For those who’ve followed this newspaper for quite some time, know that I have written about the tuna sandwiches, milkshakes, hamburgers, and memories I had of Dawley’s Service Station in Arbuckle.
Fond memories were made, and I couldn’t help but shed a tear, or more truthfully, a blubbering sob in the car on Friday after I watched the iconic structure being demolished.
On at the corner of 5th and Eddy St. was once a thriving full-service Chevron station. As a child of the 1990s, you were greeted by Ernie Dawley, the son of the owners, Katherine “Kay” and William “Bill” Dawley; the latter in his white shirt and dark jeans as he greeted everyone with a smile. He was asked to pop the hood to check fluids and to wash your windows. As a child, I used to think Ernie was Elvis, because of his long sideburns. We didn’t frequent Dawley’s for their fuel that often, but we did frequent the delicious food, and the sociability of the small-town diner.
As you walked up to the building, you had to step over the pressure-sensitive hose that rang the bell every-time a car drove up. Or occasionally, just stepping on it just because you wanted to hear the bell ring – and hope to not get a snarl from ‘Elvis.’
There were no tables in this diner, but a wrap-around counter seating about 12 people. As you walked in, Joan Weaver or Brenda McKinney greeted you – no matter how busy they were. Their smiles were welcoming. On the stools sat Charles Manhart and Charles Geyer, and a few other old-time farmers, all ‘gossiping’ and reading the local newspapers – yes, I said newspapers, plural. At the very corner was Nancy Manning, a kind soul who gladly listened to my young stories and ‘gossiped’ with my mom.
In her blue, greased, and ketchup-stained apron, Brenda would take our order. Mom and I would share a bag of fries (extra crispy) and a chocolate milkshake, and on a special treat, we’d have a tuna sandwich on rye and barbecue potato chips. Just thinking about those meals makes me salivate.
Mom would ask Kay her secret to a delicious tuna sandwich. She would give the ingredients, which my mom would attempt to recreate, but the taste was never the same. Kay just chalked it up to her special ingredient: her love.
I watched piece-by-piece, memory-by-memory, Dawley’s loaded into a dumpster. The physical building now is gone, but the memories will remain forever.
Dawley’s closed in about 1997, because of some state regulations with fuel tanks, and before they closed, my mom made sure that we spent some time making more memories.
I observed a lot at Dawley’s. I listened to the farmers talk, complain, and celebrate. I watched the world go by. As I watched our town, ‘our’Buckle, I realized at that moment, that we were a community.
Now retired, Cundi Fernanzez shared her memory with me. She said that Dawley’s was her first experience with a milkshake. Having moved from Spain, she was not accustomed to a ‘milkshake.”
“I thought, why would you want to drink cold milk that has been stirred up,” she said, thinking of its literal translation, but with some coercing, she gave it a try and that milkshake, at Dawley’s, had her hooked.
From this, I realized that Dawley’s was more than just a gas station or more than just a place to get a burger. It was a memory maker.
The building and the old home next-door were demolished to pave the way for a parking lot. I couldn’t help but think that a piece of our community was lost. I don’t disapprove of the demolition. It was time. The building(s) were aged and in disrepair. My only hope is that ‘our’Buckle never looses that hometown feel.
As our community grows, lets not loose those moments, those mom-and-pop shops whose folks know their customers by name – and know their orders by heart; the small business owners who genuinely care about their communities, working deep into the night, and boast pride in their work through blackened eyes because that’s what we, as small business owners, do. There is something special about hometown diners, coffee shops, and stores that cannot be replaced by franchises or big box stores.
I fear for our future when there are no small businesses downtown, the void left empty or filled with franchises or e-commerce that don’t have an investment in our community.
May we remember that our communities are built at the hands of our small business owners, supported by our neighbors, and in return, a future invested upon growth and prosperity. This is just one small business owner’s opinion.
To the Dawley Family: Thank you for the years of service to ‘our’Buckle, and thank you for the memories. ■