Does a single snapshot tell a story? I think it does. Take for instance this glimpse of circa 1937.
Cynthia Wilson sent in this picture of two of her uncles with an unidentified man in overalls. She wants to know if the man in the middle is an actor?
The two brothers worked as Pullman Porters and sometimes traveled together. Here the brother on the left wears a double-breasted suit with a notched lapel, a silk tie and a high-crowned fedora style hat. In his hand is an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola recently purchased from the cooler behind him. The brother on the right wears a single breasted suit with a silk tucked into the breast jacket pocket and a high crowned fedora. He looks at the camera while the other man’s attention is caught by something in the distance. While I know their names, I won’t mention them because the image is a mid-twentieth century photograph.
Between them stands the man in overalls with the word Atlantic stitched on it. His attire signifies that he works/owns the station, not that he’s an actor. It’s a coincidence that his rugged appearance resembles movie stars of the 1930s. In the 1930s gas companies supplied service stations with overalls emblazoned with the name of their company and a cap. A clean and neat appearance was the sign of a reputable establishment thus the man’s clean white shirt and silk tie.
These men aren’t dressed for a special occasion. This is a snapshot of not just a moment but an era!
A photography studio name appears on the back of the image along with the date the image was printed, November 9, 1937.
Also on the back is a stamp for Nutone photo paper and a number, 147. A big thank you to Pam Young of the Virginia Collection at the Roanoke Public Library for researching company names in their phone book collection. She found that the Roanoke Photo Finishing Company, was located at 105 1/2 Campbell Ave., in Roanoke, Virginia. The 147 is a bit of a mystery. It could refer to the number of images processed by the company.
We tried to locate a Roanoke gas station that sold both Capital and White Flash gasoline, but didn’t have any luck. It’s quite possible that Cynthia’s uncle’s had their picture taken elsewhere. Unfortunately the reflection in the window to the right, doesn’t offer any clues to location. Atlantic White Flash gasoline and Capitol gasoline were also sold outside of Virginia.
The next time you go to “the pumps” compare what you see to this image. You can still buy a soda at most stations, but the appearance of the pumps is different. No more gauges and glass globes advertising the type of gas. There are a lot of other details in this image from the “contains lead” sign on the White Flash pump to the first aid symbol in the window and the cans of oil stacked in the window.