Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — As Mary Smith pulls her car beside one of the gas tanks labeled "full service" at the Colonial Mart Shell in Jackson, a NASCAR-type pit stop breaks out.
One worker quickly greets her and begins pumping gas. Another checks the car's oil and tire pressure, then washes the windshield. Smith, 85, sits in the cool of her car on this 90-plus degree day.
"I'm willing to pay the extra 30 cents (per gallon) to have them do everything," said Smith, a Jackson resident and a regular customer at the Shell. "I get confused by all that stuff on the pump. ... I'd rather let them do it. Plus, I feel like I'm dealing with friends when I come here. They know me, and I know them."
Station owner Neil Wolf, 43, carries on what is now three generations of family-owned stations. All offered full-service treatment.
At Colonial Mart Shell, that includes a convenience store and three bays where Wolf's team of five mechanics routinely performs oil changes, radiator flushes, brake jobs, tire rotations and repair, and other tasks. Customers can purchase tires, batteries and inspection stickers.
"Young people will ask me — and this happens way more than you think — what does that sign 'full service' mean?'" Wolf said. "When I explain what we do — pump the gas for the customer, check different things on the car, work on the car if needed — they give you this screwed-up look and go 'Do what now?' It's like I'm speaking Russian or Chinese.
"But it's not really their fault. All they've ever known are gas stations where you pump your own."
At least one other full-service station exists in Jackson, a Chevron in north Jackson. But for the most part, they have gone the way of pay phones and pagers: You may spot one every now and then, but it's sure to earn a double take.
Wolf doesn't understand why there aren't more stations like his.
"We hear this every single day: 'So-and-so used to take care of the car — the oil, the tires — but they died and I don't know how to do all of that,'" Wolf said. "So they come here where that is part of our routine service. Yes, they do pay 30 cents more (per gallon of gas). But to them it's worth it.
"And you also have people who dressed for work or weddings or whatever, and the last thing they want to do is get out and get gas all over them. We can help serve a lot of purposes."
Rita Barnes, 79, of Jackson frequents the Colonial Mart Shell.
"We came here before my husband passed (in 2007), and I've just continued on. I wouldn't know how to pump gas if I had to, and they'll always look at the car and tell me things to watch for. It's just one more thing I don't have to worry about."
Wolf grew up in this neighborhood, used to ride his bicycle to this station. His dad, "Smitty" McCoy, bought it in 1979.
Wolf began working here at age 12.
"My dad came into my room one summer morning, and cupped his hands around his mouth and played 'Reveille' five inches from my ear as I slept," he said. "He stuck me out there at one of the full-service pumps. It was one of those old ones that had the numbers that rolled over and a bell 'dinged' after each gallon. I pumped gas all day long."
A 1988 graduate of Murrah High School, Wolf wanted no part of the service station business. He earned an academic scholarship to North Carolina State University and had considered studying marine biology.
"When I had to take organic chemistry, I decided to broaden my horizons," he said.
Wolf worked a landscaping job and also became a chef that specializes in saute' dishes. When he returned to Jackson in 1998, he was a chef at Amerigo and also worked construction.
"My dad kinda tricked me into the business," Wolf said with a smile. "He asked if I could help him out one night a week in the convenience store. Well, you see where this wound up?"
He took over the station after his dad died in 2008. Three years later, Wolf sold his construction business "and we went all in here."
"I'm not looking to develop a chain of stations," said Wolf, whose wife, Kim, manages the convenience store side of the business. The couple has one son, 4-year-old Lucien.
"As long as we can make enough money so that we don't have to eat dog food when we're old, we'll keep it going.
"To be honest, I feel a certain responsibility to my dad and carrying on his legacy. He loved this job. I work 10 hours a day. He'd work 12 to 20. He'd take the station's work truck home at night and go out if somebody called and said they were broken down or had a flat somewhere. We still do some of that during the day. But he taught me the importance of helping people."
Wolf points toward the large Shell sign near the street.
"My daddy said he wanted he wanted to be buried right there," he said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't make that happen. But, believe me, he's still here. And I'm pretty sure he likes what he sees happening. People still pulling in, people being greeted the right way and still getting the help they ask for."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com