The 1950s was an era that Audrain County resident Donna Martin and her friend Marvin enjoyed. Those were the days of ice-cold Coca-Colas, juke boxes, ice cream parlors, drive-in theaters and hot rods. To teenagers back then, this was paradise.
"Life back then was great," Donna said, admitting that she often craves those days.
One night about a year ago, while sitting on their front porch reminiscing on "days gone by" and discussing their need to build a double-car garage for their two sports cars, they came up with an idea that would combine their two passions.
Both Donna and Marvin love their cars and like to keep them showroom clean. So, Donna said one day Marvin went to work and called home telling her that he had just brought them a house and that he wanted her to see it.
"I'm thinking what? I don't want to rent a house. I don't want to do anything," Donna said, laughing as she recalled the conversation. When she saw the trailer, she was even more adamant. "It was a double-wide trailer that the rats wouldn't even live in. It was really bad."
But after Marvin hauled the trailer home and they gutted it, she said, ideas started popping in their heads, about what they could do with the shell.
"We knew we wanted to build the two-car garage, but we didn't need all the space the double-wide offered," Donna said. "So, we sat on the front porch like we often do and talked about the good old days, as we pondered what to do with the additional space."
Donna said as a child, her family was military and moved a lot. However, every four years or so, the Tennessee natives would return home, where she enjoyed summers playing in her aunt's country grocery store that had old gas pumps out front and a feed mill in the back.
"As a kid, there was nothing to do in Tennessee. I remember going to my aunt's store playing on the cash register and these old men would come in and give us soda and peanuts. They would sit around, talk and spit their peanut shells and we would do what they did. The mixture of the two tastes was nasty, but we did it anyway cause it was fun," Donna said.
That's where their vision for their extra space originated. Donna said they first thought about making it into a miniature grocery store, like the one her aunt owned. Then they decided to build a replica of an old Sunoco gas station.
"The station was Marvin's idea, because he's into racing and Sunoco at one time was the racing fuel," Donna said. "But, when we started looking for Sunoco stuff, it was hard to find anything, because the name had died down."
Page 2 of 3 - Then they got a break and memorabilia started showing up everywhere — from Nascar Sunday on television to the City of Centralia, that now has a Sunoco station, Marvin said.
With the help of family and friends, everything they acquired for the station was purchased in Audrain County — including an old gas pump, ice chest and even a rusted-out shell of a 1955 Chevy two-door hard top, that Marvin intends one day to restore.
The old gas pump was purchased from Mexico resident Bernie Steinkamp in "sad shape," but functional. The '55 Chevy was purchased from a guy in Thompson. The old Coca-Cola ice chest, still functioning and sitting outside the station, was found north of town in a barn and the big Sunoco sign suspended above the gas pump, was handmade locally.
The only accessory that did not come from within the community is the Sunoco globe that sits on top of the gas pump. It was an online purchase.
The couple even found a 1950 F100 all original, that sits on the side of the station, also awaiting restoration.
"Once we started the project, it seemed like everyday we were coming up with new ideas and different ways to make it to our taste, and in 13 months, we've nearly completed it," Donna said. "Our family and friends have really been helpful. They are always coming up with stuff for us to use, or sharing ideas on how to fix it up.
"It's something we have really enjoyed doing and we never really had to leave our community to do it. It's something we look forward to sharing with our family and friends."
The outside of the garage is only the icing on the cake. When you enter the station, it's like stepping onto the set of Happy Days or into a Route 66 roadside café — with red and silver bar stools, a glass counter filled with candies, tobacco and even an original Red Ryder B-B gun that every small male child of the 50s yearned for. An old cash register that can still ring up $.01 cent items, some mirrored pictures, a black wall pay phone and a small popcorn machine also add to the aura of the room.
The little blue curtains with yellow trim that line the windows even have a story.
"My best friend, Judy Songer, made the curtains for me. I remember telling her I wanted valances, but not full-sized valances, and she did them just the way I wanted, so they looked like the colors in the Sunoco sign," Donna said.
Visitors to the couple's little time-capsule are greeted with a small bottle of Coca-Cola, a bag of peanuts and great conversations – while a miniature juke box in the corner plays songs of the 50s and 60s. The floor space can even accommodate dancing, if needed.
Page 3 of 3 - "We both like to entertain, so this is great for us because we're always having friends over," Donna said.
While the station is quite quaint, it's only a piece of the couple's 10-acre paradise. In the back of their home is a flower garden with a flowing water fall, a lake that has fish that actually come up to the dock to be fed and a back acreage of land that invites holiday activities.
"I love coming home and enjoying the peace and quiet and serenity our place offers," Donna said. And, judging from their two personalities, craftiness and appetites for "a taste of the past," more is in the making and yet to come.