Versailles full-service gas station offers a trip back in time

Kent Queen, owner of Queen's Marathon on Lexington Road in Versailles, filled up a tank for a full-service customer. Full-service at Queen's includes cleaning the windshield and checking tire pressure. Photo by Pablo Alcalá | Staff
Kent Queen, owner of Queen's Marathon on Lexington Road in Versailles, filled up a tank for a full-service customer. Full-service at Queen's includes cleaning the windshield and checking tire pressure. Photo by Pablo Alcalá | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

VERSAILLES — A few things have changed in the 45 years that Kent Queen has owned his gas station on Lexington Road in Versailles.

It went from being a Chevron-branded station to a Marathon three years ago.

Gas is more expensive these days.

But for the most part, things around Queen's Marathon are pretty much the same as they've always been.

Customers can pull up to a full-service pump, and an attendant will pump the gas, check the air in the tires and clean the windshield.

He'll even take a peek under the hood and check the oil if the customer asks.

"We wait on people. We do everything," Queen said. "We're old-timey down here."

Full-service gas stations such as Queen's are few and far between these days.

Lexington has a few Swifty stations, where for an extra 7 cents a gallon, an attendant will pump the gas for the customer. Those stations don't offer the extra perks of cleaning the windshield and airing up the tires, though.

Randy East said his father, Sid East, ran a full-service filling station in Nicholasville for 55 years.

"He used to work 6:30 (a.m.) to 10 (p.m.) every day of the week," Randy East said.

Three years ago, the pair decided it was time to hang up the pump.

"We just got old," Randy East said. "Got tired of going outside, waiting on 'em."

They closed East Service Station on Main Street in Nicholasville, and they now have a small repair shop by the same name in a building in a local industrial park.

Randy East said the new shop, where they change oil and replace tires and batteries, is "just somewhere to pass the time."

For a while after the gas station closed, Randy East said, some elderly customers would bring their cars to him at his new shop, and he'd drive their cars to the local Speedway and fill them up.

Did he charge for that?

"Lord, naw," East said.

Queen's Marathon also does repairs and changes tires.

"We can get you going if you get broke down," Queen said.

The station was built in 1959 and operated as a company-owned station until Queen bought it in 1967. He still works seven days a week.

He's a blustery man who knows just about everyone who walks in the door. And walking in the door is, in fact, necessary for self-service customers, since the older-model pumps at Queen's don't accept credit cards.

"I need to buy new pumps," Queen said one recent afternoon, then reconsidered: "I'm 70 years old. I don't know if I need to spend $180,000 or not."

Queen also owns some rental property, including the land that the Thornton's next door sits on, and a used-car lot, Versailles Auto Sales.

"I've been a saver," he said.

That's evident.

Even though the station became a Marathon three years ago, he still wears a Chevron shirt.

Queen doesn't have a cash register. Instead, he keeps a wad of cash in his front pocket.

"You don't need a $30,000 cash register if you run a business right," he said.

He said the station has been broken into overnight but has never been robbed while open.

Queen has had his share of well-known customers through the years.

"Colonel Sanders used to trade here all the time," he said. "He said I had clean bathrooms."

On a recent afternoon, he pointed out a few horse farm owners as they stopped to fill up.

"You just gotta like people," he said. "You get all kinds of people."

Queen's dentist, Kevin Elvidge, said he has patronized the business since opening his practice in Versailles in 1984.

"It's one of the few places you can still get air in your tires," he said. "Kent takes care of his customers. It's one of the few places you can get some service."

Most of the customers at Queen's — about 70 percent, Queen says — pump their own gas.

Those who have it pumped for them pay more per gallon, usually 10 to 20 cents more, Queen said.

He did not explain how he determines what the extra charge will be.

"On rainy days, a lot of women get gas here," because they don't want to get out of their cars, he said.

Dave Popke of Detroit pulled up in a rental car that he was returning to Blue Grass Airport.

"Last time I saw a full service like this was like 20 years ago," Popke said.

He opted to take advantage of that.

"I'm in a suit and tie," he said. "I'm not going to get myself dirty."

Betty Newbury of Versailles said she recently started using the full-service option after her sister, Willie Ann Lansing, told her about it.

Lansing said she doesn't think most gas station operators realize how much customers appreciate full service.

The women said they also enjoy being able to support a local small business owner.

"They know the community," Lansing said. "It's kind of like buy American, but on a small scale."