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September 26, 1997

I cannot get used to seeing the "Closed" sign at the Conoco station on the southwest corner of the square. The place is practically an institution, a Perry trademark if you will, and there was a time when it was NEVER closed. That was one of its unique virtues. A few years ago Alvin Cockrum used to brag that there were no keys to the station because there were no locks on the doors. "You don't need a lock if you never close," Alvin always explained, and it was true. The place was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I don't know when that tradition began, but it must have been prior to World War II when Alvin's partners were Earl Wilson and Bill Beckham. Clovis E. Severe was the local bulk agent for Continental Oil Co. along about that time, and Conoco was a hot brand, then as now. The triangular-shaped station on the Perry square was one of the first built with that design, and it was the Marland Oil Co. before it became Conoco. The triangle was the trademarked shape of the Marland and later the Conoco company logo. E.W. Marland of Ponca City was founder of the company that bore his name, and of course he later became a congressman and governor of Oklahoma, builder of the fabulous Marland mansion at Ponca City and the husband of the mysterious Lydie Marland, who became a reclusive last resident of the mansion after marrying the gentleman who once had been her adoptive father. Mr. Marland also gave his name to the proud but small community nestled in the northeast corner of Noble County.

During the depression years, gas station operators scrambled for customers just as every business did. One of their innovative ideas at the Conoco station during a particularly hot and dry summer in the late 1930s was an offer of "rain insurance for anyone who had their car washed on the station's tracks. If it had rained within 24 hours of a car wash, the customer was entitled to a free return trip. I think it cost $1 to have your car washed by an attendant then. Gas prices were also something like 27 cents per gallon and with that you got your tires checked, your radiator water level examined, oil level checked, all glass washed and chamois dried, and a few morsels of pleasant conversation, all tossed in at no extra charge. Those were the happy days.

Perry's principal Conoco station in the downtown area was a popular stopping place for motorists over a span of many years, but customers' changing habits ultimately reduced the flow of traffic on its driveway and so the business has stood idle for several months now. Somehow it just doesn't seem right. I hope a new lessee will be found soon.

Our former Chamber of Commerce executive director, Cheryle Leach, recently left that position to become a full-time student at Langston University. She told a friend that others in her classes often mistake her for the teacher, but other than that she is getting along fine. She did ask me to see if I could find someone who can help her with her algebra. "It's been a while since I tackled that subject," she said. Knowing Cheryl, I have to believe she will complete her degree program in good shape and wind up with her goal of a master's degree in due time. Then she will become a counselor in some field and help many young people and adults in coping with the problems of this age. Good luck to her, along with thanks for the fine job she has performed at the Chamber of Commerce the past seven years!