We sat down with the legendary longtime proprietor of Chuck’s Texaco in Roseburg and played our version of 20 questions.
Story by Brad Allen
This green leafy goblet of the Umpqua Valley grows everything. Grapes fatten and burst out to make our rich wines. Green hop vines climb 12-foot trellises wafting backyards with the lemon-piney fragrances of IPA. Figs, fruits, vegetables and berries fill our bowls and fridges all summer and our pantries and freezers all winter.
Local legend has it that “Umpqua” means “bountiful” or “full belly” in the languages of the natives who’ve lived here for millennia. Good name.
Our Umpqua Valley also grows a bounty of life wisdom and charm in local icons such as Chuck McCullum, owner and proprietor of Chuck’s Texaco on South Stephens Street in Roseburg.
Everyone in town knows Chuck (and if that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s not much of one) — the toothy smile, the winsome banter, the ingratiating kindness and vigor for serving his customers, whom he clearly loves. In an era when social media and politics divide us in alt-factual quibbling, it’s soulfully satisfying to have a few home bases of tolerance and life wisdom to welcome all comers.
After nearly 60 years in the same location, Chuck is still up at the crack of dawn, into his black-and-red Texaco uniform and cap, and soon hustling in the Texaco station that’s served multiple generations of customers since 1936.
My first encounter with Chuck was on a warm August afternoon 30 years ago. A newly minted teacher in search of a job, I pulled into his station for gas and was charmed by the easygoing patter he worked up while washing my windows. Was I in Mayberry? Did I cross a time warp at Garden Valley Boulevard?
Imagine my surprise when Chuck opened the passenger door of my dusty Toyota Tercel and bundled in to wash the inside of my windshield with his red cotton rag. I’d never seen that done before, and haven’t since, but it left an impression and, I’ll admit, swayed me to take my first teaching job in the Umpqua Valley.
Any place that folksy and hometowny felt cozy to me. I was sold. I’ve been loyal to Chuck’s Texaco ever since.
When I tell that story to Chuck, his eyes twinkle as he scans his shop, hung neatly with tools and auto parts. He denies the incident ever happened, insisting it couldn’t have been him who buffed the inside of my windshield.
“I’m a bad person,” he quips, looking away at a truck rolling in for gas. “Only a good person would wash the inside of windshields like that. But I like to think I smiled and made you feel welcome.”
We asked readers of UV magazine, as well as those online, what questions they’d ask Chuck and came up with the 20 that follow. One morning I found Chuck with an entire fleet of white U.S. Postal Service trucks shuttling in and out of his shop for service (clearly, the Roseburg Post Office is loyal to Chuck’s as well) and sat down in one of two chairs near the front counter of his office.
Behind us, the day’s delivery of auto parts stood in piles, as well as a brightly packaged toy Texaco airplane, no doubt earmarked for some local kid’s birthday or Christmas present. Parked high up on a shelf was every Texaco toy fire truck I wanted as a kid when my dad gassed up our various Pontiac station wagons.
Behind the counter, taped to the wall, hung a curled and faded sheet of paper with a large circle. For stress relief, the accompanying instructions directed the reader to bang his or her head inside the circle. Clearly, Chuck is a low-stress problem solver.
Thus prepared for anything, it was time for our interview. Chuck sat, cleared his throat, held up the sheet of questions he clearly had studied, and our game of 20 Questions for Chuck began.
“SURE. I’VE HOTWIRED THREE OR FOUR. BUT DON’T ASK ME ANY MORE.” – Chuck McCullum
For nearly 60 years, Chuck McCullum has been almost constantly on the move ensuring his customers are served well
and his station is in prime working order, if not necessarily perfectly organized.
1. What was the first car you ever owned, and how old were you when you bought it?
I was 15. It was a 1950 Chevrolet coupe. I bought it for 15 bucks from a lady on my paper route. I was collecting for the paper and I asked her if her car ran and she said, “It made a knocking noise and we’ve had it parked for a year. But we have company coming and if you wanna get it outta here, it’s yours for 15 dollars.”
2. When you were a senior in high school, how much per gallon did gas cost?
Twenty-five cents. We didn’t have the taxes we have today.
3. Did you ever give cute girls free gas if they pulled into the station?
No (blushes). Just my good smilin’ looks and I’d wash their windshield. That’s all they got.
4. Do you know how to hotwire a car?
Sure. I’ve hotwired three or four. But don’t ask me any more.
5. What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven a car in your life?
I owned a 1955 Chevrolet and I put a brand-new engine in it using the hoist in that lube room right here (points). Did it on a Saturday night after the station was closed. Got it runnin’ at four o’clock in the morning and drove it out to the Starlight Drive-In Theatre, which was out at Kelly’s Corner, on the old Highway 99, ya know?
I turned it around, got on the freeway and came back, taking the corner of Mount Nebo at 100 miles an hour! I got off the freeway at Garden Valley and came right back here to the shop. The car was broke in and ran like a watch till I sold it.
6. When you started at this Texaco, did you wear a bow tie or any different uniform?
Nope, I always wore the regular Texaco shirt and pants. They were Army green in those days. And the Eisenhower wedge hat. But I never wore the tie.
7. When you started, service stations provided a lot of services. What service do you miss doing for your customers?
(Long pause) To be honest with you, at Chuck’s Texaco, we still do all that stuff. We never stopped! Cuz we run a service station.
8. This gas station has been here since 1936. To your knowledge, was moonshine liquor ever sold here?
I don’t know. I don’t know. It was owned by a lot of nice gentlemen in Roseburg who were celebrities, but I don’t know if they had any moonshine.
9. This town celebrates Graffiti Days every year, but you actually lived through that time. What’s something you miss from that era?
The cars. And the jukeboxes.
10. What’s something you’re glad is gone from that era?
Some of the crazy hairdos.
11. What, in your opinion, is the best car model ever made?
Boy that’s a good question. I’m still a ’57, ’55 Chevy guy.
12. What’s the worst car model ever?
A PT Cruiser! That’s a nightmare.
13. Did you ever have a girlfriend who didn’t like the smell of gas on your hands after work?
I only had two girlfriends in my life, and they both ended up being my wife, so I don’t know.
14. Have you ever had a customer who made you so mad you threw something after they left or wished you’d keyed their car?
No, I’ve learned to not get mad and roll with the punches. I love my customers and always thank them. I tell my boys, “Be thankful you’ve got a job and thank your customers. It’s no fun having no job.”
15. What’s a fun little pleasure you enjoy doing in your job?
Havin’ fun with my customers and have everybody all happy and being on the good side, ya know? Thinking you left a mark in their lives and their town.
16. Did you ever find love at a drive-in movie? And what drinks or snacks did you typically buy at a drive-in movie?
Pepsi, popcorn and hot dogs. And love? I kissed my girlfriend who ended up being my wife. That was love. (His cheeks grow palpably red here.)
17. Would you prefer combustion gas engines forever, or should they be phased out for electric cars at some point?
Well I don’t think electric cars are our answer. And, of course I sell gas, so I’m a gas man. But I think the world’s gonna have to live with both of ‘em for a long time.
18. You’ve been a mentor and boss to many young men and women in your station for nearly six decades. What piece of advice do you give them that has proved to be the most valuable over time?
Respect. I tell the boys who’ve worked for me “Treat your mother and your wives and girlfriends with respect. Don’t call her your old lady.” I tell ‘em, “I’ll fire you if I hear you call her your old lady. That doesn’t show her the proper respect. Respect her while you have her.”
19. What’s your favorite smell in a service station?
Success! Gas and oil are fine. But I like the smell of success.
20. Ducks, Beavers, both or neither?
Well, I live in Oregon. And I’m a merchant in Oregon. So I support both the Ducks and the Beavers because they’re both from Oregon.