Motorway service stations were born in a German chemist’s shop in 1888

This is your current Roamer’s 750th page, a grand total achieved predominantly with information gleaned (or plagiarised!) from readers’ letters, notes and messages about a breathtakingly wide variety of subjects.

There were other Roamers long before I inherited the privilege of compiling this page; Louis Malcolm was the most recent before me.

I’m not sure how many pages and how many millions of words have previously been written here, but the bulk of the stories and accounts were instigated by News Letter readers.

Thank you for sharing your frequently intriguing, often moving and always interesting memories, yarns, narratives and observations.

Please keep sending them to the News Letter.

Following up on the ever-burgeoning list of topics from Roamer’s mailbox sometimes requires shorter or longer road-trips, with an occasional flight, ferry or train-journey to further afield.

If you’re perusing this page later today I’m (hopefully!) safely back in Belfast after driving from Co. Fermanagh.

If you’re reading it earlier in the day, I’ll be motoring in an easterly direction along a road that passes my childhood home.

Nowadays there are several large petrol stations and shops beside the road, but when I was a child there was nothing except green fields, trees and hedges.

I remember very well when a little petrol station opened there in the 1950s, a particularly important event for me because it was stocked with much more than petrol.

It also sold sweets, ice cream and lemonade - childhood heaven!

The filling station has enlarged and expanded beyond recognition, in size, goods-on-sale and number of staff.

But I’ll never forget the kindly, slightly stooped gentleman who served alone behind the counter.

He always waited patiently while I sniffed the aromatic hints of liquorice, peppermint and brandy-balls that hung deliciously in the air in the station’s shelf-packed, dimly-lit interior.

The ‘wee garage’ as we called it was probably one of our first local signposts to post-WWII changes, social, economic and commercial.

Previously, petrol was purchased at several town-centre service stations, each with a couple of pumps and an attendant and each owned by a larger garage/car-dealer that specialised in fixing and selling cars.

None of these establishments stocked liquorice, peppermints or brandy-balls!

My ‘wee garage’ marked changes in a legacy that’s said to have started in a pharmacy in Germany in the late 19th century.

History’s first filling station was a chemist shop in Wiesloch in northern Baden-Württemberg, where Bertha Benz refilled the tank of the world’s first ‘practical’ motor car on its ‘maiden drive’ from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in 1888.

Previous petrol-driven car ‘journeys’ were short and experimental practice-runs.

Bertha’s husband Karl Benz patented the car in 1886, and without his knowledge, accompanied by their two sons, she drove the historic 60-mile trip.

Bertha’s journey is now commemorated annually on a route that’s immortalised with explanatory signposts - the Bertha Benz Memorial Route.

Carl Benz had only been able to estimate the approximate fuel consumption of his new-fangled automobile as he’d merely taken it for practice runs on a paved track with mechanics standing by.

Bertha and her boys were navigating along lonely mud lanes, which required much more fuel.

After a short time the car spluttered to a stop.

The tank was empty and there was no such thing as a filling station!

Fortunately they’d come to a standstill in Wiesloch, where there was a pharmacy, and they were able to purchase Ligroin, a detergent used as fuel in those days.

Thus, the pharmacy in Wiesloch became the world’s first filling station.

Bertha herself became the world’s first female car mechanic due to two other mishaps.

“The first time, the fuel line was clogged,” she recounted “and my hairpin turned out to be helpful there. The second time the ignition was broken. I used my garter to fix that.”

Today, and ever since I was first able to buy sweets and ice-cream in my local petrol station, the now ubiquitous roadside amenities are a vital part of our infrastructure.

Some are vast fuel-franchises offering every luxury, commodity and facility that a traveller needs, and more!

Strangely, around the same time that I was delighting in all the goodies available in my “wee garage”, an American architect proposed that filling stations could be the hub of the community.

The R. W. Lindholm Service Station, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is located at 202 Cloquet Avenue in Cloquet, Carlton County, Minnesota.

It was intended to spearhead Wright’s vision of the gas station as a social centre.

Readers of a ‘certain age’ will doubtlessly remember, and probably still cherish, Simon and Garfunkel’s hit song ‘So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright’ from early 1970.

Wright developed an organic and distinctly American style of architecture and designed numerous iconic buildings.

His cylindrical, spiral-structured Guggenheim Museum, highly controversial at the time, it is now revered as one of New York City’s finest buildings.

Simon and Garfunkel’s plaintiff ode was written by Garfunkel, who’d studied the architect’s designs at college.

Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the R. W. Lindholm Service Station, built in 1958 and still in use, is Frank Lloyd Wright one and only petrol station!

The petrol station, in Wright’s words, could be “the future city in embryo” which would “naturally grow into a neighbourhood distribution centre, meeting-place, restaurant ... or whatever else is needed.”

Roamer’s “wee garage” was Wright-on!