The Clay Zephyr

Raymond Turner
-- by Jordan Turner--

To some, it was probably just another gas station. To me, it was a part of my life, though it had been for only six or seven years. The Clay Zephyr opened in 1970 on South Main Street, one block from the blinking red light of the four-way stop. My Grandfather, Raymond Turner, had been hired to manage it.

For 20 years, it was a big part of his life and ours. He would be up each morning at 5 a.m. to open the station and would be back at 9 p.m. that night to close the station. He never took a vacation of more than a day or two during those years. He lived and breathed the Clay Zephyr. 

When the Clay Zephyr opened, gas was 32 cents a gallon. During the gas wars of the 1970s, gas prices would fall to only 25 cents per gallon. 

My mother, Cindy, remembers pumping gas at the Zephyr when she was only eight years old. By the age of 12, she would run the station by herself, at times. She wasn’t the only one either. Her older brother, Dunie; sister, Lori; and younger brothers, Terry and Robert; also worked there. Just about every teen boy in town had their first job there.

The station consisted of two islands with two pumps on each island. One island was self-service and the other was full service. This was back in a time when gas station attendants would come out and pump your gas, clean your windshield, and check your oil. The days before places like the Seven Eleven stores. The only drinks sold there were in the vending machines outside, and the only food items sold were snacks like prepackaged chips and peanut butter and crackers.

There was no counter and no cash register. The attendants carried a roll of money in their pockets to make change. No separate men and women’s restrooms were available, and there was no air conditioning. All that was inside the building was my grandfather’s desk, a restroom inside and one outside (though, I don’t remember the one outside ever actually working) and a fan. It was an old-fashioned corner gas station.

Driving was about the only fun thing to do on Friday nights and the Zephyr was part of the main drag. I’ve heard that people would drive from there to the Pantry (which also no longer exists) and back again; over and over again.

Reading some comments on Facebook on a picture I posted of my grandfather, many people have some great memories of it as well. One person commented that they would have donuts there while waiting for the school bus. Others have said how they would stop there just to hang out and chat with him.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond his control, my grandfather lost the Zephyr in 1991. Another person was brought in to run it. It stayed open for a few more years, but no one else could keep it alive. It was eventually sold, and a store was opened up in it, which also didn’t last long.

Sometime later, someone set up a taco stand on the property and set up picnic tables where the vending machines and ice used to be. Every time I’d see the building it just looked worse and worse. It was like watching a member of my family die.

I’ve had a few dreams where I’d buy it, fix it up, and reopen it. Now it’s no longer there. When I learned that it had been torn down, I felt like crying. Now if I ever go by that spot when I’m visiting Webster County, I think, “It just doesn’t look right.” As they say, time marches on. But sometimes, I would really enjoy it if time could just stop for a little bit.