Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

May 7, 2012

Discussion about Pure Oil versus Union 76 leads to understanding

— In a hurry-up, rush-rush world, it’s often refreshing to step back in time and remember a simpler time when the world operated at a slower pace and everyone took time to savor life. As I was rushing around early last week, I stopped to visit my friend, Ed Shepard who has operated the old Union 76 service station at the corner of Wyoming and McDowell streets in Welch for more than 60 years. When I set foot in the office, I was in a hurry, but when I left, I had nothing but time on my hands.

Ed was a member of Edson’s Raiders — the 1st U.S. Marine Corps Raider Battalion — and survived the battles of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, New Britain, Peleliu and Okinawa. He survived the war, and returned home to serve his community — Welch. He worked for a couple of years at the service station that he would later own, and during the three-score years that followed, he has stood his post while the world around him changed.

When he first came to the station, it was a Pure Oil station. He saw management people during the time the station was leased to Pure, but when the company name changed from Pure to Union 76, his contact with company management people ceased. Ed Shepard doesn’t have gasoline for sale in his service station these days, but he has something much more valuable. He has memories of a life spent in service.

“By the time I was 21, I had seen more of the world than most people will see in a lifetime,” Ed said. He didn’t need to say anything more.

On Sunday afternoons when I was a teenager, I took my bicycle to the concrete slabs of I-70 as highway construction crews were in the process of building that highway through southwestern Pennsylvania. At first, I could only ride my bike a few hundred yards, but in time, I could ride as far as a mile all the way down to what would become known as “Radar Hollow,” after the interstate opened.

There was a little Gulf station outside of town that was owned by a man named Essie. He had two stations, the one at the Claysville, Pa., exit and another on U.S. Route 40, closer to Little Washington. After I got my driver’s license, I used to buy my gasoline at Essie’s Gulf. My dad had a rule that if I used the car, I had to put gas in it before I came back home. I admit that sometimes I returned pop bottles in exchange for gas at Essie’s Gulf, but I observed my dad’s rules.

At some point when I was still in high school, the station changed hands and became affiliated with the Pure Oil station in Rooney’s Point, W.Va. I was familiar with that station from a time when I was very young. My dad had stopped there to ask for directions to a farm near there, and while he was talking to a fellow, I dropped a couple of nickels into a slot machine near the door. I don’t know what amazed me most about that moment — whether I learned that there was a slot machine in West Virginia or that a 10-year-old kid could play it. I didn’t win, and I never put money in a slot machine again.

After I was unsuccessful in my first stab at college, the first full-time, non-farm work job I landed was as a pump jockey at the Pure Oil truck stop near my home in Claysville, Pa. I started out on the afternoon shift, and after I got the hang of it, I was pushed back to the hoot owl shift. In no time at all, the sounds of diesel engines idling, pinball machines rattling and ringing and air brakes being set served as the soundtrack of my life. The world I knew under the red firebird in the Pure Oil sign would soon change to the orange Union 76 ball. It was that sign that guided my tractor-trailer from city to city when I started driving a truck.

During my tenure as a pump jockey at Exit Two Truck Stop, I kept myself occupied through long winter, spring, summer and fall nights by imagining myself as the world’s greatest pump jockey. I made sure the ladder was sturdy when I climbed up to clean the windshields, and I always tried to clean the side glass and West Coast mirrors as good as I could. I even cleaned the bugs off the headlights to earn myself a spot on the pump jockey Olympic team.

But as I sat in Ed Shepard’s station, enjoying his stories ... every one of his stories ... I realized that no one could ever equal his personal commitment to serving his nation, his community and for following through on that commitment throughout all of those years.

As we sat there talking, a smile crossed my face and stayed there. I smiled because I knew in my heart that I was in the presence of someone who had done the work I wanted to do, and had done it well for more than six decades. Back in the 1960s, I understood that kind of a commitment, but I thought it would be impossible to achieve. But that was before I got a chance to talk with — really talk with — Ed Shepard.

Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at


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