When Fred Corley assembled a combination Texaco gas station/general store in his yard, he had no idea that this man cave, a place to store his antique tractors and petroliana, would prove to be the favorite playground of his eight grandchildren.
"As soon as they get out of the car, they bolt down to the station and general store and head straight for the candy and soda. They love it. They hang out down there," Corley said about his eight grandchildren, who range in age from 1 to 17.
His replica of an old-timey filling station and store in the heart of Mt. Juliet harkens to an era when gas station attendants pumped your gas, checked your oil level and tire pressure and cleaned your windshield; a time when a buffalo head nickel would fetch a candy bar or a six-ounce Coke in a glass bottle.
"I grew up about six miles outside of Livingston and worked on farms in tobacco, strawberries, hay. I fell in love with old farm equipment," began Corley, who graduated from high school at Livingston Academy in Overton County. "My first lawn mower when I moved here was a 1947 International tractor,
"My brother called me one day about a tractor show, Moonshine Days, up in Celina. So I painted my tractor and put new decals on it and put it in the show there and had a ball. After that I bought an F-12 and F-14 and a few others over the years. I have two left, a 1939 F-14 Farmall with steel wheels and the original road bands and a 1936 F12-Farmall.
One objector becomes biggest fan
A resident of Mt. Juliet for 40 years, in 1988 he realized he needed a place to keep his collection out of the weather, so he figured to erect a garage of sorts in his backyard.
"The only problem was there were neighborhood codes that wouldn't allow a detached building. There were only 12 homes on the street," he recalled. "So I asked my neighbors about putting up a building for my tractors. I went to every person on the street to ask for permission to allow me to put the building up. Only one objected.
"He didn't want any industrial-looking building. He said, 'Can you make it look like something else?' So I said, 'How about like a gas station and general store?' and he said, 'I'm fine with that.'"
Coincidentally, Corley noted, "He's the only neighbor who has come up here to see it and sit on the porch for a visit; he loves it."
The exterior of the structure is intentionally Texaco themed as Corley didn't want to decorate the place with a mix of different gasoline brands, but it also connects to a soft spot in his heart, a memorial of sorts to a favorite place from his childhood.
"I grew up near the north entrance to Standing Stone State Park where a good friend's dad, Charlie Gore, had a Texaco station, and that was where we hung out as kids," he shared.
Making his man cave/filling station more personal, Corley has several items that came out of the Texaco of his youth. A mannequin inside the building is garbed in the Texaco uniform that Gore wore. And a 1958 Texaco calendar from Gore's station is tacked to a wall, while a counter holds Gore's Texaco credit card machine.
The colorful décor parked along the 32-foot-long front porch features a Texaco Fire Chief Gasoline pump, a Mail Pouch Tobacco thermometer, an air meter, old-timey drugstore scales, a Coca-Cola cooler and two original Texaco stars that came off the front of a Texaco gas station in Sevierville.
He gives credit for the look of the place to Janet, his wife of 48 years, who also grew up near Standing Stone State Park.
"She is fully involved and helps decorate the station and gives opinion," said Corley.
Inside his general store shelves bulge with hundreds of items that include bottles, tins, jars, tobacco cans, coffee cans and scales and vintage products that wear such names as Hadacol, Rub-My-Tism, Butch Hair Wax, Mothalene Vaporizer, Wildroot Cream Oil and Nellie Martin Invisible Black Hairpins.
"Over the years, I stopped at old stores and bought stuff off the shelves," he says of his collection.
Born in Oklahoma City, the son of a Baptist pastor, Corley moved to Tennessee in his early teen years. After attending Tennessee Tech for year and a half, he spent four years in the U.S. Navy as an aviation mechanic.
He was a mechanic at Beaman Pontiac in Nashville for four years and then went to work with Pepe's Wholesale Pizza where he enjoyed a 39-year career and held the positions of director of operations and sales manager.
"Since my retirement, my wife is a little bit frustrated cause I'm working more hours than when I was working," confessed Corley, who has transformed into a super civic volunteer.
"I'm a member of the Wilson County Antique Tractor Association, and in 1991, Carlton Thomas and Johnny Mitchell approached the members and said, 'We're starting this little village over at the fairgrounds, which now is Fiddlers Grove," recalled Corley, who later was elected president of Fiddlers Grove Foundation.
"Carlton asked all the members of the club to bring their gas engines and tractors and farm equipment for display. At that time, we had my wife's grandfather's 1920 Williams gristmill, and for years, until about 2010, we operated it at the Wilson County Fair."
Next Corley was drafted by banker Randall Clemons to serve on the Granville Volunteer Board, which oversees events, projects and the continual restoration of the village of Granville in Jackson County.
"Then one day, Randall called me and said, 'I want to put in a little car museum and make it with the appearance of a gas station out front,' so he got me involved with that. So that got me away from the gristmill to the car museum.
"I took some of my signs to decorate the Granville Car Museum, and I took parts from two Sky Chief Gas pumps that I had and restored them to make a Gulf pump for the museum."
Corley also serves on the board of directors of the Mt. Juliet West Wilson County Senior Citizens Service Center and teaches a Sunday school class at First Baptist of Mt. Juliet.
To hear the 1960s "You Can Trust Your Car" Texaco jingle, go online to www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1zxOTDHIBQ.
VINTAGE TENNESSEE TEXACO: Cowan, Tenn., has repurposed this Texaco Gas station, which opened in 1936, closed in the mid-1970s and was restored in 2005, as a museum and tourist welcome center. For a few years it also served as the town library. The station boasts three gasoline pumps (one Texaco Sky Chief pump and two Fire Chief pumps), and the garage museum displays a 1936 Ford and a 1950 Ford. Owned and operated by Cowan Development Co., Inc., the station is located at 101 Cumberland Street East near the intersection of Highway 41A (before it ascends to Sewanee) and the CSX train line (before it begins its ascent to the Cumberland Mountain Tunnel). Cowan also is home to the Cowan Railroad Museum (cowanrailroadmuseum.org).