by Ski Ingram
I met Bill Robertson through my friend Kenny Gallacher, pronounced Gal-a-gher. No, I am not mis-spelling his name. He spells it with a “ch” not a “g”. Kenny used to tell a story about his father being called to school one day and being told that he spelled his name wrong. He was told he should spell it Gallagher and not Gallacher. Kenny’s father told the teacher “If I want to spell my name S.H.I.T and pronounce it Gallacher, I will.” Nothing more was said about how Kenny spelled his name from then on,
Bill Robertson was married to Kenny’s sister, Marsha. I was probably 17 years old at the time. Kenny was 16. One day I went over to Kenny’s apartment and met Bill Robertson for the first time. I have no idea why Bill was there without his family. In fact, Kenny’s mother and father were not home at the time. I believe they were out of town, and I was going to spend the night at Kenny’s to keep him company.
Bill decided that we should go somewhere and in Kenny’s father’s car. Harold Gallacher owned a 1965 Dodge station wagon, light blue in color. It was his pride and joy. It was probably the first car that he ever bought new. Kenny did not want Bill to drive his father’s car, but Bill did anyway. I learned later that if Bill got something in his head, he was going to do it at any cost. The three of us loaded into the car and took off on my first adventure with Bill Robertson.
I don’t remember where we went or what we were doing, but at some point, we decided to get something to eat. Bill decided we should eat at the Plush Pony restaurant. The Plush Pony was an expensive restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, California. It was not the type of place that a couple of teenagers would think of going to eat. If I had any money on me, it would have only been a few dollars. I didn’t know if Kenny had any money, or for that matter, if Bill had any either.
I wish I could remember more about that night, but it was a long time ago, January 1967. We ordered our food, ate our food and then Bill said he had to go to the bathroom. He left Kenny and me sitting at the table with the check. Bill was gone for a very long time, so long that Kenny went to find him. After some more time without Bill or Kenny returning to the table, I went to find them both. I found them in the bathroom. Bill said that he didn’t have enough money to pay the check. When we walked out of the bathroom instead of going left and back into the dining area, Bill turned right and without warning began to run at full speed toward the exit door at the end of a very long hallway. Not knowing what else to do, Kenny and I ran after him.
Bill hit the release bar on the door hard, the door was locked and would not open. We were trapped with nowhere else to go. Immediately an employee from the restaurant appeared and asked if we needed any help. Bill started bending over holding his stomach, saying he needed a bathroom. I’m sure the guy knew we had just come out of the bathroom and were trying to get out of paying for our food, but he pointed to the bathroom and stood there as we all walked back in.
We stayed in the bathroom for a little while then walked out to find the same guy waiting for us. I had no idea what we were going to do. I didn’t have enough money to pay the check and I’m sure Kenny didn’t either. I naturally assumed that Bill didn’t have any money or why would he try to sneak out of the restaurant. We all followed the guy to the cash register where our check was waiting for us. Bill paid for our meal, and we left the restaurant. That was the first and only time I had ever been in that establishment. I just learned that the Plush Pony restaurant has been changed to the Palos Verdes Inn. Maybe next time I get to Redondo Beach I’ll go in and get a meal, for old times’ sake.
In my senior year of high school, I was working three jobs when Bill offered me another one working in a gas station after school. I had already worked at the Boys Market as a “box boy” since January 1966. I got the job because my sister, Sherrie, worked at the Winchell’s Donut shop in the same strip mall. More about that in another story. I was also employed by a couple who lived in Arizona. My job was to take care of a small yard in their apartment complex in Lawndale. I would go over there twice a week and water the plants and pull a few weeds. It was easy, and they paid me $50.00 a month. I was also paid by the School District to repair an Offset printing machine during my lunch hour.
That first night working in the gas station, I showed up at about 5:00 pm. Bill was the only employee there. He showed me how to take money and run the credit cards and what to do with the money at the end of the night and then he went home. I was the new night manager of the Atlantic Richfield station at the corner of Artesia Boulevard and Western Ave. I had no idea what I was doing.
That first night was something. I didn’t even know how to find the gas tank on most cars. When a customer came into the station, I was to go to the driver’s window and ask them how I could help them. They had two choices for gas, Regular and Ethel, or High Test as we called it. I’d hunt for a place to put the gas hose and then pump the gas. Sometimes I had to ask the driver where it was because I couldn’t find the door to the tank. Sometimes the filler tube was behind the license plate and sometimes behind a taillight. In Volkswagens it was under the hood.
Many of the customers would come in ask for “ten dollars of Regular”. In fact, few people said, “fill it up”. I usually asked for two dollars Regular because I never had enough to fill up my tank. When they asked for a certain amount, you had to be very careful not to put in too much fuel. I got to be a master at stopping the flow right on the exact amount. While the gas was being pumped, I had to wash the windows and check the oil and even check the air pressure in the tires as was expected in a full-service gas station.
My week went like this. I’d get up early each morning to go to Seminary before going to school. I was in school from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. I’d then go to the Boys Market and work until about 4:00 or 5:00 pm. Twice a week I’d go to the apartment complex and pull weeds and water the plants, that only took 30 minutes or less. I’d then head over to the gas station and work until 10:00 pm. I’d close the station and go home to sleep until it was time to go to Seminary the next day. I also worked at the gas station on Saturdays if I wasn’t working at Boys Market.
The gas station was a great place to work for a teenager who owned a car. When people would come in and get new tires on their car, I’d put their old tires on mine. They were always better than the ones I had. If I fixed a flat tire or did anything extra for a customer, whatever I charged them for the service I was allowed to keep after paying for the parts. I’d charge them $5.00 to fix a flat tire which took me about a half hour. That was pretty good money in those days when the going rate of pay was about $1.60 an hour.
While working at the gas station Bill introduced me to eating French fries with malt vinegar. There was a Yellow Basket restaurant a few blocks south on Western Ave. We would go there to get a hamburger and fries with malt vinegar. The gas station was a place where we would hang out on Saturday afternoons. A bunch of us guys were there one afternoon when we decided to get something to eat. A few of the guys, I don’t remember who, drove to the Yellow Basket, picked up our food orders and brought them back to the station. Bill had ordered a hamburger and fries as usual, but he must have forgotten to tell them to put the malt vinegar on the fries. When he was handed the paper tray of French fries with ketchup instead of the malt vinegar, he had a fit. I believe this was the first time I witnessed one of his tirades. He was yelling and cussing and then threw the French fries at us. Ketchup and French fries were all over the office, on the countertop, the oil can display, the maps, and the cash register. No one ever made that mistake again.
I don’t know why, but Bill stopped working at the Atlantic Richfield station and began working at the Philip’s gas station across the street. I started working there also. After a month or two Bill left that job and started working at the Atlantic Richfield station near the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Avenue I in Redondo Beach. Again, I followed Bill and began working there.
This was a great gas station to work in. It was a full-service station like the others, but it was small with only two gas pumps. One for Regular and one for Ethel. It was about two blocks from the beach with a view of the ocean. The view was also good because many of the girls who came in for gas were going to or coming from the beach and still in their bikinis. The station was located at the base of a hill with Palos Verdes Estates at the top. Palos Verdes is where all the rich people lived. Many would give me a tip for doing what I’d do for anyone who bought gas there. One of our regular customers was George Allen, the coach of the LA Rams football team. He was a nice guy who drove a real nice Mercedes Benz.
I was at the station one night trying to help Bill put a transmission in a car. There were three of us there, Bill, me, and a friend of Bill’s. I don’t remember his name. I learned later that he had been sent home from his mission after he killed his companion. The story I was told was that he and his companion were at an investigator’s house looking at the investigator’s gun collection. The missionary was playing quick draw with one of the investigator’s western pistols when it went off killing his companion.
The car was up on the rack with all three of us under the car trying to get the transmission’s shaft into the bell housing at the rear of the engine. The transmission was very heavy. I was holding the front of the transmission; Bill’s friend was behind me, and Bill was at the back. The shaft has gears that fit into the engine’s fly wheel. The gears must be lined up perfectly to fit in the fly wheel. Bill was unable to hold up his end. When the back dropped lower than the front a stream of transmission fluid leaked out all over the front of Bill’s shirt. He let go of his end causing us to almost drop the transmission. We had tried for such a long time to get this transmission installed that this put Bill over the edge. He went into one of his tirades and began to yell and cuss as he literally tore off his shirt. He threw it on the floor and grabbed the grease gun. He began shooting his shirt with the grease gun as he continued to yell and cuss up a storm. After a bit he got some matches and tried to set his shirt on fire. When he couldn’t get it to light on fire, he got even madder. The next day I went with Bill to buy a pilot tool to make it easier to get the transmission’s shaft lined up with the gears in the fly wheel. We put the transmission in the car with no trouble after that. The pilot tool cost us $9.00.
At one-point Bill worked for U-Haul. He’d pay me to go pick up trailers from people’s homes when they didn’t return them on time. It was kind of like repossessing a car, only these were trailers. I’d go to the address where the trailer was, usually in the driveway or on the front lawn. I’d hook it up to Bill’s truck and drive off with it. No one ever came out to ask what I was doing or complain. I learned how to pull a trailer and became an expert at backing a trailer into any place I wanted it to go. I’m still pretty good at it even these many years later.
Every once in while I’d go out with Bill to repossess cars. I always considered it a big adventure. We’d go out at 11:00 pm or later as we wanted everyone to be asleep in bed when we came to “steal” their cars. I don’t remember ever getting caught by the people whose cars we were taking. Bill had a large ring with about 50 or more keys on it. Many times, he had a key on that ring that would work on the car we were taking. We’d use one of his keys to get in the car and then just drive away.
Bill moved his family to San Diego. One day when he was in Redondo Beach visiting Marsha’s family, he bought an old Borgward. (See picture). Bill’s car did not look this nice. I had never heard of a Borgward before but apparently, he got a good deal on the car and bought it. He asked Kenny and me to drive it to San Diego for him. We agreed to do it because he was going to fly us home. It was the first time I had flown in a big jet. The cost of the flight was $6.00 one way from San Diego to Los Angeles. The flight time was about ten minutes. We no sooner got in the air when it was time to land in LA.
I was the first one to drive the car. We were going down the freeway following Bill and his family who were in his car. After a while, Kenny said that it was his turn to drive. We couldn’t get Bill’s attention to pull over, so I lifted my butt as Kenny slid under me as I moved over, now Kenny was driving. It was a very smooth move with very little weaving in the lane. When we got to Bill’s house, he was surprised to see Kenny driving but didn’t ask us any questions.
There were many more adventures with Bill, but I can’t remember them all right now. Bill was a bit of a nut, and he could get you in trouble if you were not careful, but I wouldn’t trade my adventures with him for anything. He taught me a lot about working in a gas station. He taught me how to think for myself when I had very little or no training in how to do the job. He taught me that it was foolish to lose my temper and act like an idiot when things didn’t go my way. He taught me that there are all kinds of people in this world and sometimes it’s fun to sit back and watch and learn from them.
I hear that Bill is living in Cedar City, Utah. If I had known that when I lived in St. George, Utah a few years ago, I would have gone to see him. He was a large part of my growing up years, it was always an adventure to be around him.
As remembered by Ski Ingram January 2019.