Skelly Service Station on North Broadway, operated by Orville Armstrong beginning in 1946.
Skelly Service Station on North Broadway, operated by Orville Armstrong beginning in 1946.

When Spring Valley celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2005, the historical society compiled a calendar featuring photos of 16 service stations that once graced the streets and corners of Spring Valley.

The inside cover page read, in part, "With the advent of the automobile, necessity required service stations with an emphasis on 'service.' The person in charge pumped the gas for you, checked the oil, topped off the water in the radiator, washed the windshield, maybe inflated tires that needed a boost from the handy air hose nearby, and you were on your way, or your auto could be parked over the grease pit where the mechanics did their work more efficiently. Remember when they changed the oil or fixed a flat or tuned the engine?"

Today as we drive north on Broadway we see one of only two gas stations in town - the Kwik Trip, but that location was a service station as long as 75 years ago. Recently I enjoyed a visit with Evelyn Armstrong, whose husband, Orville, operated the Skelly Service Station we see in the accompanying photo.

Orville Armstrong grew up in Plainview, serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1946, he came to Spring Valley and bought the station from Dale Bacon. Other Pure Oil operators may have been men named Glover and a Whitman. Orville was known as "Red" thanks to his mop of fiery red hair.

His dad, Andrew Armstrong, rented a room at the home of Ed Seabright, and it was Ed who suggested to Orville he might be interested in dating a pretty young lady, Evelyn Koball. Orville did just that, and he and Evelyn were married in 1949. Their wedding was at Zion Lutheran Church on South Washington, with Irma Buss and Robert Koball as attendants; Pastor Uhrich performed the ceremony.

The young couple lived in a trailer in back of the station, not visible in the photo. There was a sheltered walkway from station to the trailer where they lived for a year. Skelly product was sold at the station, brought from the Hadland-Ostrander bulk plant. The Olds coupe parked over the grease pit had belonged to Orville's dad, and Evelyn said she loved that car; it was "solid and held the road well," and she was allowed to drive it anywhere and any time she liked.

The rented trailer seen at left in the photo was owned by someone else and a sign along the highway says, "Trailer Space." Another sign reads "Skelly Tagolene" - maybe a coveted gasoline additive? The Armstrongs soon bought a large house across the street at 617 North Broadway, where they lived for 42 years. An apartment in the house was later rented to Mick and Irma (Buss) Rathbun.

In the 1960s, Armstrong completely remodeled the station, removing the canopy, adding two service bays on the north side, and it became a thoroughly "modern" station with large plate glass windows. Two restrooms on the south side were accessed only by asking for a key from the attendant. (Do you remember?).

It then became a DX station and in the aforementioned calendar is a beautiful color picture of that station. Seen in the photo were signs along the highway and in the windows - "Boron" - and my sources tell me it was a desirable gasoline additive that must have been quite a draw.

Continuing history: Armstrong eventually leased the station to Clifford Walker. It was also operated by Ed Buss, who sold out in 1966, and later by Frances "Klube" Klubertanz.

Hubert Jertson used the building for a feed store until 1976 when Kwik Trip bought the site and used the building as it was for some time. In 1996, they demolished the building and put up the typical Kwik Trip franchise with umpteen gas pumps and a convenience store. The company recently expanded the grocery and fast food counters.

The "other" gas station in town? Fowler Oil Co. was founded in 1957, and in 1965 Sam Fowler bought Bertha (Mrs. Mark) Rafferty's home on the corner where highways 63 and l6 intersect, across the corner from the Dairy Queen. It was demolished and he built his own service station. Over the years it carried several brands: DX, Skelly, Getty and Amoco. Sam's oldest son, Tom, now operates the bp station, which also offers a fine convenience store as well as a self-service car wash and spacious laundromat.

Most of the above information was furnished "secondhand" so if there are errors and omissions, please overlook, or you can let me know.

When I showed the 2005 calendar to folks, all wanted to know if there were copies for sale, and the answer is "no," but it's a good thought, perhaps the society should do it again. They would welcome any photos of early gas stations that you might have stashed away; copies can be made and the original returned to you. See what you can find.