Just sitting and talking at the station


Every day except Sunday in Dayton, members of a forum of deep thinkers take to their metal and vinyl seats at Lenny Hobbs' service station and contemplate the affairs of the world.

"We still haven't figured out how can you have three channels on television, they all get their weather from the same source, and each of them says something different," reports Jim Patterson of Glenelg, who, at 65, is the junior member of the group.

Nearing the half-century mark, the station can legitimately still use "service" in its name at a time when many other stations are trading service bays for convenience store checkout counters.

Motorists can still get their oil or tires changed by Mr. Hobbs, 73, and the only convenience items he sells are candy, combs and chewing tobacco.

"You could get a college education right here, on any subject," Mr. Hobbs said. "Every day it's a different subject: baseball, football, fishing, horse racing.

"If you're here at the right time, you can hear about all the politicians. You'll hear a good cussing," Mr. Hobbs said, grinning.

It was just after World War II when Mr. Hobbs decided to build the station on Ten Oaks Road near Green Bridge Road, using money he had saved while in the Army Air Forces.

Mr. Hobbs learned to be a mechanic in the Army, becoming a service line chief for a squadron of Baltimore-built Martin Marauder bombers in England, France and Belgium.

Since the station opened in 1946, it has remained insulated from the march of progress and the suburbanization in Dayton, and Mr. Hobbs maintains that it has changed little.

"A lot of the older ones have passed away," he said yesterday, sitting with Mr. Patterson and Francis "Scooper" Brown, 81.

For most of its earlier years, the station was a hangout for the young men of Dayton, who would sit around shooting the breeze, helping out or playing basketball next door at the home of Dorothy Phelps.

"It was a good place for the boys," said Mrs. Phelps, 85. "They all stuck together; never had no trouble with them, and they growed up to be honest boys. Lenny could trust them there in his station, too."

"Back when the first televisions came out, you couldn't get in this place," Mr. Hobbs said of the station in the late 1940s.

"We used to have some terrible crowds then, during the fights, and wrestling. I know Joe Louis was fighting then," he said.

Some of those boys still hang out there, Mr. Hobbs said. They're just older.

"I'm 37," said Mr. Brown during his introduction, breaking the contemplative silence with raucous laughter.

After the war, Mr. Hobbs said, he didn't have much of his youth left, but he still went to spring training in Mahoney City, Pa. for a Boston Braves farm team.

"I was doing all right, but I was too old to be starting," Mr. Hobbs said.

So he returned home to run his new gasoline station, content to play for one of two Dayton amateur teams.

"Sports is quite a lot of it," Mr. Patterson said of the conversation that fills the long quiet gap between the station's busy rush hours.

The phone rings, and Mr. Patterson gets up, then sits down again by the station's office window.

"You get that," he said to Mr. Hobbs. "It's not the one that I answer."

Sure enough, it's a business call. Thirty-five minutes earlier, it would have been Mr. Hobbs' wife, Evelyn.

"I answer it, and I go down and pick up his lunch," Mr. Patterson said, gesturing toward Mr. Hobbs, who minds the station while his friend and morning assistant brings his meal.

Despite the abundant time for talk, Mr. Hobbs still does some work during the day.

"I don't do mechanical work like I used to. Just grease, oil filters, tires."

At his age, he said, raising his eyebrows slightly, doesn't he deserve a break?

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