Family's 40 Years of Pumping Gas : Vintage Station Defies Change

The paint is badly chipped and signs advertising products that are no longer for sale hang on the walls--no surprise since the building was built before the Great Depression.

But S. A. Russell's Sawtelle Boulevard station is still pumping gas and offering the old-fashioned service that has kept it in business for nearly 40 years.

In an age when major chains dispense gas by computer and sell fast food as well as air filters, Samuel Alton Russell, 73, says he has kept his independent operation alive by offering good service at a fair price.

Russell, his son Gene, 49, and grandson Kurvin, 21, pump a little gas and perform tuneups and minor repairs on weekdays and on Saturday mornings on a corner just north of Olympic Boulevard in West Los Angeles.

The station opened in 1923, 22 years before Russell, a refugee from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, used a $1,000 loan from his mother to buy it.

He has refused takeover offers from major chains because, "If you bring one of the big chains in here they will tell you how much gas to pump and employees to hire and when to open and close."

Gene Russell said his father, who will finish his fourth decade at the station this summer, keeps promising to retire, then sets the date back another few years.

"I've enjoyed every bit of it," the elder Russell said. "If I didn't, I wouldn't have been here for 40 years."

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