do when he wants to secure some gasoline is to drive his machine up, make his wants known and pay his money, turn a crank and watch the machine do the work of filling up the tank of his automobile." The device was likely what is called a curb pump.

In the 1920s, "visible" gas pumps became popular. Gas was hand pumped into a transparent, graduated glass cylinder at the top of the unit, allowing the customer to see the quality and the color of the fuel (dirty gas was a problem then). The desired amount of fuel was then transferred to the customer's tank by gravity. The visible gas pump on display in our Alaska gallery is a Tokheim 620 model from the late 1920s. John J. Tokheim patented a number of gasoline pump devices and is credited with inventing the first known gasoline curb service for automobiles.

This pump came from the historic Miller House at mile 114 of the Steese Highway. Miller House operated as a combination roadhouse, general store and post office from 1896 until 1970. Known for its wonderful food, the roadhouse catered to miners, freighters and stage drivers operating between Fairbanks and Circle on the Yukon River. The trail was upgraded for automobiles in 1927, and that September a Studebaker Big Six touring car driven by Archie Broxon of the Midnight Sun Transportation Company became the first large auto to reach Miller House over the new "Yukon Highway."

Do you remember seeing this pump at the Miller House? We'd love to find a photo of it when it stood there. 

Postscript from Willy: We would also like to thank the volunteers that helped with the restoration project of this historic gas pump. We would have a  hard time getting done the things we do without the help of a group of our "Pit Crew" that comes in every Tuesday to help with projects, so when you see them, give them a big thanks, they deserve it. Ron Allen, Rod Benson, Paul Tekin, Mike Lecorchick, Ed McLaughlin, Terry Whitledge, Johny Newman, and Jerry and Donna Krier for the fuel pump, thanks to them this piece of history stands tall in the museum for all to enjoy.

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