Car show honors Gus’ Station from Ellendale
Eighty years after it was built, Gus’ Station is looking better than ever – and can still draw a crowd.
The tiny gas station that once sat on U.S. Hwy. 30 in Ellendale is once again the guest of honor at the 7th Annual Gus’ Station car show and fundraiser this weekend at the Steele County Historical Society. Registration is at 8 a.m. Saturday; awards will be presented at noon.
Funds raised at the event will help pay for work done to maintain – and replicate – what Gus’ Station looked like when it provided gas for folks making the drive to Minneapolis, years before Interstate 35 simplified the trip.
The station was in serious disrepair when the Ellendale Heritage Society stepped in to save it about a decade ago, thanks to work from Lloyd Kaplan and Barb Mrotz.
Time and the elements had taken their toll; after sitting empty for 25 years, the city of Ellendale “wanted it gone,” Mrotz said. “It was really a danger.”
“It was about to fall into its basement,” said Jerry Ganfield, who volunteers at the Steele County Historical Society.
The station wall that abutted the two-car service bay had collapsed; the building had to be shored up before any more work could be done. Broskoff Structures out of Geneva built a frame to support a sling of sorts, then a crane lifted the station onto a low trailer for the move to Owatonna in November 2012.
The station was restored once it was on the historical society grounds; the committee worked for more than a year before it opened in August 2014.
The original station was built by H.C. and Ruth Steele in 1931; for a time, the Jefferson Bus Co. had a stop there. Neil Johnson, who spent time as police chief in both Ellendale and Blooming Prairie, owned it until about 1943.
Gasoline was in short supply during World War II, so the little business was rented out as a way to make money.
“It had two rooms – and a bathroom, so it was enough” for use as an apartment, Ganfield said. Two different families used the station as a home in 1941 and 1942.
Gus and Hilda Jacobson bought the business in 1946, and ran it for 30 years.
“It was very important to a lot of people in the area,” Kaplan said. “It was across from the creamery, and when farmers brought their cream to town, they could get their gas, chewing tobacco, cigarettes, candy… but the most important part was, it was down the street from the Ellendale school system. Kids came in the morning before school and got pop and peanuts, candy. I’d get one of those jawbreakers at noon, and by the afternoon lunch break, I still had part of it in my mouth.”
Today, Gus’ still has many of the original gas station furnishings, including the bench people waited on as their cars were serviced, the coal-burning stove used to heat the building and a cigarette machine that sold packs for 25 cents each.
“In the morning, guys would meet in there, have coffee, get the world started,” said Kaplan. One of the chairs they used also sits in the refurbished station.
There are also wrappers and displays of the various types of candy sold at the time, as well as maps, oil cans and other items of the era.
Last year’s event was held as a car cruise, thanks to coronavirus, but the 2019 show drew 150 vehicles.
Holding a car show just makes sense, said Kellen Hindrichsen, director of the historical society.
“The building is so intimately tied to automotive history,” he said. “It’s the perfect combination of circumstances. It’s an opportunity to talk to the people displaying their vehicles, talk to the people involved in the move of Gus’ Station, learn some history and have some fun while they’re at it. This is all very much history-driven.”
More history is planned: Funds raised will go toward replicating the service bay. It will occupy the spot right next to the station, and fill the last empty lot in the Village of Yesteryear.
“We have 19 structures now, and once that 20th one is in, our home is full,” Hindrichsen said.
The service bay will be used for display and storage, and will house the two antique vehicles in the SCHS collection, Ganfield said, estimating the project could cost up to $300,000.
Admission to Saturday’s car show is free for attendees; there is a $10 registration fee for each vehicle entered.