Adaptive Reuse in Laramie; A Repurposed Service Station

In 1898, Elmer Lovejoy built the first “horseless carriage” to be seen in Laramie; 25 years later automobiles had taken over the town.  The 1926 Laramie City Directory lists 14 service stations, plus seven auto dealers who also sold gas.  In addition, there were three stations in Rock River, and one each in Bosler, Esterbrook and Tie Siding.  Laramie even had an auto salvage yard offering car parts in 1925.  

 One of the 14 Laramie stations was the Aero Gasoline station at the southwest corner of 5th and Grand.  It opened in 1925, and, like most gas stations of the time, was constructed diagonally on a corner to allow easy drive-up and exiting.

A number of these diagonally-placed former gas stations can be spotted in the downtown area of Laramie.  The Lincoln Highway came down Grand Avenue from 1919 until the 1930s; it was the major cross-country highway at the time. Therefore it was natural that the stations would pop up here and on 3rd Street, where the route turned north.  At 5th and Grand, the former Lincoln Highway Aero service station is now the home of a tanning salon called “Suntan USA”. This business would puzzle most women of 1925. To them, the word “tanning” meant the treatment of hides to make them supple, or what happened to men who labored outside. 

For 40 years, however, that corner had been a service station; and its exterior appearance has not changed much. It was built and operated by Oliver W. Dean and Grover C. Lankford, who also had a gasoline delivery service to supply this and other stations.  By 1937, it had become Topham’s Standard Oil Company station, owned and operated by Wilbur Topham. By 1956 an entrepreneur by the name of Creede Wheat assited Topham.  It changed owners a couple of times afterward, but continued as a Standard Oil station until around 1964.

Gas pumps in 1925 were hand pumps operated by an attendant. The gas would be pumped into a calibrated reservoir at the top of the pump, and gravity caused the gas to flow through the hose into the vehicle tank.  There was no automatic shut-off, so “filling a tank” could easily lead to spilled gasoline. One of the two pumps at the Aero station was regular gasoline which cost about 20 cents per gallon in 1925, while the other was probably higher octane and more expensive “ethyl”. Although there was no self-service in 1925, windshields were washed and the engine oil was checked with every fill-up.  You might even get the air in your tires checked. 

Aero was a local independent company, which marked its vehicles and tanks with a distinctive logo. There was another Aero station at the southeast corner of 3rd and Grand that eventually turned into a Texaco station. That lot is vacant now, next to the Cowboy Bar.

Aero’s 1923 gasoline delivery truck was made by International with capacity to hold around 150 gallons. The wheels have wooden spokes; the cab is also wooden.

Lankford and Dean advertised “courteous service”.  Their sign indicates information can be obtained at the station about free campgrounds.  A finger on the sign points south, toward Undine Park where it was possible to camp for the night in the only Laramie city park. An option for camping that would require a fee was Beagle’s Campground on the edge of town, in the 1300 block of North 3rd Street. Motels were non-existent, and many travelers preferred to camp, enjoying the camaraderie with other adventurous travelers.

By Jerry Hansen

Caption:  Laramie’s Aero Filling Station at the southwest corner of 5th and Grand, around 1925.  The International truck pictured was used to deliver bulk gasoline; a Franklin touring car is in the foreground, at the right is a car on a hoist being worked on outside.  The cars have license plates, and were probably very new at the time of the photo.  The house next to the station was a private home which was removed sometime before 1965, when that location became Reed’s Package Liquors in a different building.  Photo courtesy of the Ludwig-Svenson Studio Collection at the UW American Heritage Center.