The long Whiting Brothers sign board stretching out from the roadside meant a gasoline station was near.
One of the most photographed of the still-standing Whiting Brothers stations is in Newberry Springs, California. Built from stacked railroad ties protected with an overcoat of stucco, the building began life as Tony's Cafe ("Italian and American Dishes" can barely be made out under the old paint). After its close a film crew repainted the sign "Dry Creek Station" but even that is severely faded in this photograph. By 2014 the northern (right side) sign support had collapsed and the sign board appears to be on its way down.
I like this photograph but it is no longer an accurate representation of the ruins of the Yucca complex. The lower GROCERIES sign in the most distant signboard has since fallen down, the gas pump canopy frame has collapsed, and the WB shield on top of the MOTEL sign is gone.
The West Ash Fork station was razed in about 1997 and its location is now a flagstone storage lot.
The East Winslow station had several service bays. The building was used as a vehicle repair business but when I was by in June 2015 they advertised U-Haul trailers for rent and several were in the parking lot..
The canopy that shielded the gas pumps of the Continental Divide station is still visible just beyond the old motel.
The four Whiting brothers began selling gasoline to motorists in 1917 in St. Johns, Arizona, when automobiles were a novelty particularly way out West. At that time gasoline was distributed wholesale in 55 gallon drums. Early motorists then bought retail gasoline in small cans for their automobiles. Cans of automobile gasoline were just another retail product for general stores or farm supply stores or other businesses. Full-time dedicated gasoline "service stations" were a few years in the future. With the growth of both roadways and automobiles and the advent of the gravity-fed pump, gasoline could be shipped and stored in large tanks (above ground initially and later below ground) and the gasoline could be hand-pumped into a glass receptacle atop the pump and then through the activation of a valve allowed to drain down through a rubber hose into the automobile gasoline tank. Electric gasoline pumps followed making the filling of gas tanks easier and quicker.
With the growing popularity of automobiles, the Whiting Brothers upgraded their St. Johns business with the latest pump technology and then moved north to US Highway 66 in Holbrook, Arizona, when it was apparent that US Highway 66 would be the main road from the East and Chicago to Los Angeles. The brothers soon expanded to Winslow and then to Flagstaff and eventually all along US Highway 66 and north into Utah and Colorado and south to the Mexican border. By 1965 they reached 100 gasoline stations and went on to own 180 different gasoline stations over their years of operation.
In the very early days the business of selling gasoline to motorists was overwhelmingly dominated by small individual business people who signed agreements with the major refiners to sell gasoline along the roadside. But in time this would change dramatically. The large petroleum refiners themselves, backed by their accumulation of corporate cash, aggressively entered into the retail sales business. Corporate marketing promoted the benefits of their brand of gasoline and the superiority of its additives and station features such as clean rest rooms and uniformed attendants. New corporate architectural design of the service station building also helped promote the brand name in motorists' minds.
The very early black and white photograph of a Whiting Brothers gasoline station (upper right) shows that they sold the Pathfinder brand of gasoline, as seen in the sign at the left above the canopy. (The Pathfinder emblem is obvious in the original photograph but it loses a lot of detail when displayed at the resolution of a computer monitor.) Pathfinder was a small Los Angeles-based brand of gasoline that was eventually acquired by a larger refiner. The icon of the Pathfinder brand was the buckskin-clad frontier scout as seen in the modern emblem at the left side of that picture. I'm not sure for how long Whiting Brothers stations were co-branded with Pathfinder but I know that beginning in 1960 the Whiting Brothers stations were exclusively supplied gasoline and diesel fuel by Phillips Petroleum. I'm not sure for how long this arrangement lasted either since by 1990 the Whiting Brothers were selling the last of their gasoline stations and the remaining stations were likely supplied by smaller gasoline distributors then.
The Whiting Brothers gasoline stations were spare by the standards of the day. As the major branded gasoline companies tried out different architectural styles for their stations, ranging from the cottage style for a time used by Phillips 66 and others, something akin to a ranch home with a front "chimney" used by Shell, to sleek enameled steel panels used by many others, the Whiting Brothers built their stations of wood, stucco, and concrete block. Most stations were not much more than an office with parts and supplies storage and rest rooms while a few others had service bays. What is apparent to me when studying older photographs is that I can not even find two Whiting Brothers gasoline stations that were identical to each other! (But the Whiting Brothers operated 180 different stations over the years and I have only seen photographs of about twenty-five of them.) One unifying design element was that the gasoline stations were painted a bright white with bands in the company colors of yellow and red accenting the buildings along the top and/or bottom of the walls and pump canopies. The elevated signboard with red letters on a yellow background seen above the building canopy or perhaps atop tall posts to improve highway visibility evolved as did their signature shield emblem.
Unique to the Whiting Brothers were their attention-getting roadside signs that ran from the highway shoulder out a hundred feet or more usually perpendicular to the roadway. There was nothing else like these along the highways. These signboards were like fences and they were painted with red letters on a yellow background. See Jerry McClanahan's photograph above right. These fence-like signboards appeared periodically to remind travelers that they were approaching a Whiting Brothers gasoline station. These long signs have been gone from all highways for probably three decades now.
(The yellow and red colors of the Whiting Brothers are an eye-catching color combination. Today many modern Shell gasoline stations and convenience stores are painted much like the old Whiting Brothers gasoline stations: white with bands of yellow and red at the top of the pump canopies. A number of "trading posts" along old Route 66 in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico have adopted these two colors for their highway signage as well.)
The Whiting Brothers were fairly innovative when it came to business practices. Discount cards offered customers a reason to become loyal to their gasoline brand. Most of the operators/managers of the gasoline stations had small living quarters provided for them either on site or on an adjacent property. A base salary was guaranteed but incentives were in place for them to provide good service and cultivate repeat business. Internal company communications describe frequent sales contests among managers of the Whiting Brothers stations.
The Whiting Brothers offered gasoline for a couple of cents per gallon less than the major branded gasoline that competed in their retail area. (This does not sound like much today but back in the 1960s, for example, the retail price of a gallon of gasoline could be in the 25¢ to 30¢ range, so a couple of pennies was a meaningful discount.) By carving out this low-cost niche their gasoline business thrived for several decades after World War II. But then came the Interstate highway system. As segments of the interstate highways were completed and opened in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, vehicle traffic moved to these new limited-access freeways and bypassed the towns. Many businesses established in town on the old two-lane highways that catered to travelers - regardless of what they were: gas stations, motels, or cafes - suffered severely. Large gasoline companies quickly replaced in-town stations with modern stations at the exits off the Interstate highways but the Whiting Brothers management did not aggressively do so. The "gas crises" years of the early 1970s disrupted supplies and the gasoline business slumped and it became tough to eke out a profit. By the 1980s the management of the Whiting Brothers enterprise began unwinding from their roadside properties. The last of the Whiting Brothers stations were sold to Giant Industries in the early 1990s.
The last operating station with original Whiting Brothers signage is in Moriarty, New Mexico. Gasoline is no longer pumped.
To my knowledge there are only four old Whiting Brothers gasoline stations from Route 66 that are still open today for roadside service. The only station that still has its original Whiting Brothers signage is at 421 East Route 66 (Business Route 40 and New Mexico state route 333) in Moriarty, New Mexico. Owner Sal Lucero began working for the brothers themselves nearly 50 years ago. He managed the San Jon, New Mexico, station until 1969 and then moved to the Moriarty station which he purchased in 1985 as the managing generation of the Whiting family was in the process of disengaging from the business. The 1970s-era gasoline pumps with the mechanical number wheels out front are only for show these days: Sal focuses on tire sales and flat repair, batteries, and light vehicle maintenance today.
There are three Whiting Brothers gas stations on old Route 66 that are actually dispensing gasoline today but none under the Whiting Brothers name. In order from west to east, there is the station in Truxton, Arizona. Closed for many years, it was re-painted and re-opened as Truxton Service and is actually one of just a few gasoline stations open today on old Route 66 between Kingman and Seligman. A modern shop building was added to the south side of the original gas station since the owners also perform vehicle repairs. The last Navajo Blvd. station in Holbrook has been totally refurbished and now operates as Speedy's, a convenience store and gas station on Navajo Blvd. at Hampshire. The eastern-most operating station is in Newkirk, New Mexico, where the Route 66 Gas station is the old Whiting Brothers gasoline station. What was once a lean-to storage shed attached to the eastern wall of the gas station office is now the Newkirk post office.
In the halcyon years about 40 Whiting Brothers gasoline stations were located on Route 66. See the detailed map below. Towns represented included the large and the very small (from west to east): Lenwood, Barstow, Newberry (Springs), Cadiz (Chambless), and Needles in California; Yucca, Kingman, Truxton, Seligman, Ash Fork, Williams, Bellemont (misspelled on the map below), Flagstaff, Winslow, Holbrook, Sanders and Lupton (not shown on the map below) in Arizona; Gallup, Continental Divide, Grants, San Fidel, Albuquerque, Moriarty, Santa Rosa and Cuervo (not shown on the map below), Newkirk, Tucumcari, and San Jon in New Mexico; and Vega, Amarillo, Groom, and Shamrock in Texas. Some towns had more than one Whiting Brothers gasoline station. (Kingman and Albuquerque once had three stations each.) These well-planned gasoline stop locations were quite regularly spaced for the travelers' convenience from the Texas panhandle through the Mojave Desert in California.
Whiting Brothers Gasoline Stations along Route 66
Many of the old Whiting Brothers gas stations were razed or abandoned since they were not marketable because of their locations far from the interstate freeways or in towns that no longer attracted as many travelers. The Whiting Brothers gas stations that were in locations for which there was some business demand were sold to new owners. A few others were abandoned but are still standing. My list of twenty-one standing buildings along Route 66 includes (from west to east): Newberry Springs, CA; Chambless, CA (a.k.a. Cadiz); Kingman, AZ; Truxton, AZ; Williams, AZ; Flagstaff, AZ (2); Winslow, AZ (2); Holbrook, AZ (3); Sanders, AZ; Lupton, AZ; Continental Divide, NM; San Fidel, NM (burned but partly standing); Moriarty, NM; Newkirk, NM; Amarillo, TX; Groom, TX; and Shamrock, TX. The two in Winslow have both been vehicle repair shops. The old station in Shamrock operated as a coffee and donut shop called the Sugar Shack for a while but it seemed to be closed again when I was last there in August of 2013. The remaining Kingman station is an office for a salvage yard. One old station that for many years stood as a used car lot office in Gallup was finally replaced about eight years ago by a modern building. There are probably some other structures that still exist from the Whiting Brothers chain in locations that were not on US Highway 66 but I have not researched them.
Old Whiting Brothers signage stands only in a few locations today and ironically the most prominent and well-photographed locations are at gas stations that could not be sold to others and were left frozen in their Whiting Brothers state. Why the demolition process sometimes left the original Whiting Brothers signs is not clear to me but it is nice for all of us I think. You can find original signage in Yucca, AZ, and San Fidel, NM, where a motel and gasoline station that once shared the premises were razed, and at the Continental Divide where the old adjacent motel soldiers on under the original signage. Two other sign-only sites of interest are in western Albuquerque next to the former Whiting Brothers motel and in Tucumcari, NM, on the east side of town on the north side of Historic US 66. At both of these locations the stations are gone but the surviving signboards have the distinctive appendage on the end where the Whiting Brothers shield once was. But both signs are painted white today so look carefully. Under coats of peeling paint, some renamed businesses may still sport the Whiting Brothers signage and colors. It makes for interesting detective work to try to locate the old gasoline stations should they still exist.
Jerry McClanahan and I have been investigating the Whiting Brothers gasoline stations that at one time existed along Route 66. There were over forty of them. I have prepared a table of the gasoline stations and what is known about them now and I ask any reader who has more information about any station or stations to contact me so I can improve the table.