Lansing's first gas station
Knopf's Standard Station was the first gas station in Lansing
Vince Hammell (left) and Charlie Spinner (right) pose with Clarence (center) outside his office at Knopf's. When they aren't busy waiting on customers, you might find them lined up in their chairs, watching the world go by.
This old photo of Joe Knopf (left) and Con Spinner (father of Norbert Spinner and Lenore Spinner of Lansing) shows the old gas pumps with the familiar Standard crown in the background.
Comics were attention-getters in Knopf's Station advertising during the late 1950's. This one is from the April 24, 1957 Allamakee Journal.
Knopf's Standard Station: A fixture of Lansing for over 60 years
Dynamite blasted away just enough of 'Little Hill' to make room for Joe Knopf's new service station -- Lansing's first. That was some 60 years ago. Today Knopf's Standard Station is owned and operated by Joe's son, Clarence. The station has become as much a fixture of North Second Street as the Blackhawk Bridge is of Lansing. It all began when Joe left a partnership with Cyril Murphy and Frank Ryan at the Lansing Garage to start his own business. After preparing the building site, Jim and Gene Brennan were hired to do the cement work. A gentleman named William "Bill" Wille (Veronica Wendler Lumley's uncle) laid the bricks for the garage. "When the station first opened it was under the banner of City Service and later became a Standard Station," Clarence said. Knopf's has always been a full-service station and remains so today.
Night service with a twist - 'Full-service' might have had a little different meaning during the colorful prohibition era. Clarence recalls hearing a story about a gent who offered to sleep on a cot at the station and provide 'night service' to Joe's customers. Clarence wonders if more than just gas was sold during the wee hours, but he has no proof. He did find a faded old sign at the garage which reads, 'Night Service.' The real truth may never be known, although this sign does lend some credence to the story. Second Street neighbors remember Joe for his kindness and great sense of humor. It is a little known fact he was in on a few telephone pranks with the neighborhood kids. But he would adamantly deny any knowledge of such calls (with his fingers crossed) when the telephone operator inquired about them. He was a friend to everyone -- young and old.
Changing hands - Joe suffered from an arthritic condition caused by an earlier injury as a well digger. By the time Clarence was a senior in high school, Joe desperately needed help at the station. I.C. High School accomodated the Knopf family by scheduling all of Clarence's classes during the morning hours. He was excused every afternoon to work at the station. In between pumping gas, checking oil and washing windshields, Clarence some how found time to do his homework. The station stayed open until 8 p.m. most nights, and as late as midnight on some occasions. When Joe passed away in 1949 at the age of 63, Clarence stepped in and took up where his dad left off. The Blackhawk Bridge has had the greatest impact on Knopfs business over the years. The original opening of the bridge in 1931 increased business tremendously. When most of the bridge was destroyed in the early 1940's by river ice, the repercussion was felt by the entire business community. The bridge remained closed until 1956, when it was reopened, and business flourished once again.
Service with a smile - Knopfs was a 'convenience store' long before the phrase was ever coined. Besides the usual gas, oil, air, and tires, they offered maps, candy bars, gum, tourist information, and the ever-popular Spring Grove pop. Former residents still stop at the garage, searching for their favorite flavor of Spring Grove. They are amazed and delighted to find it's still chilled in the same cooler they remember as kids. "The biggest change in the pop has been the shape of the bottle and the cost -- it's not ten cents any more!" Clarence said. Knopf's has always been a place for kids to get a bicycle tire repaired, or a patch slapped on an inner tube to take to the old swimming hole. Clarence could also be relied on to give your car a jump-start on the coldest winter morning. And service has always been the same whether you said, "only 50 cents, please," or "fill 'er up." The cheapest gas I can remember was about 20 cents a gallon around 1949," Clarence said," and the most expensive was $1.45 during the Gulf War." Bulk delivery service keeps Knopf's supplied with their gasoline needs. The names and faces of these delivery men have changed a few times over the years. Clarence remembers Hank Rettinger and his son, Butch being the first. They were followed by Harold "Fish" Severson, and his son, Dan. Today. Fred Rethwisch delivers for Keatley Oil.
A buried whiskey bottle, gypsies and thieves - In 1978, a rather unusual event took place at Knopf's. While digging up a water line, Clem Riek found an old bottle with a note stuffed inside. Clarence fished out the rather soppy paper with a wire and was delighted to see that the pencil-written note was still legible. It had been signed by Linus Teff and Pete Boltz who had dug up the same water line in the winter of 1936. The note talked mostly of the weather and how bitterly cold it had been for weeks. Clarence wonders if the contents of the bottle had been used to warm the men as they worked -- the note was stuffed in a whiskey bottle. Clarence can't remember anyone famous ever stopping at his station, but he has had his share of gypsy caravans. Due to their unsavory reputation, businesses actually closed years ago when word of their arrival reached Main Street. The gypsies seem to be a part of the past and are seen less frequently in this area today. Knopf's has been robbed several times over the years. Even with wire and bars over the windows, the thieves still managed to enter the building. "They never got much, and the damage to the window usually cost more than what they took," Clarence said with a smile. Although no one was ever brought to justice, he thinks he knows the guilty party, in at least one instance.
Changing with the times - Since Clarence first took over the station from Joe, he has continued to make improvements in the business. The old-style gas pumps have been replaced, the coal furnace has been converted to burn waste oil, and the office has been remodeled. But, according to Clarence, the addition of a second car wash, and the purchase of the old Ford Garage parking lot have been the most significant additions. Although many things have changed at Knopf's over the years, Joe would be pleased to know the friendly, personal service has remained the same.
Source: Allamakee Journal, August 30, 1991
Note: Knopf's Standard Station is no longer open as of 2006. The building is still standing, but has been closed for several years.
Contributed by Errin Wilker
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