“We’re sort of a dying breed,” says Terry “Tooter” Shipley, owner of Shipley’s Valor station and service center in Bowling Green.
He says it’s the only station in town now offering full-service gas. While it also offers self-service, it’s the full-service that sets it apart.
“While we’re pumping the gas, we clean all their windows, check under the hood and clean the front floor board with a whisk broom,” says Shipley. Full-service costs a little more, but he says older customers appreciate it and drive out of their way for it.
Shipley’s dad, James, started working at the Standard Oil-owned station in 1954, still at 1248 Center Street. It sat a little farther down on the corner and was rebuilt in 1963. Later a Chevron station, his dad bought it in 1982.
Shipley began working in the business by age 10. “Dad taught me how to work on cars and how to deal with people,” he says. “We’re all different.”
Shipley and a part-time employee do mechanic work—brakes, water pumps, alternators, belts, hoses, batteries, spark plugs and coils. They work on new or old vehicles, including customer Dick Webber’s 1949 red Ford.
“Dad was real good. I have a Standard Oil magazine with an article and picture and they called him Mr. Friendly,” says Shipley. “He had that charisma about him, that personality that ate everybody up. He came up in the back room and would raise cane. He could turn it on and off. I’m not that good.”
A chip off the old block, Shipley says, “If I woke up in the morning and couldn’t come down here, I really don’t know what I’d do. This is where I want to be. We have some of the best customers and they are fun to talk to.”
Shipley’s Valor is open 7 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays 8–11 a.m.
Q&A with Terry “Tooter” Shipley
Why do they call you Tooter?
Dad used to work for Chevrolet Garage in Glasgow, then they moved to Bowling Green. He came to Bowling Green with Webb Chevrolet. He would go to meetings and there was a guy from Burkesville—Tooter Shelley. Mom and Dad knew him really well, and they said if they had a kid they were going to name him Tooter after him.
It’s worked out real well. My real name is Terry. Nobody calls me Terry. If someone calls and asks for Terry, it’s usually a telemarketer. Terry is never here, but Tooter is here (laughs).
How long has your family owned the service station?
It was a company-owned Standard Oil station. Dad started here in 1954, and it was a little one-base station that actually set further down on the corner, down toward the street. There were two houses where the station is now. In 1963 Standard Oil bought the two houses and built this station and tore the other station down.
Dad started working at the station in October 1954. This station has been here since 1963. It was all Standard Oil at the time, but was later bought by Chevron.
In 1982, Chevron started selling all their stations. They would let the dealer, or whoever who was running the station, have first chance at buying it. So in 1982, they sold Dad this station.
I’ve got a picture from 1935, where there was another Standard Oil station on the corner, but it looked completely different.
Center Street was the main drag through Bowling Green, before the Interstate came through. When Dad took over the station, they were open 24/7; they never closed.
Can you tell me about your dad and growing up in the station?
His name was James Edward Shipley, but most everybody called him Shipley. He was originally from Glasgow. If somebody came in and asked for James, he knew they were from Glasgow. Everybody here called him Shipley.
My son, Taylor, when he went to high school and started playing foodball, everyone started calling him Shipley. He grew up in the station, too.
I never even remember the old station because I was too little. I wasn’t born until 1957. By the time I started working, at age 10 in the summers, I think we were opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. I think Dad had quite opening on Sundays at that point, and was open Monday through Saturday.
Dad taught me how to work. You did not not go to work, that was a no-no. If you could get up out of bed, you went to work. I watched him work on cars, and he taught me how to work on them and how to deal with people.
I remember on Saturdays, there used to be a little bitty grocery store right on the corner, down the street from use and if we weren’t real busy, he’d let me go get ice cream. That didn’t happen very often.
I probably wasn’t a whole lot help. I’d have shorts on and I’d get back here in the back and roll around on the ground just to see how dirty I could get. Mom would putting me in the bathroom and the darn water would be black, and I’m sure she wasn’t too happy about that.
What type of services did you offer?
That was the only thing we had was full-service. The way Dad did it, if somebody comes in and fills up, we got all the windows, we checked under the hood and we brushed the front floorboards out with whisk brooms.
And we still do that. We have full-service and self- service gas. We’ll still go out even on self-service and put the gas in for them. But if they want full-service, then we still get all the windows, check under the hood and brush it out. And then, of course, most of them want tires checked, too.
When I first started, I was only tall enough to get the side windows. It took me a while to where I got tall enough to clean the front and back windows. We cleaned all the windows and we still do for full-service.
Of course, full-service gas costs a little more. We have to make a little more on that for what we’re doing. We’re the last one left in town that provides full-service.
What do your customers think about your service?
Most of them love it and they’re glad we’re here. Granted, most of them are older people and they don’t want to get out and pump their gas. Most of the young people don’t get full-service.
We’re right here where Western Kentucky University is. I have college students all around us, and I would venture to say that most of them don’t even know that we sell gas. The pumps that we have, unless you’re from a real small town, you probably have not seen pumps like this. Most of them don’t even think they work. I’ve had college students come in and ask if they can buy gas. They are used to convenience stores, where they go in to buy something to eat and drink.
How many people work for you?
I have part-time college student. I’ve been working college students for last 20 years. I have a part-time student, Hayden Murphy, who transferred from Murray State University. He’s working more hours during the summer and I am teaching them how to work on cars. He’s real good.
What type of mechanical work do you provide?
We do a lot of brakes, we do pretty much anything external—water pumps, alternators, belts, hoses, batteries, spark plugs, coils. We do some diagnostics, but when it gets into some of the electronic codes, you have to have a machine to figure it out. We send them somewhere else for that.
What do you offer customers that they don’t get elsewhere?
Service in general. I feel like we’re honest, which I think means a whole lot. I have to be able to lay my head down at night and go to sleep. We mess up just like everybody else does, but I feel like we do good work and we’re honest. And we try to be friendly, unless you act up (laughs).
What has the business taught you about life?
There are all kinds of different people out there, and I’m one of them. We’re all different. You like most of them. I think it’s a good thing to be exposed to lots of different people.
All the college kids that I’ve had working down here, that’s one of the best things they learn is how to deal with all kinds of different people. They can’t teach that up on the hill. You have to get out here and experience it.
Does your wife help with the business?
My wife’s name is Julie. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be in big trouble. She’s an accountant and does all the books and paperwork. She’s never here; she works for a CPA office. She went to WKU and majored in accounting. I met her here. She would come in here and get gas.
How has the business changed over the years?
It really hasn’t changed a whole lot (laughs). Of course, when Dad had it, in the ’70s, things had started going to self-service at the convenience stores. Dad would never do that, so the only thing we had was full-service. When I bought it from Dad, we started having self-service and full-service. Then we started doing a lot more mechanical work on cars.
Is someone going to take over the business?
No, it doesn’t look like it. Which that’s fine.
What gives you satisfaction in your work?
I’ve always said, if I woke up in the morning and couldn’t come down here, I really don’t know what I’d do. This is where I want to be. Why, I don’t know (laughs). I’ve got to do something. I’m not the type of person who can sit around and watch TV all day. I’ve got to be working and doing something, and I’d rather do it here than anywhere else.
And then the people—we have some of the best customers. They are a lot of fun to talk to. There’s a lot of free information that’s spread around, and you don’t even have to ask (laughs). People will just tell you. So you learn a lot. I learn something new everyday. We have loafers—who are actually customers, too—guys will come in and just hang out. It’s a pretty neat place.
Do you have any hobbies?
No hobbies. No, I haven’t been on a vacation in years. I’ve always said I live in a box, and my wife says I live in a matchbox. This is it. I come here and go home, that’s about it.
Are there any slogans?
My son made some little stickers that are pretty cool. They said, “Shipley’s, Family Owned and Operated Service Station Since 1954. We appreciate You.” I’ve been known to say that a lot.
Dad used to have some hats that had “Shipley’s Chevron” on it, and it said, “We try.” That was his motto.
1248 Center Street
Bowling Green, KY
Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m.–5 p.m. and Saturday 8–11 a.m.
No there’s no Facebook or website. They’ve tried to, and I’ve said, ‘No, we don’t need that.’ We don’t advertise either. As a rule, usually we’ve got more than we can do. We’re like any other business, we’ll have a few slow days and then it changes.