A vintage photograph, a long-vanished town, and depression-era technology

An early 20th century car sits between a gas pump and a filling station. This was the Superior, Wyoming filling station in the 1930s.a man utilizes a gravity gas pump to fill his car ca. 1920s.A diagram of a Model-T 4-cylinder engine.A map of the area around Superior and South Superior, Wyoming.

Photo #1 - A filling station in the original town of Superior around 1930


Photo #2 - A motorist fueling his car with from a hand-operated glass globe pump, 1920


Photo #3 - A diagram of the Ford Model T’s four-cylinder engine. Note the “Oil Level Indicating Cocks” (petcocks) identified near the lower left-hand corner.


Map Graphic #1 - The original Superior and South Superior (just “Superior” since 1984), from a mid-20th century topographic map. The original Superior no longer exists.


(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - October 14, 2023)     A vintage photograph in the collection of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum illustrates the state of automotive technology, circa 1930.

The photo depicts a filling station in the original town of Superior around 1930. The station had two gasoline pumps; an electric-powered pump on the left, (a relatively recent development at the time), and a glass globe hand pump, on the right.

Glass globe pumps, introduced around 1915, were operated entirely by hand. The customer or station attendant cycled a lever that pumped gas into the glass cylinder-shaped globe atop the tank, which was marked in gallons. There was a hose fitted with a nozzle  and valve on the bottom of the globe, and when the desired amount was reached, the valve was opened and the gasoline flowed into the automobile’s fuel tank, fed by gravity. Dirty or contaminated gasoline was a problem in those years, and the glass globe system allowed drivers to visually check it before fueling their vehicles. Though electric-powered pumps were introduced in 1923, for years many filling stations kept at least one glass globe pump for customers who remained wary of dirty fuel and preferred them.

The sign on the filling station’s side offers “free crank case service.” This service was common throughout the country at the time, and what it amounted to was checking an automobile engine’s oil level. Early automobiles such as the highly popular Ford Model T did not feature the simple dipstick of today. Checking the engine oil level of a Model T - a “crank case service” - required going underneath the car on the passenger side, where there were two petcocks attached to the engine crank case, one above the other. If oil ran out of the top petcock when it was opened, there was plenty of oil. If no oil ran out of the top petcock but did run out of the bottom petcock when it was opened, the oil level was adequate but would need attention soon. If no oil drained out of either petcock, the oil level needed to be topped off right away. While the procedure was straightforward, it was not practical for a driver in street clothes - hence the utility of a free “crank case service.”

The original town of Superior was incorporated in February of 1911. A month later, South Superior came into being. The two coal-mining communities existed side by side for over half a century, but by the 1950s demand for coal had diminished sharply and in 1963 Superior’s town government officially dissolved its incorporation. The little hamlet died, and its buildings were either torn down or hauled away. South Superior, though, survived, and in 1984 it was officially renamed “Superior,” with a current population of about 300.

The Sweetwater County Historical Museum is located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and there is no charge for admission.