June 17, 2012 – 12:39am
Antique-looking signs advertising Nu-Grape soda and Mead’s Fine Bread decorate the beat-up screen door. A rust-covered tractor is parked beneath the awning, showing its age. The scene creates an impression of having taken a step back in time.
Wayne Rogers, 66, misses the time when a gallon of gas was only 17 cents, an ice-cold Dr Pepper came from a glass bottle and folks with giant smiles would gladly service your car.
Nostalgia, along with his love for building and all things antique, led him to completely re-create the outside of the old New Harmony Gulf gas station on his property.
After years of collecting and months of hard work, the project finally was completed — just in time for his family reunion on May 20. His grand opening for the public was May 26.
“I did it so maybe people could step back and forget the traffic out on the loop and just enjoy it,” Rogers said. “Maybe they’ve never seen stuff like this before.”
Rogers started planning his big project four years ago when he purchased a Gulf visible gas pump as an addition to his various collections. He kept it in his workshop until he found an old photo that sparked his attention.
It was a picture of the original Gulf gas station in New Harmony from the 1920s, when Louie Ferrell owned and operated it. Rogers searched for old artifacts and remnants of Gulf stations for four years to construct an entire re-creation of the original one, calling it the New Harmony Gulf Station No. 2. Not only did he restore the items, he repainted every single one in the signature orange and blue.
“I like to drive around and see stuff like this, so I figured I wasn’t the only one,” he said.
He began constructing the front of the gas station — building onto the storage shed by his home — earlier this year. On May 17, Wayne Rogers hung the last piece of memorabilia to his project — the iconic sign out front — just three days before his goal date.
So far, it has been well received in the community. At his grand opening, Moon Pies and RC Colas were served to the curious crowd who showed up to see what Rogers had been hiding behind his workshop all that time.
To give tribute to the original station, Wesley Ferrell, son of the first station’s owner Louie Ferrell, was asked to cut the ribbon. The Gulf Station No. 1 opened in the late 1920s and closed in 1947.
One of his proudest achievements with the project is his “Wall of Fame” — two swinging windows that are donned with photographs of old New Harmony. A brief description is included with each photo.
Vicki Kruscwitz, who grew up in New Harmony and is a relative of Rogers, served as the historian, collecting photos of people and places from back in the day. In fact, it was in one of her albums that Rogers found the old Gulf station photo.
“It’s history in the pictures,” she said. “I think it shows people what the community was like and allows you to step back in time to get a feel of it. Most people here had grandparents and great-grandparents grow up in New Harmony, so they can see what their family experienced also.”
As a boy, Rogers grew up on a farm south of Fort Worth, where his fascination and love for windmills and tractors began. Since then, he has collections of old engines and farm wrenches, to name a few, which he proudly displays in his station.
“If you have ‘em out for people to see, it’s a collection. If you keep ‘em in boxes, you’re a hoarder,” Rogers said laughingly.
While the majority of his station is completed, Rogers calls it his “continuing project.” He hopes to add to his collection and pour in more history into his vision.
“Somebody told me if I live to be 100 years old, I still won’t be finished. I reckon they’re right,” he said.
Robbie Caldwell, senior pastor of New Harmony Baptist Church, said Rogers can fix or repair just about anything, and for him, this project was not just another example of his handy work but a big contribution to the community as well.
“New Harmony is a community known for this church and the families here,” he said. “It (the station) adds to the history here, and it’s a wonderful thing.”
Rogers’ longtime friend Richard Jester, of New Harmony, said Rogers would call him for help on the project every so often, but most of the construction was done on his own. He also said the people of New Harmony were more than willing to help the effort as well.
“It shows the heritage here. Many people didn’t grow up here, but a lot did. They were a big help to him.”
He has included several items into his station that many people will not see in East Texas. For example, authentic limestone Kansas fence posts line the entrance to the gas station, a collector’s item that took him years to find.
Rogers encourages anyone and everyone to stop by and see his re-creation. He wants people to not only see his hard work but to also see the history and heritage of the New Harmony community from way back when.
“I don’t hunt, I don’t fish, and I don’t chase wild women. This is what I do,” he joked. “At least my wife knows where I am — out of trouble.”