If only it could talk…
I saw some pictures of the new gas station in Virginia City, MT the other
day. It is beautifully done and historically mostly accurate… a great job,
all in all, very well done.
How could this news possibly matter to anyone outside of a resident of V.C.
who is low on gas? Well, it happens to matter to me, who was a resident of
V.C. for a long time… and was usually low on gas during my teenage years
there. But that’s not the reason it matters to me. No, it matters because the
pics of the new Village Pump let loose a series of memories that shot my
brain into that rare place where you’re about to either laugh or cry, and have no idea which it will be. Almost laugh? I took a full keg of beer from my parents’ bar and thought they wouldn’t notice. Almost cry? I fell in love that summer. Twice.
You see, the Village Pump was a central player in one of the most magical
summers I had as a young man. I graduated in ’62, and worked for the
Forest Service that summer. Next summer I worked in an open pit mine
outside Sheridan with my dad and Lloyd Brook. Then came the summer of
’64, I believe. (It was a long time ago, you know? Things can get a touch
foggy after that length of time…) The Village Pump needed someone to run
it and manage it that summer, and, having found mining to be body-building but mind-numbing, I got the job.
I was 21, getting ready to go back east to music school, and the gas station
job was perfect for me. The hours were 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the job
description was to man the pumps, which back then included a window
wash, check the oil, radiator water, and the tire pressure. Regular was 38
cents a gallon, Ethyl (premium to you young ‘runs) was $.41. Imagine that!
When there were no customers at the pumps, I was charged with polishing
the brass on all the old cars that sat quietly in the adjoining Carriage House.
There were about 12 old cars in there… everything from a 1908 Buick to a
1912 Cadillac to a to an old Ford Towncar to a ’31 Bugatti, which I absolutely
loved! Most of the brass was on the headlights and radiators, easy to clean
and maintain… the perfect job for that particular time in my life.
On slow days Jody Williams, who lived across the street from the Village
Pump, would walk over and play cards with me for nickels. I had a
small radio that picked up a Butte am station, and an electric coffee pot…
I was set! Joe Glosson would walk up from the playhouse where he worked
that summer, and we would listen to Barbra Streisand sing “People”
and talk about how we were going to change the world. Oh, and who were
the hot-looking waitri (our plural for waitresses) down at The Farg – the
Wells Fargo Coffee House. If Joe Glosson reads this by chance, I dare him
not to smile when he reads “waitri at the Farg! Ah, that’s another long story.
Many crazy and wonderful things happened in Virginia City that summer,
not the least of which it snowed 6 inches August 17th. This pic was
of two Fords, the old and the new, and me, the station manager. The Mustang was brand new, belonged to my Uncle Stan, who was visiting us from Shelton, Washington and let me have it for the day. That Model T ran pretty well, and when I wasn’t busy I’d try to con the young women in town into a ride in it. I can hear it now… “I just had a ride in that Model T with Steve Hulse!”
“Really! How was it?”
“Well, Steve was kind of strange, but the old car was really fun!”
As I mentioned, there were many “happenings” in V.C. that summer, too
many to mention here, but we have to at least tip our hat to a few of them…
Ford Bovey pulling some bed springs chained to his Jeep, up the main street
in the morning with 3 or 4 girls riding on the springs, sparks flying. Then there was Art York, the bartender at the Bale that summer, who rolled his brand new pickup on the curve in front of the Opera House, having just picked it up in Butte and gotten sloshed at Chick’s on the way home. I think it was July 10th. Highway Patrol pulls up with Art’s new truck upside down and steaming.
“What happened here, Art?”
Art paused. Finally, “Black ice.”
The officer had to smile. “Jesus, Art, it’s the middle of July!”
The Village Pump was there the summer afternoon I was about 12, and got
into a fight with some tourist kid who called my bike “stupid-looking.” It was a good fight, his parents finally pulled him off me and Ricky and I rode our “stupid-looking” bikes up to the bathrooms behind the Village Pump to get my nose to stop bleeding and get me cleaned up a bit.
The Village Pump was there when I broke my promise to not sell any of the old Model T parts that were in the garage there. One afternoon I broke down and sold a model T starter to a tourist who begged and begged me, and I finally sold one to him for $75. My conscience ( a slippery, devious and small brain particle back then) told me it was okay, that there were still six or seven more upstairs in a box. No one ever found out. Until now.
There was also the big Elk Fry that summer, when Dave poached an Elk
and we had a kegger and a huge Elk fry up at the Easton Mine one night
after the play let out. Many interesting things developed that evening. And
of course there was the night when Dennis Olsen stumbled out of my folks’
bar and fell down on the sidewalk… totally out of it. when we discovered him out there later, he was sleeping blissfully, his glasses on the sidewalk beside his head, broken, and a big stream of pee wending its way down the sidewalk from his pants. Poor Olsen. Later that summer The Frogman threw Olsen through the Coffee House window, but he survived that, too.
But I guess my favorite memory of that summer has to be of the morning
I was almost late for work. I had spent the night down in the trailer court
with Judy, and had slept in. Seeing the clock next to her bed read 5:55 and
thinking, naively, that R.J., my “boss” might be checking on me, I threw on
my work clothes, grabbed my boots and socks and ran out of Judy’s
trailer and right up Main Street at six in the morning. I was a touch late, but
no one knew, and of course it couldn’t have mattered less. But being
something of a dumb shit back then, I didn’t know. Anyway, the next evening after work I was down at the Farg, checking out the waitri, when Gene Hanni, a local, sat down beside me at the counter. “So, young Hulse,” he began, a slightly evil smile beginning to form on his lips, “I saw the damndest thing out on the street yesterday morning, something I still can’t quite believe I actually might have seen.”
“Really, Gene,” i replied, sipping my hot tea, knowing exactly where this
“Yessir. I’m not sure I saw it, but I’m pretty sure. It was really something…”
“Well, what was it?”
“You’re not going to believe it when I tell you! I thought I saw you running
right up the middle of the street yesterday morning, bare feet, shirt hanging
out… that couldn’t have been you, could it??” The smile was bigger now.
I sipped my tea. He was having way too much fun. “I think I was home
that morning, Gene.”
“Heh heh. You were running up the middle of the street like a scared-ass
rabbit, Stevie! Are you telling me that wasn’t you? And does Mama Hulse
know about this?”
I finally smiled back at him. “No, Gene. No and no, in that order.”
These two pics are 53 years apart. Time has taken its toll on both the old
Village Pump and me. But we’re both still here, heads high. I do think,
however, that I’ll try to find the contractor who re-did our dear old Village
Pump and ask him if he can do the same for me! I would love to run up
Main Street bare foot, to my job at the Village Pump, one more time!