Oh, the stories they could tell. And, they did. Among themselves.
“This is the first time we have all been together in 40 years,” Leonard Proctor remarked as he looked at the men he knew during his 44 years (1951-95) on the job at Mitch and Bill’s Potomac Exxon Station. “I was 21 years old,” he said.
It was Proctor who got the old-timers, Mitch and Bill’s “alumni” together, marking the station’s 58 years of operation at the Potomac crossroads.
The original Mitch and Bill, a.k.a Clyde E. “Mitch” Mitchell and Bill Schumacher, both have long since retired, Bill in 1982 and Mitch in 1989. Both, however, were at the party held at Proctor’s home.
“The night I retired they threw a big bash, right at the station,” Bill recalled. Mitch’s retirement wasn’t as abrupt. “He continued, hands-on, for years following his so-called retirement,” his son “Mike” said.
Proctor added, “We also gave a Christmas party every year. We closed up at 5 p.m. and all the neighborhood would come.” It was he who made the eggnog, still remembered by some to this day. Many also recalled the community Christmas carolers gathering at the station.
Like so many of the station’s employees, Schumacher was still in school when the business opened. “Bill and I were both working at Eastham’s ESSO in Bethesda. I was just out of the Navy and Bill was at Montgomery College. I worked the day shift and he came on at night. One day I told Bill I had seen an ad for a gas station to rent in Potomac. ‘Why, don’t you go look at it?” I asked. He said, ‘Where’s Potomac?’” Mitch recalled.
Apparently Bill found it and reported back to Mitch that there were six inches of mud in the driveway. Undeterred, the partners went ahead with their plans. “We incorporated and signed the final papers October 15, 1949. The attorney was the late Jo V. Morgan, Sr.,” he said.
“My son, Clyde M. (“Mike”) Mitchell is now the big shot at Mitch and Bill’s,” he added with no small amount of pride. (The Schumachers’ three daughters were never involved.)
RECALLING THEIR first day in operation, Bill was asked by Mitch, “How many cars did we wait on that day,?” Bill remembered he responded by cupping his ear, adding, “I think I hear one coming down the road now.”
It was unclear if the occasion of Larry McBryde’s horse leaving his calling card there happened on the first day or the second, but McBryde, who came to the party with picture albums of “Old Potomac,” acknowledges he did ride through the station and “my horse left his trademark. I won’t repeat what Mitch yelled at me,” he said.
Business obviously grew quickly. “I was a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School when I started working there,” said Bill Redfern, the station’s first employee. “It was 1950 and I had a two-door black Plymouth. Redfern continued working at the station while a student at the University of Maryland.
The second employee hired, Jack Body, started in 1951, and stayed for two years before going into construction. In ‘57 Melvin Cooper (his wife, Odelia; Schumacher’s wife, Ruth; Proctor’s wife, Sue Lee, and McBryde’s wife, Margaret, were the only wives attending) arrived at the station and stayed for 21 years. “Somewhere like that,” he estimated.
Frank Thane, a Churchill High School graduate, arrived at Proctor’s on his sparkling Harley. Now a body shop manager in Gaithersburg, he said, “I was there 10 years, started doing just summers while in school.” So many Mitch and Bill’s employees, and they estimated there have been close to 500 (only two females), got their start in the business world in their own back yard, i.e., the Potomac Village.
Herb Beach worked at Mitch and Bill’s for 18 years, and Whitman High graduate Mike Burcin, who joined the gang in ’78, stayed for seven years.
Also among the memorable is Jack Braswell (1960-68), who said, “I worked there for a time before Bill even knew it.” One might guess he found out when Braswell adopted the station mascot. “I was the one who got ESSO. A woman came into the station and said she had a dog to give away. I fed him a can of stew and he stayed for 17 years,” Braswell related.
Braswell, who now lives in Hopewell, Va., arrived from his home bringing an array of comfort food, including barbecue chicken and pork, salads, hush puppies, cake and puddings, for starters. No cans of beef stew on this menu.
Only Mike Mitchell and the station’s telephone number, 299-9228, (back then it was AX9) exceed Proctor in longevity at the station. “I was 13 years old when I received my first paycheck,” he said. “Back then, I was a gas jockey. Today I would be a refuel technician,” he joshed.
Like so many of the station employees, Mike, too, was a product of local schools, Harker Prep, before entering the work world. He has no plans to retire anytime soon, and when he does, the family tradition will continue through his son Chad, a Bullis School graduate.
Mike remarked, “We have a good working relationship, just as I did with my dad, and Bill. Maybe Chad thinks the sooner I retire, the better!” he jokingly added. Not so.
Regardless, now into his 45th year, Mike reiterated that he plans to keep going as long as he’s healthy.
From the looks of him, that’s going to be a long time.