In their own words:
Norm Clark and the Clark’s Service Station years (Part 2)
This will conclude the taped interview with Norm Clark, who helped his father, Les Clark, manage and operate the Clark's Service Station - a landmark in the 2700
block of West Colorado Avenue for 55 years - and build up a chain of Clark's stations throughout Colorado before being bought out by Diamond Shamrock in
1986. Part 1 appeared in the Sept. 14 Westside Pioneer.
Q. When you got out of high school, did you go right into the business?
A. I went to college for one year, then I got out of there, and in 1953 I went to the Marine Corps. I was in for two years, stationed at El Toro Marine Air Base in Tustin, Calif., and then I came back in '55. We [he and wife Luana] bought our first house in Pleasant Valley in 1953.
Q. What was Pleasant Valley like then?
A. They [developers] hadn't done the Camp Creek ditch yet. They built on that other side, on Pleasant Street and Glen Eyrie [east of where 31st is now], and eventually they went over on the other side. [Egmont] Vrooman built most of the homes in there. He and his family lived up at White House Ranch [now called Rock Ledge Ranch]. We used to go up there and pick up their car and bring it back to the station. And I can remember, years ago, there was a farm off what's 31st Street now, and we used to go up there, and I'd ride up with someone from the station and pick up his car. The house was out in a pasture and there weren't any homes around there or anything. The house is still there, but now it's with other houses along 31st Street south of Fontanero.
Q. Did the Clark's station get involved in promotions?
A. We were very promotion-minded. We would always have gimmicks. We used to give Green Stamps away, till the Green Stamps cost us more than we were making. From the '30s to the late '70s, we would give out calendars. I think in the early '50s or early '60s, we used to give Christmas stockings with candy to parents who drove in with their children. We'd give out a thousand or more each year. We'd buy bulk candy, buy the stockings and stuff them and stamp labels onto them. It was quite a lot of work, but worth it just to watch those kids' faces when they would come in and get a sock full of candy. Dad was generous.
Q. Was there competition with other gas stations?
A. There were just a few. I think there were three or four stations on the avenue west of what we called the Colorado viaduct bridge - Texaco, Mobil, Skelly. Of course a lot of our trade came from Manitou Springs and Ute Pass because before the bypass opened everything came down Colorado Avenue. They had one old garage in Manitou and that was it. We were the number one Standard station for volume in Colorado Springs for quite a few years. But my dad and uncle, they always gave 2 cents a gallon off pump price and Green Stamps. And there were always gas wars going on. We never had a price sign out there until we went self- serve in '64, I think it was. The word would get around [on prices]. We were as cheap as anybody. Back in those days, 2 or 3 pennies a gallon was a lot of money. Now 20 or 30 cents isn't much, compared to the price of gas.
Q. Before self-serve, how many employees worked at the station?
A. We used to take probably 20 people to run that station. We had 18 pumps. This was when you ran out, pumped gas, did the windows and ran back. We had a chamois out on the island, and finally we went to those squirt bottles with the wipes.
Q. Were there other Clark's stations after a while?
A. We started expanding in 1964, and we had 21 stations when we sold out.
Q. All in the city?
A. No, I think we had 10 in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area. And we had some on the Western Slope, and we had some out east, in Limon, Rocky Ford. We had Salida, Breckenridge. We bought other people out once in a while, and we expanded, built some new ones. We built a new one in Clifton, a suburb of Grand Junction. We had one in Leadville that did real well. My duty was just mainly to go around seeing and managing the stations. I had managers underneath me, supervisors. I enjoyed knowing the people who worked there, checking everything out. You always had a few problems. (Laughs.)
Q. How many employees did you have in all those stations?
A. I think at the peak, in 1986, we had around 250.
Q. You worked with your dad until he retired?
A. He never retired. He had a heart attack in '54 [but] when we sold out in December of '86, he'd worked every day. That was his hobby and that's what he enjoyed doing. The only problem was that he thought everybody enjoyed working 6-7 days a week.
Q. He couldn't understand why you might want a day off once in a while?
A. Yeah. He thought that was very unusual. You would go to work at 6 in the morning, you were supposed to get off at 5, get home around 6. Then if somebody didn't show up you'd go back and work till 10. Of course, you never thought anything of it. It had to be done. There wasn't anyone else to do it.
Q. Along with your gas station responsibilities, you got involved with the Old Colorado City revitalization efforts in the 1970s. But Clark's was a block north of the historic district.
A. I always thought the Westside was just the Westside. We didn't put boundaries on it. It wasn't 21st to 28th, it was just the Westside, was the way we looked at it. I just thought it went from the viaduct to Adams Crossing; I never put any closer boundaries on it than that.
Q. How did the revitalization come about?
A. The Colorado Commercial Club started in 1975, Gene Brent and myself, and Ed Schoch, and Bea Yandura. They said Dave Hughes would be a good man, so he came on to the Commercial Club. And then Don Bates and Wes Colbrunn, they started up Old Colorado City Development Company; there were some other folks too. I was president of the Commercial Club for I don't know how long, and I stayed on for quite a few years and watched it develop and get turned around.
Q. Would you tell your Gates fanbelts stories?
A. There used to be, late '40s, early '50s, Gates had fanbelts, and they had what Gates called a “mystery man” and he'd come around and if you happened to check his fan belt and it was cracked and you told him about it, you'd get $5. That was quite a lot of money back then. I got that once. Another time, the first fan belt I ever sold, he drove a Willys Knight, and I thought I did a great job by selling him a fanbelt. Well, I come to find out that on the old Willys Knight there wasn't enough room between the fan blades and the radiator to take the belt off, so we had to pull the radiator and put the fan belt on and just charged him 75 cents for the fan belt.
Q. What was it like bringing the gasoline into the station?
A. A railroad track came up, and right behind the station on Cucharras they'd leave a tank car, and we'd pump that gas off and run it up through the alley to the tanks at the station on Colorado Avenue. It would take about two hours to pump it off. In summertime, you'd have to start about 5 in the morning, if you waited any longer and let the sun hit that tank car the gas would boil and vapor lock and wouldn't pump out. So you always got up early to pump the tank car. On weekends they'd bring out maybe two cars of gas. We'd unload one and then unhook it and take it down maybe 30-40 feet so we could then get the full one in there. Well, there's a guy, Ed Gilland, who just passed away a few years ago. He and I were unloading one and we were just getting it loose. They had those big wheels on there with chains to tighten the brakes. Well somehow that chain had got tangled up and the harder he pulled, he couldn't get in it. We rolled that car all the way to about 23rd street, and then we got dad and he got an old Westside lumber truck and an old 4-wheel drive and we pulled that car back up by the station there on Cucharras. It was quite a ride.
Q. What was the most unique aspect of Clark's?
A. Dad's policy was honesty, integrity and never have an argument with a customer. We had a guy who worked for us 25 years. He's retired and passed on. We sold a lot of tires, and at that time they were guaranteed, and you would pro-rate them. And he would argue with a customer and would say we can't do that and everything. And Dad would step in and say, 'Dale, I think that we'll just give them a whole new set. These just didn't work out.' And Dale wasn't doing anything wrong. Dad told him, you never win an argument with a customer. If you do, you just lost a customer. And we were brought up that way too. I think that part was why everybody said it was a good, honest company, and whatever Les tells you, that's the way it is.
Q. He decided to sell out because…
A. It was a family corporation, and he was getting up there in years. [Note: Les Clark died in 1990.] The liability for underground storage tanks, handling the gasoline, was getting so high that with the amount a smaller company like ours was paying for insurance we were lucky if we had anything left over. All in all, we decided it was time to sell out. We looked at other companies, but we were with Diamond Shamrock, and they made the best offer.
Q. After Clark's was sold, what kind of work did you get into?
A. I bought some houses in Pleasant Valley; we would fix them all up and sell them and turn them. We did that for quite a few years. After that I went down to Arizona and did some buying and selling down there and came back here. Luana has worked at the Christmas store for about 10 years in Manitou.
Q. Do you miss the gas station days?
A. I enjoyed the work force. Meeting the public and dealing with them. Oh yeah.
Westside Pioneer interview and transcription“In their own words” question/answer interviews are an occasional feature in the Westside Pioneer.