As we celebrated the Fourth of July this past weekend, I found cause to muse on the past and how it influences our present and future, if we allow it.
I coached 7th grade baseball for 13 years, beginning in 1997. Every day, I walked out of the Ellendale school and past a dilapidated old building on my way to the baseball field. I remember thinking often that someone should just tear that eyesore down; it might be a good place to expand parking for the ballfield and the school.
A few years ago, I learned about the history of that building, which turned out to be the famous Gus’ Station. Ah, now things changed. This was apparently an iconic location in Ellendale for many years. My thoughts turned away from tearing down and moved to wondering why it fell into disrepair if it was so loved.
I wasn’t the only one who wondered that. The Ellendale Area Heritage Society, along with the Steele County Historical Society, worked diligently to find ways to restore the once-proud building and show off an important part of Ellendale’s history. The building was moved a couple years ago to the Village of Yesteryear at the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna. My family and I visited it during the fair and were amazed at not only the restoration, but the passion of the people who were acting as “tour guides.”
But the job’s not done yet. I had the chance to stop out at Steve Fredrickson’s shop, where he was working on some vintage gas pumps that will be added. One came from Iowa and the other from Florida. There is also some hope to build a three-stall garage and have some older tools that have been donated displayed there, as well as some classic cars.
Those gas pumps were a true marvel. These days, when you go to the gas station, you often swipe your card and set the nozzle to dispense the gasoline until your tank is full. This is quite a departure from the full-service days. Nobody cleans your windshield or checks your oil for you anymore, and many people never enter the station itself either, unless they need something to eat or drink.
Steve was able to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of Gus’ Station. Though it was opened in 1931, Gus and Hilda Jacobson took over in 1946, which is where the name comes from. However, there was a brief time where it wasn’t a gas station since there was a gas shortage during World War II; a family rented it for housing!
The biggest thing I didn’t know was that Highway 30 used to come right by Gus’ Station, where it was located on what is now 8th Avenue. The road then turned past the school and connected to the main street, which put a little more curve in the state highway. That was one of those interesting tidbits that I started to picture in my head and saw how it made sense. Otherwise, why would a gas station be located off the main drag? It wasn’t – that was the main drag!
Location is everything and not just for gas customers. Being that close to the school must have been a huge money maker. I can picture kids running down to Gus’ Station after school and adding some sugar to their diets. I’m sure One Stop has the same status today, except many kids drive there, and many probably stop prior to school for coffee or soda.
We often bemoan what we’ve lost from our past, but thanks to the EAHS and the SCHS, that past is available in vibrant color. We can learn so much from our past, even those of us who are transplants. Gus’ Station was a landmark in Ellendale, and I’m grateful these groups of people have done so much to take that old building I used to hope would be torn down and turned it into something to show off with pride.
Unabashed plug: With all the work left to do, there is a fundraiser coming up on July 18 at the Village of Yesteryear. They’re having a pancake breakfast from 8:30-1, along with a car show featuring a cruise at 1:15. You can even take your vehicle’s picture by Gus’ Station, which might be a real treat for those with classic cars! I’m thankful I was able to explore some of this history and that we can see a future with these important parts of our past still alive.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is fardel, which means a bundle, as in, “The EAHS wanted to find a place for the fardel of old tools in Gus’ Station.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!