FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Travel

One man’s love affair with old gas pumps evokes years gone by

By June 1, 2011

WOODLAND – Mark Reiff remembers the day someone pulled into his “gas station” to fill ‘er up.

Surprise — the freshly painted Sinclair Oil and Texaco gas pumps may have looked real, but they’re actually part of Reiff’s Gas Station & Museum, a veritable 1950s time warp at the corner of Jefferson and McKinley Streets in Woodland.

IF YOU GO . . . Call (530) 666-1758 or email [email protected] for more information.

Reiff’s web address is http://www.reiffsgasstation.com.

“Ten years ago, I bought a gas pump from a guy around the corner at a garage sale for $75,”  said Reiff, a Woodland native. “As you can see, this is what happened.”

The first thing I saw as I drove up Jefferson Street was the gas pump island out front. If you happen to make a mistake and pull up for gas, your tires will cross over a rubber strip and sound a bell, which in times gone by would alert an attendant who would come over to fill the tank, check your tires and clean your windows.

This make-believe gas station is part of a little city Reiff has created at his house south of Main Street, and on June 11 he will host an annual street bash at his “station” from 4:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., featuring a live band, a raffle and vintage cars and hot rods.

If you have a vintage or a custom car, Reiff said that you can park on Jefferson or McKinley streets. Otherwise, parking is farther away.

One year, 750 people showed up and there were 80 custom cars at his event. Visitors are encouraged to bring a potluck meal and chairs.

Reiff has “never been down Route 66, but knowing the way that used to be, there was always a diner close by, so “I just created my own little city.”

Curious to look into the past, I opened the door to the elongated diner and peaked inside, recalling my own youthful experience in these eateries. Sure enough, there were the same red bar stools, which Reiff picked up from an old bar in Butte. And, of course, the diner had those wonderful little juke box machines, the ones I used to fill with coins to listen to my favorites, such as Fats Domino.

I also spotted a 1950s copy of the San Francisco Examiner with a headline proclaiming, “Russians Hit Moon.”

Reiff’s menu has prices we’ll never see again, such as cheeseburgers for 19 cents, a ham-and-cheese sandwich for 18 cents and a vanilla milkshake for 20 cents. An old cigarette machine — definitely taboo nowadays — is a relic from the old Senator Hotel in Sacramento.

Just around the corner on McKinley Street, I was startled by a 1956 ‘Rocket 88′ Oldsmobile, which had apparently “crashed” into the garage.

“I guess I wasn’t sleeping well that night,” Reiff said, with a laugh, “And I just thought, you know, why not, just for a conversation piece, I guess.”

It’s clear from the nearby railroad crossing sign that the driver had tried to beat the train and well, didn’t quite make it. And beyond the car crash, the body of a Cessna airplane — Reiff traded it for a gas pump — has crashed through the garage roof.

But inside the garage, Reiff has parked a beautiful, red-and-white, customized 1956 Chevrolet tow truck — a real “head turner,” he called it — with his original Woodland phone number painted on the side, Mohawk 61758.

Next door was an old-fashioned, one-chair barber shop, and the façade of the Yolo Theater, showing the 1955 James Dean hit, “Rebel without a Cause.”

“I remember the Yolo Theater as a kid,” Reiff said. “I think it burned down in 1958. I knew the family that owned it.”

As we walked past a 1953 Champion kiddy horse — which children at one time could ride for 10 cents — Reiff ushered me into his house through the “general store,” which displayed an amusing statue of Betty Boop next to the counter.

In the living room I saw an old-fashioned wood-burning stove and a tricycle hanging from the ceiling.

“For me, I sit here and look at the stuff, and I think it’s cool,” Reiff said.

Reiff’s backyard also has more nostalgic gas station items, such as an illuminated Polly Gas sign. The collector hopes more people will get to know his make-believe world because, as he put it, “it is a fun, fun place.”

George Medovoy publishes an Internet travel magazine, http://www.PostcardsForYou.com.

George Medovoy

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