When I was fast approaching seventeen and had a driver’s license, I took a job working for Ronnie Cook at Cook Brothers Getty on Route One in Walpole across from the old Howard Johnsons, before Jersey Barriers separated the north and south bound lanes of the highway. It was a great job. I pumped gas, checked oil, washed windshields, all without being asked. When I wasn’t manning the pumps I was doing grease, oil, and filters, changing and repairing tires, and renting U-Haul trailers and trucks. Occasionally I went out on one of the Wreckers to help with a tow. Ronnie was a great boss and the crew of people there were great to work with. Because he was so thin and pale, Ronnie’s 75 year old father Lester was nicknamed “The Ghost”. There were all kinds of characters working there and a large majority of the customers were locals who came in regularly creating a family atmosphere that set the tone for a pleasant work-place. I remember Getty Gas (high-test only) was about forty-five cents a gallon then (1972) and I always had a thick roll of cash in my left front pants pocket. Credit cards were seldom used.
To the left of the two-bay garage where Ronnie, F.C., and Smitty did the repairs was a small 12’ x 12’ office. Very simple; an old wooden desk, a rotary dial desk-top telephone, a noisy electric adding machine, and a grease-smeared stack of invoices. The blended smell of gas, oil, anti-freeze and grease was thick. The glassed door to enter the office was on the right, closest to the garage, four feet in front of the desk and in warm weather, it was held open with an oil-stained wooden wedge. There were full panes of thick glass to the left of the door that completed the front and continued eight feet down the side of the concrete block building letting in light and providing a great view of all the activity out front by the pumps. Lester sat in an aluminum lawn chair and read the daily rag and puffed non-filtered cigarettes one after another the entire day. He wasn’t shy about complaining and he always found something. Lying on the front window shelf, which was about two feet off the ground and three feet deep, on top of a pile of quilted U-Haul shipping pads, the good ones, was Axle.
Axle was the “garage dog”. He was 13 years old and for the most part he laid around all day and became a fixture in the office along with “The Ghost”. Axle didn’t move much, but when he did you could see his aged body having difficulty. His front shoulders slumped, his hind quarters were crooked and out of alignment with the rest of his body, his chest was sunken, and although he appeared to be some kind of Boxer mix, medium brown in color, he was not very threatening. I liked dogs and I always petted him. The only other one to pay attention to Axle was Steve Smith, who had worked full-time for Ronnie for five years after graduating from Walpole High. Young girls topped-off their tanks frequently at Cooks just to talk to him. He was blonde, blue-eyed, loaded with sinewy muscle; a handsome young guy who was good-natured and always sincere when he talked to people. The oval-shaped embroidered name tag above the pocket on the right side of his striped Getty shirt said “Smitty”.
Cook Brothers Getty was the most popular of the filling stations at the intersection of Route One and Route 27. Just down a bit on Route One heading south towards Sharon and Foxboro was a recently reopened Texaco Station. The kid that pumped gas there had a young German shepherd that was full grown and plenty aggressive. One hot day after his soda machine was completely empty he closed up the Texaco and walked down to the Getty with his unleashed dog to get a bottle of Pop from our always well-stocked soda machine. After 4 PM we were instructed by the boss to load it with his favorite beverage, Falstaff Beer.
The moment the kid from the Texaco and his dog arrived Axle jumped off the window shelf with a loud, deep bark, one I had never heard before. Suddenly his front shoulders were upright, his hind quarters in perfect alignment, and his chest looked once again powerful, protruding in front of a very aggressive stance. The Shepherd went quickly into an aggressive stance of his own and we all knew there was about to be a territorial dog fight!
The kid yelled to us to grab Axle as he made his way through the opened door, thinking his dog would hurt the elder K-9, but Ronnie smiled narrowly and said “Let ‘em go-” I couldn’t believe he was letting Axle take on this young stud of a dog-
The fight didn’t last long… Apparently there were things I wasn’t aware of about Axle. He had that Shepherd yelping for help in less than 20 seconds. Ronnie stepped in before the other dog was seriously hurt. The kid took a bottle of Fanta Grape back with him compliments of Cook Brothers Getty and we never saw him or his dog at Cook Brothers ever again.
I realized at that moment Axle’s presence at the garage for the last 13 years was not without purpose. Axle was a full-fledged guard dog who protected the station. It was all he knew.
After the confrontation Axle’s front shoulders dropped, his hind quarters went back out of alignment, and his chest sunk. He hobbled back inside the office, carefully climbed back up on the quilted U-Haul pads and took a long nap next to “The Ghost”, who seated on his aluminum lawn chair, continued reading the daily rag and puffing non-filtered cigarettes…