Mr. Hickey


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The Great Depression deepened and times were tough. I had to run after fuel trucks in order to get gas for the station. Gas was selling for 9.9 cents a gallon. I was selling Tydol and had a nice salesman who called on me about every two weeks. We got to be pretty chummy. Mine was just a small station, just four portable gas tanks: one high-test and three regular. The gas was usually delivered 500 gallon at one time. My pumps could only hold 150 regular and 50 high- test, and I had no storage tank to store the rest of the gas. I always seemed to run short of gas. I spoke to the salesman and he said he would look into it.

Later the salesman told me that he could install a 1,000-gallon gas tank in the rear of the building and a five-gallon pump in the garage to fill my portable tanks. This would give me enough gas to fill the portables and have enough left over while waiting for the refill. My landlord gave his approval for the new tank, and it was done with no charge to me. I thought that was great.

When Michael was born, I celebrated with several bottles of homemade wine, two bottles of liquor, and some food and sandwiches. I invited all my customers into the station that week. My Tydol salesman had a ball. My battery salesman was also very good to me. He even brought baby Michael a beautiful carriage blanket that we had for years.

It was not allowed to make any repairs on the street, other than changing tires or batteries. You could not tie up a car on the street overnight. The back room in the station was just what I needed to use for repair work, but it was two feet above the street level. I decided that what I needed to do was cut a large opening in the curb, build a ramp up to the back room, and close off the room with a sliding door. The idea was to drive a car into the back room, close the door, and work at your leisure. The remodeling would require a permit from the city and an OK from the fire department. But they would never allow it because it was too much of a fire hazard. It was lucky that I got to install the extra gas tank.

My landlord had quite a lot of political pull, and he had helped me get the extra gas tank installed, but this was different. He suggested that I contact Mr. Hickey, who lived on 9th Street and was an elected county committeeman. Mr. Hickey looked like Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Kind face, soft spoken, and understanding. I had sold him gas and had spoken to him briefly on several occasions. One day he came by with some time on his hands, and stopped to talk and chat. I told him how I wanted to convert the back room into a repair shop, and he thought it was a good idea. But he said that I would have to get a building permit from the city, and that was impossible.

However, if I really wanted to do the job, he said that I would have to do it at night or on the weekend. He suggested that I line up my carpenter and get any material I needed for building the ramp, and to let him know how long it would take to do the job. He said not to do anything until he said it was OK.

A few days later he gave his OK, and the two carpenters cut the opening in the back room and built two hinged doors with locks on the inside. They also built a semi-permanent ramp, which I could either leave on the street, or move inside to avoid any hazards. I always carried it inside to avoid any trouble. The whole thing worked out fine. We used a Chevy as a test run and it worked out fine. The only problem was that the floorboards were incapable of handling anything much heavier than a Chevy. But that was OK, because I only used the new room for a few repair jobs, and then gradually converted it into storage space.

Mr. Hickey and I became good friends. I worked on his car a few times and tried not to charge him, but he wouldn't allow it. After a while it became almost a daily ritual for him to come by, sit in a chair, and chat to his heart's content. He is one nice old man, whom I will never forget. It is nice to be remembered.