By Becky Harris
The Citgo station at the corner of Locust and Oak Streets in Downtown Conway has only one kind of gas: Regular Unleaded.
But the service that goes along with the fuel is Supreme.
Pull up to the pump and longtime employees Ed Erbach (43 years) and Roy McElroy (15 years) get busy. They raise the hood and fulfill all fluid needs; the windows are cleaned; tire pressure is checked; air is supplied when needed.
Advice is dispensed, sometimes about a tire's dangerously thinning tread or the need to set a date for an oil change.
More often the conversation is about the weather outside the car - winter's sleeting or summer's 105 degrees - while the customer is tucked safe inside.
"Lots of extremes," Erbach says of the job he's had since he was 18. "But it's been fun. And I've met lots of nice folks."
For instance, on a sunny spring day, an older model Oldsmobile pulls up. The men approach the silver-haired woman behind the wheel. Conversation ensues. She can't seem to find the device that opens the hood; it's obvious someone in her recent past has been taking care of such things but is no longer doing so. She has fallen into good hands.
Kathy Cecchin, owner of the Junque Queen, driving a pristine 1999 Mercedes-Benz SUV pulls in, happy to sing the praises of the men who keep her 10-year-old car humming.
"As a single woman, I depend on them for everything. I'd have major car repairs if it weren't for them. It doesn't matter if I fill up or spend $10, the service is the same," Kathy said.
For 55 years the Walter family has been taking care of the town's vehicles and their customers, way beyond pumping gas.
Martin Walter opened his first station in 1955 when self-service was far into the future. After a series of sites, Mr. Walter settled on the downtown location in 1978, deciding that his customers really didn't like crossing a busy four-lane highway.
Mr. Walter passed away 10 years ago, leaving the business in the care of his widow, Virginia, and their daughter, Dee Ann, who had recently completed a degree in business management from the University of Central Arkansas and, because of her dad's illness after suffering a heart attack, had already assumed many of the duties of running the business.
"He had a lot of confidence in her to keep the tradition going," Virginia Walter said.
"Downtown has really come on strong in the last few years. There's lots of hustle and bustle," Dee Ann says.
"Our location is key," she said. Customers needing an oil change or a new tire can drop off their car, walk a few steps for a haircut, manicure, lunch and shopping.
And then there are the little things.
"We'll put on a license plate, attach the sticker; replace a mirror, pop out a dent. One day Ed noticed a scuff on a woman's car door. He applied a little wax and the scuff disappeared.
"Next day, the lady brought in homemade cinnamon rolls," Dee Ann said.
She was obviously another grateful customer.
About Dee Ann
Dee Ann Walter Davis was a basketball standout at St. Joseph's Catholic School, earning a four-year full scholarship at UCA. She was a forward on the 1991 team that played in a national championship tournament in Nashville, Tenn.
Sons Spencer, 13, and Parker, 9, have benefited from her coaching, as did the St. Joseph girls who in March played for the state championship, losing to Conway Christian. She was their coach when they were in the peewee program.
"They've been a good group of girls, playing together since they were in the fifth grade," she said.
"Girls sports are much more serious now, more than when I was playing," Dee Ann said. "There's more coverage in the press. It's a good thing."
In addition to her job at the station, Dee Ann assists her husband, Chad Davis, a Conway firefighter, in their beef cattle business in Greenbrier.
"Some days he'll call and say he needs me in the field, and I'll leave here and go rake hay. It's something I really enjoy," she said.