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Tampa woman remembers running station

Staff writer

A newly renovated gasoline “filling” station sits at 4th and Main Sts. in Tampa. It does not provide fuel, but it looks as good as or better than it did when it was built more than 90 years ago.

David Mueller, a local farmer, purchased the derelict building in 2010 and had it restored inside and out. It was the first of several Main St. buildings he purchased and restored.

“It’s a neat building,” he said. “I knew if I didn’t get it and fix it up, it would get demolished.”

When Donna Backhus was growing up in Tampa, she helped her father operate the business as “Klein and Son.” Some say it should have been named “Klein, Son, and Daughter” because Donna was the station attendant after school and weekends throughout her high school years. From 1949 to 1953, she could be found at the station pumping gas and fixing car and bicycle tires.

The 80-year-old retired bank clerk remembers how she felt about it.

“It made me mad because I couldn’t go out to the ball games and had to stay there and work,” she said.

She recalled changing 50 tires in one week for 50 cents a tire.

When her father, Manuel, changed oil in vehicles, she handed him tools and cleaned out dirty air filters.

He once gave her the responsibility to drive the delivery truck to a fuel tank and fill it with gas. She was 14 years old.

“How could he have allowed a 14-year-old to do something like that?” she wondered.

Donna sometimes rode with her father on fuel deliveries to farmers.

“I liked to go along at lunch time because they always served lunch,” she recalled.

According to a Tampa history compiled by the late Ed Costello, the gas station was built in 1926 by a Joe Costello. Ed Costello said it was the sports headquarters of Tampa as area residents gathered to discuss local baseball and basketball games and listen to the World Series on the radio.

Donna’s father stopped selling gas in the mid-1950s. Her mother, Frieda, operated a small grocery store out of the building for several years.

The building had several more owners who used it for storage. The roof was falling in when Mueller purchased it in 2010.

He hired Jantz Construction to renovate the building inside and out. It has a new red roof, new windows with red trim, and a finished interior with new lighting and a ceiling fan.

Mueller acquired two gas pumps for out front from B.J. Clement of Tampa, who had purchased them from farmers. Clement restored them to their original condition. Coincidentally, Clement’s wife, Tina, is Donna’s daughter.

Donna and her husband, Wilbert Backhus, live in Tampa. She was happy to see the building restored.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s better than seeing it fall down in a heap and being forgotten. It holds a lot of memories for me.”

Last modified Nov. 10, 2015

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