Saturday, March 02, 2024

Burton's Service Station, Rogersville, Tennessee: Memories & a Couple of Funny Stories (published 3-2-2024; article #458)

Image shared, on 2/26/2024, by a member of the Facebook group “Hawkins Conversations and Stories.” An unknown photographer took the original black and white photograph, probably in the 1960s. The view looks northwest. To the left and behind the photographer is East Main Street, Rogersville, TN. To his or her right is Highway 70. The gasoline pumps are not visible.


On this second day of meteorological spring, we know the news -- local, state, national, and international. It's disheartening. Let's step back, into a simpler time. Let's remember and be encouraged!

This article -- the 29th entry, under the “Appalachia - northeast Tennessee” topic section, and the 101st, under the “heritage” section -- remembers Burton's Service Station, in my hometown. Mr. and Mrs. Burton are remembered and honored. I'll share memories, of their service station, from childhood to young adult. I'll even tell a couple of funny stories.

The inspiration for this article came from The Rogersville Review, Midweek edition, 2/21/2024. My wife and I received the newspaper, by mail, late last week. It includes Mrs. Frances Lea Burton's obituary.

Memories: Mr. and Mrs. Burton

The 1960s and 1970s were a simpler time, at least for a boy, growing up, in northeast Tennessee. Burton's Service Station is an example, of those simpler times. Joe and Frances Burton, husband and wife, owned and operated Burton's Service Station, for 35 years.

The online obituary, for Mrs. Burton, who passed away recently, is found at Frances Lea Burton (8/5/1926 - 2/15/2024, age 97), Broome Funeral Home, Inc. (Broome Funeral Home served us, when Mom and Dad passed, in December of 2000 and January of 2008.) I remember Mrs. Burton as a congenial, southern lady, who always had a pleasant smile and a kind word. Her bright eyes even seemed to smile.

I couldn't recall when Mr. Burton passed. I knew that it was several years ago. Having found his online obituary, at James Joe Burton (11/7/1918 - 3/27/2000, age 81), Find a Grave, I realized that Mr. Burton had passed, while Mom was still in the hospital. Dad and I must have talked about Mr. Burton's passing, but I don't recall the conversation. From his obituary, I learned that Mr. Burton had volunteered for the army, in June of 1940. As a first sergeant, during World War II, he served five years, in Europe. I remember Mr. Burton as a mild mannered and honest businessman. He was good-natured and friendly. He would help you, in any way that he could.

The obituaries, for Mr. and Mrs. Burton, indicate that they were Christians. Their legacies include their store and, most importantly, their Christian lives. This article honors their legacies.

Memories: Burton's Service Station

Burton's Service Station, in Rogersville, Tennessee, was a few yards northwest of the junction, where East Main Street meets Highway 70. The building, renovated with several changes, is still standing. The triangular junction, near the store, has a small, grassy area, where folks can still picnic. As a child, Mom and Dad took us boys there, for many a picnic. We could walk, across Highway 70, to Burton's Service Station.

Other family and I were with Dad, several times, when he'd stop at Burton's Service Station. Sometimes, it was just to fill up the car or truck, with Gulf gasoline. Pulling up to one of the two or three pumps crossed a black hose that triggered a ding, so the attendant could know that someone wanted fuel. The pump would ding and flip up the number, for each gallon that the attendant pumped. A gallon of gasoline cost a few cents on the dollar, back then. The attendant or even Joe Burton himself would check the tire pressure, the oil level, and clean the windshield. In later years, you'd pump your own gasoline, notice how many gallons you'd pumped, go inside, and tell Mr. Burton or his wife how many gallons you were buying.

As a child, going into the store, through either of the two front entrance doors, was an adventure! The hardwood floor creaked, in a few places. I liked to watch Joe Burton or his wife ring up Dad's purchases, on the manual cash register. The numbers clicked up, from somewhere inside the machine! The register drawer opened and closed, with a distinct ringing sound.

Between the two front entrance doors were the coolers, with lids that opened from the top. They were filled with all types of Pet ice cream and soft drinks, in glass bottles. The drink cooler had a bottle cap opener on it. Summer visits usually included a stick of ice cream and a Coke! Both may have cost Dad a quarter.

Several rows of shelves, on the side and back walls, were filled with all sorts of groceries. I recall several kinds of canned goods, bread, flour, sugar, and so forth. I think that sliced bologna (“baloney”) was available, to make and eat a sandwich, at the store. That was fast food, back then! Near the cash register, a man could find various brands of cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco (“chawin' bakker”). Snuff was also sold, especially for the women. Dad bought his cigarettes and Red Man chewing tobacco.

In the fall and winter, an old wood-burning stove kept the store warm. It was always good, to come in and stand, by the stove, to warm. Near that stove was an old rocking chair. I remember her as Granny Burton. In my early childhood years, I often saw Granny Burton, sitting and rocking, in that chair. She liked to converse with customers. She may have given me free candy, at times!

The second floor, above the store, may have been apartments. On the west side of the building, a steep stairway led up, to that level. I think that the Burtons rented out the one or two upstairs apartments. I don't recall going up to the second floor. Renters parked their vehicles near the outside stairway.

Attached, to the east of the store, was the garage, with two bays and outside entrances. The door, from inside the store to the garage, required a steep step or two down. The smell of oil and grease filled the air. The garage was always kept clean. I remember an employee, probably in his 20s, who was the mechanic.

To the east of the garage was the outside entrance, to the bathroom. I remember using the one, at the front of the store. The Burtons always kept it clean. There may have been another bathroom, for women, around to the side. The bathroom wasn't heated or cooled. Using the bathroom, on a cold day, could be a chilling experience!

In the mid-1970s, once I could drive, I bought gas, for Mom and Dad's car, at Burton's Service Station. In 1978, after high school graduation, I filled up my first two cars (a 1973 Ford Maverick, which I had only a few months, and a 1976 Ford Mustang Cobra II) at the station. The mechanic did some minor service work, on both vehicles, as I recall.

Modern service stations are usually nice enough. They, however, do not have the charm and character, of those old service stations and stores. Remembering Burton's Service Station was a trip down memory lane. I hope that you enjoyed the trip!

A Couple of Funny Stories

I have to share a couple of funny stories! They remain vividly, in my memory.

The first story is from my childhood, in grade school. Dad and Mom were renting the old Livesay farmhouse. It was just off and northwest of dead man's curve (as it may still be called), on what is now old Highway 11W, in east Hawkins County.

The black rotary phone hung on the living room wall, near the black and white television and beside the door that led to the first floor bedroom. (Three bedrooms were upstairs.) Dad must have been at work, either drilling a water well or setting a pump. Mom may have been in the kitchen or outside.

I had my chance! The phone number, for Burton's Service Station, was written on a list of phone numbers. I dialed the store. Mr. Joe Burton answered. In my best effort, to sound like a grown man, from around those parts, I asked, “Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh, in a can?” (Sir Walter Raleigh was a type of tobacco.) Mr. Burton, thinking that a man wanted to do business with him, replied, “Yes, we do.” Folks, from these parts, already know what I was doing! I replied, “You'd better let him out!” Quickly, I hung up the phone!

Back in that day, mischievous young'uns, like me, could get into trouble quickly. Business owners, neighbors, family, and other parents had a spy network! For days, I sweated, thinking that Mr. Burton would have recognized my voice, despite my effort to disguise it, tell Dad, and Dad would take a belt to my backside. Luckily, for my behind, I was never found out! To this day, I regret tricking the kind and gentle Mr. Burton.

The other story is from my senior year in high school (1977 - 1978). In January of 1978, it snowed every Wednesday. I know this, because, on Wednesdays, after school, I had a part-time job, inserting the middle section, into the main section, of The Rogersville Review. The old printing press conveyed the middle sections to me. The main sections were already printed and folded. I caught and inserted the middle sections, into the main sections. I'd drive Dad and Mom's car, to work and back. When work ended, usually after 9 PM, the snow was already falling. I'd manage to drive home safely, in the snow. School was closed, due to snow, the entire month of January, which pushed graduation, into June.

The six of us (Dad, Mom, and us four boys) were living in the newly-constructed home, in the Striggersville community (a rural area, northeast of Rogersville). Two buddies, Bill and Randy, also high school seniors, lived, with their families, a couple of cow fields apart. From the house, they were about 1.75 miles farther east, which was a long walk or bicycle ride. We all lived in the county.

Randy was dating a young lady, also in high school. She lived, with her family, in a house, in town, that was several yards east, of the Rogersville High School (which is now the Rogersville Middle School).

In January of 1978, Randy and his girlfriend had talked, by phone. Apparently, the challenge was made and accepted. Randy would walk the approximately three miles, from his house, to her house, along the snow covered roads. He would place a highway construction marker, in her front yard, to prove that he'd done it. (The Highway 11W four-lane was under construction. Small, orange marker flags were everywhere.)

Randy had called Bill and me. We accepted his offer, to hike to town, with him. The weather was cold and cloudy. I dressed warmly and told Mom that I was going to walk, to Randy's house. (Dad must have been at work.) I met Bill at Randy's house. Randy had already acquired a marker flag.

The three-mile hike to town, heading west, took us past Burton's Service Station. We were sufficiently warm and motivated. We kept going. Passing the high school, we reached the yard of Randy's girlfriend. We saw her, looking out a window. Her parents may not have been at home. We weren't invited in. Randy placed the flag, in the yard. We waved, to his girlfriend, in triumph!

On our return hike, of another approximate three miles, heading east, the weather turned colder. A strong, cold wind started blowing, into our faces. I pulled my ski mask down, to cover my face. The ski mask, around my nose and mouth, froze. We were freezing, as we hiked.

Burton's Service Station was still open. The warmth of that old wood-burning stove hastened our steps, as we trudged through the new snow that was covering the old snow.

Mr. and Mrs. Burton were surprised, to see three known high school boys, in our frozen conditions, walk into their store! They encouraged us to get near that stove quickly! Mrs. Burton may even have served us free hot chocolate. Once sufficiently warmed, the three of us thanked the Burtons, for rescuing us, from our own youthful stupidity.

The hike, back to Randy's house was easy enough. The warm wood stove, in the basement, warmed Bill and me sufficiently, for our hikes back to our homes. In total, I guess that I'd hiked about nine and a half miles, on that very cold and snowy day.

Dad was back, once I returned home. I told Dad and Mom the complete and honest story, especially how Mr. and Mrs. Burton had saved us, from freezing to death! As a high school senior, I was too old for a spanking. Mom was amazed that I'd endured the ordeal. Dad simply said, “Well, I hope that you've learned your lesson, son.” I had.


Yes, the current local, state, national, and international new is disheartening. I hope that this step back, to a simpler time, has been encouraging.

The recent passing of Mrs. Burton brought back good memories. Writing this article is my way of honoring Mr. and Mrs. Burton. Their legacies include Burton's Service Station and, most importantly, their Christian lifestyles. Don't you wish, dear reader, that all people would live such lifestyles. The current news would not be so disappointing.

I wonder if heaven will include some old country stores. I'd enjoy sitting around, in rocking chairs, talking with the Burtons, Mom, Dad, and so many, who are already enjoying everlasting life. We wouldn't need a wood-burning stove, to warm us, in cold weather. The Son will warm us, with His eternal love.

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