A Set of China with Every Fill-Up
March 13, 2014 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Apparently back in those days your grandpa still goes on about when gas was less than a buck a gallon and air was free, service stations also gave away some cool swag.
posted by Oriole Adams (54 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I had the lunar module one. Wish I'd kept it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:44 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

and air was free

A few months ago I was with senior citizen Ma Biscuit at Costco. She had only two items to pick up: some compressed air canisters for computer keyboard cleaning, and some bottled water. I asked, "Did you imagine fifty years ago that someday your grocery list might be AIR & WATER?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:46 AM on March 13 [27 favorites]

I think the American Picker guys have bought all this stuff up. Hopefully their plan is to pack it all in a rocket and launch it toward the sun. I hope to never see another "collectible" oil can on TV ever again.
posted by mullacc at 11:47 AM on March 13

I also had the lunar module one and still have it. It's at my dad's house, hanging from the ceiling in my old bedroom that he's carefully preserved in case I might change my mind about this whole independent living thing and move back home after 34 years.
posted by jamaro at 11:49 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]

Missing from the list, but still kicking around my parents' house: drab brown coffee cups from Shell, and the Esso/Exxon Tiger-embossed Fire King cups.
posted by Rash at 11:49 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

First up, the Hess truck is still around. It never went away.

Second, no list of gas station premiums is complete without Swiss Alpine/Swiss Chalet dishes, which were given away as premiums at gas stations.
posted by pie ninja at 11:51 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]

The other night, I was helping my wife balance her father's accounts and ran across a credit card charge that looked odd. I asked my wife about it and she said that a few weeks ago she was taking him to a doctor's appointment, using his car. She noticed that one of the tires was really low, so she stopped at a convenience store/gas station and used their air machine.

I had no idea that friggin air machines took credit cards now. I'm too damned old.

Oh, and, as a kid, you better believe I had one of those Fire Chief helmets.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:51 AM on March 13

Marathon had, as well as the B.C. stuff (the white bowls were great for soup or cereal!) those drinking glasses for the space missions. They distributed such a tonnage of this stuff that it's still pretty cheap today, if you want to relive your childhood.
posted by in278s at 11:53 AM on March 13

I still see a fair number of stations with free air pumps. In the Pittsburgh area, GetGo has free air.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:53 AM on March 13

I like that tiger tail. Clever, but I bet it got pretty ratty after a few miles. Hess trucks are still a thing, and Sheetz has really nice free air pumps.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:54 AM on March 13

We also had a set of cool Apollo program glasses. I think Marathon handed them out. I think I still have the Apollo 13 one.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:55 AM on March 13

It's absolutely not a premium giveaway, but my in-laws still have a map of New York City they got from an Esso in 1976; you can tell because it's full of proud statements about the bicentennial. When we went to New York on vacation once in 2003, my now father-in-law pulled it out of a drawer to loan it to us with shocking alacrity. I don't think we ever tried using it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:56 AM on March 13

Growing up, my family's full set of steak knives came from the local Shell gas station. It always seemed odd to me for the man at the counter to hand you a pretty nasty looking weapon with your change, always seemed like you could just brandish it back at him and take your money back.

(And yes, we still have those knives in a drawer somewhere, they never did break, making them UNBREAKABLE just like the wrapping suggested. Hmm. Honest advertising too, such a simple age.)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:05 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

When I was a wee sprout I would always ask my dad if he was getting gas when he went out. Didn't want to miss out on adding to my Arco animals collection.
posted by calamari kid at 12:05 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

I had to wait for my great aunt to die before I could dare to pass my Hess truck along to my nephew.
posted by orme at 12:07 PM on March 13

Sunoco football stickers!

I have the Apollo-Soyuz glass from that series, but never knew what exactly it was from.

All people missing their Gulf Lunar Module can find a replacement here and so much more.
posted by lagomorphius at 12:09 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]

I remember when gas was under a buck. Probably the last time I saw it was in 1999. Of course that was due to some odd market conditions around Bakersfield at that time, but it wasn't more than a few years before that when over a buck was a ripoff.

My dad worked for Unocal when I was growing up, so we always had an antenna ball, even when someone swiped the one we had on our car. My dad would grab another one out of the big bowl on the reception desk at his office.
posted by Badgermann at 12:10 PM on March 13

Regarding air pumps, in California they passed a law that says gas stations can't charge you for air or water if you buy gas from them... it's not posted at any station I know of, and they still have the coin boxes, but if you go in and ask they'll turn on the compressor for you. I've never had anyone ask whether or not I actually bought gas from the station.

I used to have a blow-up Sinclair dinosaur... wonder where that is?
posted by Huck500 at 12:12 PM on March 13

I had a Sinclair dinosaur - not the one pictured; mine was a big inflatable one. One of my favorite toys. Also, Hot Wheels!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:12 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Still have an Esso/Exxon Tiger rocks glass (with the "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" slogan in various languages on it) that's been kicking around my family since the 60's. Still use it, too.
posted by KingEdRa at 12:12 PM on March 13

1f2frfbf: "Growing up, my family's full set of steak knives came from the local Shell gas station."

Third prize was "you're fired."
posted by Chrysostom at 12:13 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]

Well, God damn.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:14 PM on March 13

Badgermann: I remember when gas was under a buck. Probably the last time I saw it was in 1999. Of course that was due to some odd market conditions around Bakersfield at that time, but it wasn't more than a few years before that when over a buck was a ripoff.

I paid $0.89/gal once at a sketchy gas station in Somerville, MA in late '98 or early '99. There is a gas station on my way to work that went out of business a couple of years ago and still has signs bearing prices in the low $2.00/gal range. I think there should be a law requiring closed gas stations to remove their pricing signs to keep me from getting depressed on my way to work.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:16 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

It's at my dad's house, hanging from the ceiling in my old bedroom that he's carefully preserved in case I might change my mind about this whole independent living thing and move back home after 34 years.

Jeez, my childhood room hasn't existed for decades. I'd sacrifice the lot of you to Moloch to see it again.

Anyhoo. We got our gas premium steak knives from Getty, they always had dark brown handles that would fall off rust-spotted blades a few years later.
posted by codswallop at 12:17 PM on March 13

Half the glasses in my parents' kitchen came from petrol stations in the UK. There was a time in the 80s when this was quite common.
posted by arcticseal at 12:20 PM on March 13

I still have this Disney album that we got at the Gulf station in New Jersey in 1968.
posted by JanetLand at 12:21 PM on March 13

My grandfather on my mother's side was a Sinclair dealer: I grew up with Sinclair dinos as 'pets'.
posted by pjern at 12:25 PM on March 13

They weren't free, but aside from Hess trucks, my favorite childhood Christmas tradition were the Firestone Christmas records. A sampling:
Vol. 3, 1964
Vol. 4, 1965
Vol. 6, 1967
Vol. 7, 1968
posted by ob1quixote at 12:28 PM on March 13

In the days when (Enco Esso Humble) urged drivers to "Put a Tiger in Your Tank!" Gulf came out with gas with TSR. The inside joke was that TSR was Tiger Shit Remover. I still have some maps I got for free at the Gulf station where I used to work in the late 70s.
posted by Daddy-O at 12:30 PM on March 13

Ha, ob1quixote, my favorite was the Goodyear series! To this day, I think that Mary Martin's voice is hoarse and scratchy, and that her other voice is the wrong one. (Vol. 4)
posted by Melismata at 12:40 PM on March 13

Dang it, I never got any of these cool toys: we had an extensive collection of Flintstones jelly glasses, thank you; and Mom bought gas only at the Mobil station that gave her Green Stamps..... not that I ever got anything from the Green Stamps either: Mom figured those were her stamps from her gas, so she only got dishes or goodies for herself from the stamp catalog.

You people were so privileged.
posted by easily confused at 12:56 PM on March 13

The Esso World Cup Coin Collections made going to petrol station with dad in the Ford Cortina a whole lot of fun.
posted by carter at 1:17 PM on March 13

Whoa. I'd completely forgotten this, but when I was a little, little kid, we had that tiger tail attached to the van's aerial antenna. Dad put it there so the five kids (well, four and me, who was too small to be wandering around alone, so I was always holding someone's hand) could always spot the car from any vantage point, so he and Mom wouldn't have to canvas parking lots for all of us. I can still remember craning my little neck in vain, trying to help an older, taller sibling find it in the lot.

I'm a little surprised that he would place a promotional device so prominently on his property, but it explains why he, who was particular to the point of fussiness, took such satisfaction in watching it get roadbeaten and ragged with wind and grit and smog.
posted by Elsa at 1:35 PM on March 13

My Marathon B.C. mug made it all the way to 2009 and Kuwait, where someone (not me) knocked it off a counter and killed it. Sad day.
posted by ambient2 at 1:44 PM on March 13

Great. I still have a Marathon BC glass and a Sinclair dinosaur floating around somewhere. The Gulf Horseshoes were one of things I had totally forgot existed and wasn't even sure what they were when they were knocking around the house when I was a little kid.
posted by marxchivist at 1:47 PM on March 13

I remember getting this at a Gulf station too.
posted by marxchivist at 1:48 PM on March 13

I'm sorry, apparently I'm into gas station collectibles a lot more than I realized. I have the greatest map of the USA ever made framed and hanging on my wall. It was distributed by Humble Oil (precursor to Exxon) and features little oil-drop head guy.
posted by marxchivist at 1:52 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]

My first full set of encyclopedias came from the grocery store.

Also buy your oats and get the bowl for free
posted by stltony at 2:02 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

In high school I drove a car with a Union 76 ball on the antenna. I still have a 76 ball, in a tin of other items, sitting on a shelf in my home office. Tin holds sewing thread and needles too, so I see the ball every time I go looking to replace a button or repair a small tear in something.

I have a Shell Richard Nixon coin in the drawer of my bedside table. (Last name is Nixon, which is probably why I kept it.)
posted by caution live frogs at 2:06 PM on March 13

I remember the inflatable Sinclair dinosaurs. I wanted on So. BAD. Didn't get one, though. :(
posted by Archer25 at 2:06 PM on March 13

You people were so privileged.

Well, the dinosaur was because my dad bought a tank of gas, but the hot wheels were me buying my own gas.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:24 PM on March 13

We had so many of these - all of our dishes (tan with brown edges), various glasses (most memorably Canadian wildlife ones where the back scene went higher than the front so your milk looked like the ocean or a stretch of snow), transformers, screw-drivers, and the very best - a whole Playmobile gas station. I have no idea how we got that, especially since my dad worked at a rival gas company, but that was one of my favourite toys growing up. I hope my mom kept it (she kept everything so I assume I can get it back and have a couple years to play with it before I have to share).
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:52 PM on March 13

"The Bentley plunged on through the darkness, its fuel gauge pointing to zero. It had pointed to zero for more than sixty years now. It wasn't all bad, being a demon. You didn't have to buy petrol, for one thing. The only time Crowley had bought petrol was once in 1967, to get the free James Bond bullet-hole-in-the-windscreen transfers, which he rather fancied at the time."

from Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
posted by poe at 5:12 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]

Whoa. I'd completely forgotten this, but when I was a little, little kid, we had that tiger tail attached to the van's aerial antenna.

I only ever saw them attached to aerials -- never to a gas tank.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:42 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Marxchivist, that is one sweet map.

Loved the dinos, always seemed to put a hole in them within a week, though.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:08 PM on March 13

My brother, sister, and I all had the Fire Chief hats. It was cool with the microphone/loudspeaker thing, but a little too clunky to play in for any length of time.

I'm pretty sure my mom still has juice glasses from some gas station giveaway. (Of course, last time I checked her spice cabinet, I found some tins dating back to the 1960s, so that's not a big surprise.)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:09 PM on March 13

I wish they still gave out antenna toppers. I want one for my minivan -- it gets lost in the herd at Costco -- but all the ones I see for sale are for sports teams I don't care about, or are Disney-themed.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:46 PM on March 13

The Arco ark -- when I was 5 my 'best' friend down the street had it with all the animals. I woulda killed her for it, if I thought I could get away with it.

Some things lose their magic as one gets older.
posted by allthinky at 8:07 PM on March 13

Harold's Super Service - Merle Haggard - 1970
♬ Now me, I work at Harold’s Super Service
We specialize in service all the way
And there’s only one thing that really bugs me
This big ole boy in his stripped down Model A

At Harold’s Super Service we do grease jobs
We fix thirty...forty flats every day
And just about the time we get real busy
Here comes that guy in his stripped down Model A

He says, “ Gimme 50 cents worth of regular
Check, my oil too, if you don’t mind
Put some air in my tires, won’t you mister
Clean my windows too, if you have time”
posted by dougzilla at 12:03 AM on March 14

It's funny how some things (gas stations, train lines, banks) used to be supercompetitive with one another, but now they're all the same because they all figured out what people need in the same way.

It's sad, though, how gas stations have deteriorated from a great service (e.g., the scene in Back to the Future) with cool gimmick toys to these creepy, understaffed places with stale twinkies.
posted by Melismata at 9:53 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

To continue slightly on the low gas prices derail, the lowest I remember was 86 cents. It was my summer job to check all the local station's prices and then adjust my parent's station accordingly to match. I then went out with this twenty foot pole with a suction cup at the end to change the numbers on our sign.
That whole summer we never went above 99 cents and I remember thinking that the dollar sign would never, ever, need to be changed from 0.
We never gave away anything interesting, but I do have a Sinclair dinosaur at home.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:30 PM on March 14

In the UK, late 80s and early 90s, you could collect Esso Tiger Tokens, my parents used theirs for some best of the 80s cassette tapes. I sometimes struggle with childhood memories but can still remember car journeys with Walk Like an Egyptian, Joe le Taxi, Bat Out of Hell...
posted by ellieBOA at 2:02 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]

We never really had petrol station give always of any note, but I remember our local chemist (pharmacist/drug store) offering a free radio Walkman when I was about 9 if you processed your camera films there. I wanted it so bad, but my cousin, whose father took lots of photos of birds got one, and let the record show I did not.
Looking back, it must have been at the pivot when films started to be processed by central laboratories, although I think the place offering the free radio must have been out sourcing film processing for years. I remember thinking the film processing cost for 24 prints was about $15, and the retail price of a Walkman radio was definitely $10+.
I just needed to convince my parents that this was the place to go, but I am fairly sure they chose the $2 cheaper place down the road nearly every time.
Actually, I am pretty sure the reason it burns with such pain is because not only did my parents think it a pointless extravagance (there is a radio in the kitchen if you want to listen to the radio!) but they may have gifted the freebie to my cousin thanks to a set of circumstances where he happened to get a bunch of grazes due to our exceedingly adventurous billy cart riding being just minutes before they left to lodge a film for processing.
In any case, I now raise my own children with a complete blasé ignorance of who is next in getting the supermarket collector cards etc. I figure, my studied ambivalence will end up building resilience...or possibly a personality disorder.
posted by bystander at 4:32 AM on March 16

And for low petrol prices! We paid a lot of tax on petrol, and the Aussie dollar was often low, so we never got the US style cheap prices. But I do remember paying 44c a liter, about $1.70 a gallon, and certainly 60c was a regular price most of my teenage years. Sadly, when I started to pay, it crept over a dollar. And now, $1.50 is the norm. I am super glad not to pay European level taxes, though.
Though to be truthful, it would incent better environmentalism so I would probably class it a win!
posted by bystander at 4:38 AM on March 16

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