Fayette's Sohio station was a busy place 2009.11.17

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

When Wayne Williams bought the Sohio station in downtown Fayette, he was pretty much married to the business.sohio_station.jpg

“You opened it at 7 a.m. and closed it at 10 at night,” he recalls. “The first year I never had a day off. I’d go to work in the dark and come home in the dark.”

That year was 1953 and the station was located on the corner of Main and Ohio streets, near the current bank drive-through office.

There was one bay with a grease rack—Sohio called it a Lubritorium—and Wayne provided lubrication, tire repair, car washes and light mechanical work. He also provided some road help for break-downs.

“We had a good service business for many years,” he said.

His wife, Verna, puts it this way.

“Wayne was the guy who pumped the gas, washed the windshield, checked the oil and tires,  then took the money into the station and returned with the change.  All for 30 cents a gallon.”

An oil change cost $1.25 and tire repair ran 75 cents.

Of course he didn’t do it alone. Kenny Paison was Wayne’s faithful companion for more than two decades.

“I hired him shortly after I started,” Wayne said. “He lived right behind the station.”

Kenny was laid off from a factory in Adrian and joined Wayne at Sohio.

“Work was my middle name,” Kenny said. “It took a lot of work to keep it going. It was a very good business.”

He says Wayne was very particular and took very good care of his customers. You never had to worry about stepping in a puddle of grease, Kenny said, because Wayne wouldn’t allow it. They kept the station clean.

There was a problem with the old station—it was hemmed in tight and lacked the space needed to park cars for servicing.

“You didn’t get much air on a hot day,” Wayne said.

One day the cars were packed tight and they picked the wrong one for servicing. Someone came up with a free grease job.

Sohio wanted Wayne to arrange for a new station to be built. Obtaining the hotel property west of the Opera House was no problem, but the hatchery land wasn’t that easy.

Finally, the property was cleared and a modern two-bay structure was built.

“It was class,” Kenny said, and of course Wayne kept it looking sharp.

The two adults at the station were assisted by a number of younger helpers over the years.

“You can’t believe the number of young guys I had working for me,” Wayne said. “They’re grown men now.”

One of those youngsters was Mike Figgins who started pumping gas when he was in seventh grade. During his first week or so, he didn’t get the automatic pump set right and soon discovered gasoline pumping onto the ground.

Mike became Wayne’s right-hand man after Kenny left.

“I got sick and laid up in the hospital,” Kenny said.

Later, Kenny took a job with the village—Fayette’s first licensed water system operator at age 52—and Wayne quit the gas station and joined Kenny. Kenny “Work” Paison finally retired at age 79 from a security job.

The oddest situation he remembers at Sohio was the night an elderly woman drove right over a gas pump. She hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.

Those were busy times at the station, despite the ample number of stations around town.

“We used to work on a dead run sometimes between all the customers we had and servicing cars,” Kenny said.

Washing windshields is long gone from American gas stations, gone with the act of pumping gas for customers.

Wayne and Kenny each put in about 23 years during their time at the station. Now they’re left with fond memories of serving the local residents plus the thousands of travelers plying U.S. 20.

Monitoring wells to be capped

When Fayette’s downtown Sohio gas station was closed down in 1990, station owner British Petroleum followed the standard procedure to decommission the facility.

International Technology Corporation  (ITC) was hired by British Petroleum (now known as BP) to investigate the site in 1991. Four test wells were dug around the perimeter of the property to see if any petroleum products had escaped into the soil.

Byproducts were detected and in 1992  ITC obtained permission from the village council to expand the investigation and install wells in Main Street.

By the end of 1993, a total of 17 monitoring wells were dug as traces of substances were found in ground water that slowly moved south.

The investigation moved from the Sohio site (now the Village Green) as far south as the alley behind the business district.

In addition, a ground water pump-and-treat system was installed and more than half a million gallons of water was cleaned.

A soil vapor extraction system also helped clean the ground. Monitoring continued until 2004, said Michael Darr, Environmental Project Manager for BP.

Earlier this month, BP received word from BUSTR that contamination levels have fallen to the extent that there are no longer health concerns for residents. The site was granted “No Further Action” status, ending a long saga of study.

Darr said the wells will probably be closed in December by filling them with sealing material and covering with either concrete or clay.

In reviewing the paperwork from the case, Shane Cartmill of BUSTR praised BP’s cooperation in the process, right from the start.

“It’s a perfect example of keeping in touch and going by the rules,” Cartmill said. “They’ve done all they can do to abate the issue on the site and it’s no longer at a level of concern.”

The concentration of benzene and other contaminants has fallen dramatically, Cartmill said.

Cartmill said the contamination stemmed from an underground storage tank, but there’s no way of knowing when the leak occurred.

He likened the petroleum delivery system—tanks, pipes and pumps—to an automobile with an oil leak. Traces of the leak can be seen in the driveway, but in the case of an underground tank, a small leak can go undetected for years.

 

Village Green created

After the demolition of the Sohio station,  the Fayette Fine Arts Council made an offer to buy the property for a Village Green. The group was given 30 days to raise the cash.

Fund-raising efforts were discussed, but the group soon had a boost with a $10,000 donation from First National Bank.

Keith Humbert and Doc Nyce went together to sign for a $23,000 loan and the Fine Arts group went to work selling bricks as a fund raiser.

After a year, Humbert paid off the loan. Additional gifts and grants paid for a parking area, curbing along the inside of the sidewalk and later the gazebo.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2014