Collectors dismantling prefab Delaware gas station from 1920s to preserve it

By Dean Narciso  The Columbus Dispatch –  Jan 29, 2018

DELAWARE — The gazebo-shaped structure always seemed a bit of an outcast compared with the other buildings nearby: the towering grain elevator, the train depot and assorted bars east of town.

And that’s what made this charming spot at East Central Avenue and Lake Street so special.

After its heyday in the 1960s as a gas station, the building had been used as a produce stand, sandwich shop, salvage-yard storage site and makeshift home for vagrants. Thousands of cars pass by daily, with many a driver taking a curious glance, while others recall a childhood memory.

“I used to take my bike tires over there to get them filled,” said Charles Ladd, 62, who grew up near the station.

The era will soon end. Sheet metal and steel beams from the octagonal steel, red-roofed building are being dismantled, one wrench turn at a time. To those who love history and preservation, that’s a lot better than the alternative of bulldozer and demolition.

“I’m going to miss it,” Ladd said.

Lee Hoover and Ben Eckart, out-of-state collectors of automobile and gas station memorabilia, saw that the old station was for sale on Craigslist. The longtime station dates to the 1920s, when car prices were dropping and demand for services was soaring. Prefabricated filling stations were popping up all over the country.

The property’s most recent owner, from northern Ohio, wanted to sell the building and a rectangular garage shop beside it for about $15,000 to clear the way for new development. But when an offer fell through, Hoover, of Marceline, Missouri, and Eckart, of Manhattan, Kansas, were told they could have the buildings for free — if they hauled them away.

 “It’s our love for the history and our love for not seeing things disappear,” said Hoover, a retired electrical engineer. “Ben was losing sleep over it.”

So the two rented a large truck and, since Wednesday, have been filling it with the remains of the building that will one day have a new life.

Hoover will add the garage, known as a lubritorium, to his collection back home, and maybe park his restored 1954 Willys Jeep inside. Eckart will reconstruct the octagon station and feature it on his website, .

Early stations were mass-produced and easy to assemble. They had small waiting areas with vending machines and restrooms. Linco, owned by the Ohio Oil Co., was the station’s first operator.

A local motorcycle cop, Lewis Coover, earned the nickname “Linco Lewie” for hanging out there to nab bootleggers and other petty criminals, said Donald Bargdill, whose father owned the property from 1970 to 2011.

Marathon and Comet stations followed.

“I wish they would have refurbished it,” Bargdill said, noting that it was too small for a modern restaurant. “But I’m glad it’s going to a new home and they’re not going to destroy it.”