Antique enthusiast Ray Ewart recreates 1917 old-timey gas station
When area residents and curious tourists pass by Ray and Pam Ewart’s Burnette Cove home and see an old country general store that takes them back to the year 1917, they take a sharp second glance and often think, “Did I see that right?”
After all, it’s not every day in 2013 that one sees a gas sign reading “17 6/10 cents” for a gallon of gas.
“I’ve seen some of them stop in the middle of the road and take pictures,” said Ray Ewart.
The idea for the re-creation of an old-timey general store came about when Ray Ewart’s good friend, Bob Browning, gave him an estimated 1917 Texaco Guarantee Fry visible gas pump he had stored away in an old shed.
That old beat up gas pump was a pure treasure to Ray Ewart, an antique enthusiast. His eyes lit up as his mind spun with restoration plans for the approximately 96-year-old gas pump.
After his wife found new parts at an online store called “Vic’s 66,” he had it restored with bright red paint and brand new parts including a new globe, gallon dividers, arms and a new price sign.
It looked so good that the next step was to build a storefront to complete the picture of an old-fashioned 1917 country gas station, so he built a deck on an old storage shed to begin the look.
He then put up a sign that says “Texaco Filling Station” that he found at a craft fair in Maggie Valley.
It takes the Ewart’s back to a time period when an old country store would typically only have one gas pump and a young gas station attendant provided full service including cleaning windows, checking oil and pumping gas.
“The way this old pump worked was it sat on a gas tank buried in the ground but it was gravity fed and there was no electricity to it,” explained Ray Ewart. “The gas station guy would crank it up like an old water pump and pump one to 10 gallons of gas depending on how much the customer wanted.”
“My neighbor Bob Varner, who is 82 years old, said he could remember when his grandmother had an old country store like that in High Point, N.C. and he used to pump gas there when he helped his grandmother after school,” he added.
To further complete the nostalgic atmosphere of a long-ago gas station stop, he added a 100-year-old water pump, a long ago fixture at an old gas station where the Beaverdam Community Center sits today, and a 100-year-old oil pump that he got from Hoyt Norris.
He built an old oil rack which holds antique metal and cardboard lining Havoline, Uniflo, Kendall, Quaker State, Special Duty and Esso oil containers.
“I’ve also got an old- timey pint mason jar with a funnel attachment to it that the gas station attendants used to use to put a pint of oil in a car — you don’t see them anymore,” said Ray Ewart.
On top of the 1917 re-creation sits a double-sided Goodyear sign that his friend Mike Smith gave him, along with sign that reads “Coke adds life to Catamount Basketball.”
“That Catamounts sign came from Western Carolina University when they tore the old coliseum down,” noted Ray Ewart.
Other antiques on the storefront are a rotary-dial pay station telephone, a U.S. Army water can, a 1964 Camel ashtray, an old bumper car jack, a tube-type radio that still works and a thermometer from Luray, Kansas that is so old that the phone number is simply a “5.”
Signs like “Drink Grapette Soda” and “Drink Nehi Sold Here” give the store extra flavor, along with signs like Elvis Pressley’s “Lonely Street” and a random sign that reads, “Men are like fish — neither would get in trouble if they kept their mouths shut.”
For an even more interesting look, Pam Ewart bought two fake bulldogs she found at a metal art store in Clayton, Georgia and chained them to the porch to give the look of protecting the store.
She also added a sign that reads “The Mayor of Burnette Cove Welcomes You,” a birthday gift for her husband.
“A lot of our neighbors just started calling Ray the mayor up here and joked with him that he would have to start collecting mayor fees for the year, so they all got a big laugh out of the sign!” said Pam Ewart.
The Ewarts said they would like to add one last sign to the store.
“We have a sign coming that says, ‘Ray and Pam’s Texaco: Eat and get gas here,’” said Ray Ewart.
As the two stood looking at their early 1900s store in their front yard, Ray Ewart said he would love to go back and live in that time.
“I could do just fine without power or running water,” he said, while his wife Pam commented, “I’m not so sure I could.”
“Ahhh, you would get used to it,” joked Ray Ewart.
After all their hard work in building the very realistic storefront, the Ewarts say they now can sit back and enjoy neighbors and tourists stopping and chatting for a while as the store has taken on a life of its own.
“It’s become a real conversation piece, and we enjoy it,” said Pam Ewart.
Many times, Ray Ewart will joke with a curious passerby on the road (with a cell phone in their hand) and ask them, “You need to use the phone?” as he picks up the phone underneath the porcelain sign that reads, “Telephone Pay Station.”
“When people pull up in the driveway and ask me for that 17-cent gas, I tell them I’m waiting on them to bring me a load,” said Ray Ewart with a laugh.
To contact the Ewarts, call 507-0676.