Service station owners call it quits after 72 years of pumping gas and helping neighbors

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The first few evenings of July, Art Peterson Jr. and his wife, Charlene, walked their cocker spaniels, Riley and Willie, around Lauderdale. They do so nearly every night, but now they were delivering handcrafted announcement/thank-yous to their most regular customers.

As Art handed me an envelope, he said, “We’re closing the station. We wanted you to know.”

It was the end of an era when Rosehill Service, 2430 Larpenteur Ave. W., closed its doors in early July. The Phillips 66 station has been in Art Peterson Sr.’s family since it was built by his grandfather, Peter Sventek, in 1934.

Art Sr. started working there part time at age 16. He got a job with the railroad, saved his money, and in five years approached his grandfather about buying the station from him.

Sventek was reluctant to see his grandson leave a good-paying job at the railroad, but Art prevailed and bought the station in September 1948.

The station has always been called Rosehill Service, named after the area in which it’s located. The Rosehill Nursery was just east on Larpenteur.

The area was part of Rose Township, and the city would probably have been incorporated with the name Rosehill, but Roseville incorporated first and beat them to the “Rose” name.

The city fathers thought Rosehill next to Roseville would confuse people and decided to name the city Lauderdale after the man who had donated land for the Lauderdale School.

In the early days, Larpenteur Avenue was a two-lane road, and the station’s Phillips 66 sign was located in what would be the middle of the street today.

During the county’s sewer project in the 1950s, the roads turned to mud every time it rained. Art was busy with his ’48 Willys Jeep pulling out cars that got stuck. He always feared each tow was going to be the end for his Jeep’s transmission, but it never gave out.

He recalls one fellow who came by to ask how much it would cost to pull his car out of the muck. Art said it would be 20 dollars. “But only one wheel is stuck,” the man said. “It should be half that price!”

Art has had a succession of helpers at the station, some 15 or more people who have worked part time with him over the years. But there were times when he was alone and needed to make a service call. Sometimes when he got back to the station, there would be money on the desk. Somebody had been by, pumped his or her own gas, paid for it and left.

The desk also got used as a card table for students waiting for the intercampus bus that came down Larpenteur. They’d sit at the desk playing cards until they saw the bus coming, then hotfoot it to the bus stop.

One day, the city’s only policeman rushed up to Art Sr. and told him to get his broom and come down to the railroad tracks. The passing coal train had started a grass fire.

“The city didn’t have enough money to have a fire department or even place a fire call. We went down there and put it out ourselves,” said Art.

Art Jr. was born in 1953 and came to help at the station when he was 14. In September of that year, his father had a gallbladder attack. The doctor wanted to remove it, but Art Sr. said he had a lot of snowplowing contracts for the coming winter and couldn’t afford to be out of commission. So he watched his diet and took it easy until he could take a break the following June to have his gallbladder removed.

The Petersons got many service calls that were unrelated to cars. One man called about water running in the basement. Art Sr. went over, found a pipe had broken and helped him fix it.

A woman called to say she heard a funny noise in her basement. Art said he’d be right over, had second thoughts and decided to send Junior. Art Jr. discovered the woman’s water heater had sprung a leak.

Art Jr. even got called on to use his floor jack to level an aquarium. He says they did a lot of those kinds of things and never thought much about it. “You just did it. It was what you did to help each other out.”

Art Sr. said they never had much of a problem with crime over the years. One time someone cut a hole in the wall to get in.

“The door to the garage was unlocked,” he said, “so they didn’t have to do that.” Nothing was taken, as far as the Petersons could tell. Their truck was stolen once and found shortly thereafter on Kasota Avenue.

The elder Peterson began to cut back his hours at the station in the 1980s and retired in 1986 after 38 years as owner/operator. Art Jr. has run the station since, with the help of his wife, Charlene.

Art Sr. turned 79 this year; Art Jr. is 53. He has always referred to his father as “Father,” and the elder Peterson has always called his son “Junior.” The Petersons’ homes are next to each other on Eustis Street.

When asked what led him to consider closing the station, Art Jr. said simply, “It’s time.”

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