Fill 'er Up

Parkway Station, at your service.

So he slipped on a blue uniform and proceeded to work his thick, callused fingers to the bone. He pumped gas, fixed flats, checked air pressure, washed windows, washed cars, replaced plugs, set points, adjusted timing, parked cars, shuttled customers to and from work, then went home and cracked open the accounting books. This was the routine: twelve hours a day, six days a week, all year long.

"It was work," Orvis says. "Hard work. And lots of it."

The station turned a profit almost immediately -- but not just because of all the elbow grease. "Back then, the gas was so cheap -- 29 cents a gallon -- that people came for the personalities," Myrtle says. "People would come in for a tank of gas, and before long, he'd ask about their kids, their kids' names and what their kids were doing. And the next time they visited, he'd know everything about them."

Fuel for love: What's old is new again at the Parkway Station.
John Johnston
Fuel for love: What's old is new again at the Parkway Station.

Whenever homeless people stumbled over from skid row, just a block away on Larimer Street, and came into his station seeking a few dollars, Orvis would send them to the 20th Street Cafe. "Tell them Orvis sent you," he'd say.

"Poor people used to stop by on their way through town with carloads of children wanting to trade something for a tank of gas," Myrtle recalls. "But he'd just fill up their tank for free."

In 1970, as urban renewal changed the face of downtown, Orvis and his partner were given $10,000 for their property. Orvis took his share, walked two blocks down to 20th and bought a Conoco, which he named A & B. His customers followed. Before long, Orvis had maintenance and gas accounts for forty companies.

In 1985, at age 67, Orvis retired. Although he still owned A & B, under its contracts with gasoline distributors, the station fell under different management. But this January, the Bjornsens renegotiated their gasoline distribution contracts and resumed management of the station -- by now, the last one left downtown.

Kay and her brother, Barry Bjornsen, are in charge of the station. They changed its name to Parkway, moved Jerry back to full-time and hired Fred. They have plans to renovate with a 1950s theme, but in the meantime, they've hung a large banner: "New Management/New Attitude."

But Parkway plans to offer the same service it did when Orvis was in charge. Even though it would be more profitable to accept one of the lucrative offers that have been made for the property, easier to transform the station into a fill-and-go mini-mart, Kay and Barry want to see their plan through. Downtown businesspeople, loft dwellers and senior citizens will probably appreciate "not having to dirty their hands pumping their own gas in high heels and $500 suits," Kay says.

Other customers appreciate the difference, too. A ticket broker wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt and a braided goatee stops by during a Rockies game. "Damn," he says. "I've never seen it like this. It's all spiffed up! You've got the soda pop filled up, a new cash register, and the bathroom is even clean. Shit, I'm freaking out. This is like 2001: A Space Odyssey in here."

Another customer, an RTD driver, turns to Jerry. "You know, you're the only one who waves back at me," he says. "I honk to all my friends, but you're the only one who waves."

A third customer emerges from the restroom and offers Jerry a quarter.

"Aww," Jerry says. "Keep it."

He picks up his drill. "This has always been a working station," he says. "That's the way it should always be."

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