Daily photo by Brennen Smith|
Luther Masterson inside his Exxon station at Alabama 101 and Alabama 157. His age — he’s a month away from his 74th birthday — and thoughts of the impending cold and wind prompted his decision to step down. “I’m in good health, but I’m tired, and I really didn’t want another winter working in that soapy water to find leaks on tires. You can’t wear gloves and do that, and sometimes it’s during freezing weather,” he said.
after 34 years
Masterson ends full-service career
HATTON — Luther Masterson waited on customers and chatted with friends. He stole peeks at the television as Kentucky’s Wildcats chased Louisiana State’s Tigers from their No. 1 college football lair.
Masterson reached a milestone, too. At 7 p.m. Saturday, he locked his Exxon station at Alabama 157 and Alabama 101, calling time on a 34-year career.
One month from today, he’ll signal his 74th birthday. His age and thoughts of the impending cold and wind prompted his decision to step down.
“I’m in good health, but I’m tired, and I really didn’t want another winter working in that soapy water to find leaks on tires. You can’t wear gloves and do that, and sometimes it’s during freezing weather,” he said.
Many stopping by to offer congratulations brought fruit baskets, gift certificates and cards. A competitor also dropped in. Greg Terry, 43, took over a nearby independent station four years ago after the death of his father, Hollis Terry.
“I just heard you were retiring, and I had to come and see you,” he told Masterson as they shook hands. “You need to hang in a little longer.”
Terry said Masterson and his dad represented a dwindling breed of full-service operators.
“Dad opened in 1959, and he’d send Luther business, when he couldn’t get to it,” Terry said. “It was kind of a community thing.”
Ashley Oliver, 26, who came to pay off his account, said, “Luther would give credit where credit wasn’t due. He helped me, especially when I was running around at 16 years old. Daddy started bringing me here when I was 3 or 4.”
As Kentucky and LSU continued clawing at each other in overtime, Masterson, a 1952 Hatton High School graduate, recalled a lifetime of labor. He got his first job in the service station business in 1960. He and his brother-in-law, O.B. Owens, bought the station together in downtown Hatton.
Wendall Pierce, 63, who walked in for a visit as the end of regulation on Masterson’s career approached, remembered:
“Luther gave me my second paying job. The first came from the guy who had owned that station he and O.B. bought. Luther has helped a world of people in this community, and also rank strangers. He has given them gas to get them on their way, knowing he’d never see them again.”
“I just never could say no to nobody,” Masterson said.
But he managed to do that when he phoned his gas distributor, Joe Holmes in Cullman, to tell him of his plans to pack it in.
“Joe said, ‘Wait a minute! You’ve got a lifetime lease on that place.’ I told him three or four had already talked to me about wanting to pick it up.”
Masterson said he cautions them that it’s “a lot of work, a lot of headaches and time-consuming.” No one would expect the commitment he gave. Until three years ago, he opened seven days a week, working 12 to 18 hours a day. He once had four full-time employees, and the oldest grandchildren, Chad and Brooke Flannagin, assisted during the summer and on weekends while they were in school. A mainstay has been his wife, Jean.
“She didn’t mind helping out,” he said. “She’d run errands, watch the front, even pump gas while I was doing mechanic work.”
Masterson said he will miss the whole station scene, but most of all his connections.
“I’d get a cross section of folks from across the country, and they’d help me keep up with what’s going on,” he said. “There’s not many people who won’t talk to you if you talk to them.”
And he spoke of a morning routine that isn’t likely to vary because of retirement.
“I’ll still get up at 5, put on the coffee and read The Daily,” he said.
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