It wasn’t an oil company in the ways we have come to know them.
It was a gas station in all the ways you and I have recently discussed; a service station, a filling station, a place to have your oil checked, and it was a fuel resource for area farms near the small, midwestern town of Williamsburg, Iowa.
The O’Neill Oil Company was operated by the four surviving sons of Tom and Kate O’Neill. Earl, known by everyone as Irish, was the oldest, followed by Chuck, Jim, and Joe. Joe was Tom’s father.
Tom was the only son born to the O’Neill boys. Irish, Jim, and Chuck all remained in Williamsburg, working at the station, raising families in the small town. Joe moved away as a young man and eventually settled in Midlothian, Illinois with his wife, Carolyn, daughter, Maura, and Tom. Tom’s family would often travel to Iowa for holidays and visits. For Tom, the summers he spent in that little burg are fondly recalled. There, everyone knew him as Joe’s boy as he rode a bike from the gas station around the town, stopped at the soda fountain, and played with his cousins. They evoke a simpler era of being a young boy in summer.
The uncles all favored Tom, but, it was Irish who held a special bond with his only nephew. Irish married later in life and had no children of his own. When Tom was a youngster, before Irish married, he would stay with Irish and Grandma O’Neill; Kate. The Kate our own Katy is named after. I can’t imagine a more idyllic summer vacation for a young boy from the outskirts of Chicago.
When Tom grew old enough, he would help at the O’Neill Oil Station on his summer visita. More than a gas station, yet not a big oil company. Stations such as the O’Neill’s pumped gas, fixed tires, and wiped windshields like other stations of the 50’s and 60’s. They also provided heating fuel and gasoline for running farm equipment.
As a “working” lad of 10 or so years of age, Tommy, as he was called by his uncles, aunts and cousins, would get up early and head to the station with his Uncle Chuck. They would open up. Tom would pump gas, clean windshields, and patch tires. He would also ride along on deliveries to the surrounding farms with tanks of fuel and gasoline; a heady adventure for a young city boy and times he remembers with great fondness.
Tom would stay at the station with Irish to close up at day’s end, after having supper at Grandma’s or at Chuck and Betty’s house. After closing, Irish and Tommy would walk the short distance to the diner on the Square and have ice cream or milk shakes.
Irish would tell the waitress when he ordered a milkshake “and make it the drinkin’ kind!” .
Tom and I were sitting and chatting about his summers in Williamsburg as I was composing posts about Route 66 and filling stations; an easy conversation to slide into at any time, but, especially when talking about the ’50s and ’60s and the adventure one could still have on the road. One as likely to transition from patching tires and riding out to the farms to deliver fuel to summery Saturday nights on the Square, to one particular Saturday night in July when all the stores stayed open late and everyone came into town for a concert in the bandstand in the town square – but, first they stopped to “filler ‘er up” at the O’Neill Oil Company.
This photo sits in two places in our house; the library/den when I usually works and the office in the barn where Tom conducts business.
Do you have a memory of summer and music on the town square or park?
I wrote about Irish O’Neill and the time the Williamsburg home team played against the Harlem Globetrotters here.