Traveling through the South on the old U.S. Highway system, avoiding the trucks and boring sameness of Interstates, one becomes aware that the gasoline-station/convenience store -- with its pizza and fried chicken, canned food, lottery tickets, beer, chips, over-the-counter drugs, motor oil and energy drinks -- has triumphed over all other models of business activity. What were once bustling little downtowns otherwise have become strips of empty storefronts and vacant lots.
Churches and schools survive -- and occasionally, but infrequently, an independent cafe, bank or insurance office. Also surviving are the old filling stations that turn up at most highway junctions and every downtown, stripped of pumps and familiar signage and repurposed, usually as car repair shops, but often as interesting and surprising new enterprises.
There is always a concrete island out front where the pumps used to stand, as at this tiny station, which is now an insurance agency in Crawford, Ga.
Sometimes the new business is a temporary one, like this flea market, with it's pipe racks and sawhorse tables.
This old station outside Hagerstown, Md., now sells soft-serve ice cream instead of high-test gasoline.
Melvin's Used Cars near Lynchburg, Va., was one of the few old filling stations I saw that still has an oil company sign out front.
Besides old cars, such as this four-door 1953 Chevy, Melvin sells used parts and offers towing services and still has an old fuel pump. There were lots of vintage hub caps hanging on one wall of the building.
Only the pump island revealed the original purpose of this Georgia log cabin trophy shop.
Newer stations feature big canopies to keep self-service gasoline buyers out of the rain, but the shelters don't guarantee surviving in the fuel business. This station in Athens, Ga. now sells only tires.
This old station in rural Georgia is now home base for Pig O's Bar-B-Que. The economic dominance of convenience stores seems only rivaled by barbeque restaurants in the South.
This South Carolina station downsized from the automobile service business to the lawn mower industry.
Riding north outside Athens toward Ashville, N.C., I saw this sizable old garage converted into an antique shop.
This old wooden filling station might also have sold groceries back in the day.
Today, it occasionally sells bait ...
tomato plants and ice.
In Hagerstown, this old station now houses a Roto-Rooter franchise.
Gas stations were built to last, like this Cities Service building in Appomattox, Va.
Perhaps someone will refurbish it as a Subway sandwich or cell phone shop. Probably not. It's a relic of a small-town America that no longer exists, like this old brick warehouse and its Bull Durham tobacco sign in Estill, S.C.