Harold ‘Bud’ Steinman a Shell dealer 55 yearsPublished 10:12am Wednesday, January 6, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Harold “Bud” Steinman Tuesday was presented a plaque by Walters-Dimmick Petroleum of Marshall recognizing his status as a Shell dealer for 55 years.
“My company, Dimmick Petroleum, in 1973 started serving Bud out of Three Rivers,” recalled John Dimmick.
“My company merged into Walters Distributing in 1982. (Bud) is the only one who knows the whole story” since 1954.
John Walters also braved snow which closed Dowagiac schools Jan. 5 to pay tribute to Steinman.
Steinman was born in October 1924 – the same year a service station located at the busy downtown corner.
This past August marked the 20th anniversary of the 1989 transformation from the traditional one-bay enamel gas station that hugged the corner of Division and Front streets to 24-hour, one-stop shopping.
“Las Vegas Shell,” Bud, 85, quipped about the brightly-lit convenience mart which is Dowagiac’s only round-the-clock store.
It spans a city block where there used to be all manner of businesses, from shoes and tires to office supplies and Hook Behnke’s bar and the fire station.
Bud poses a question to Dimmick: “How long are we going to be in this kind of business?” selling fossil fuels.
“I hope for a long time,” Dimmick answers. “It’s as good as it’s ever been. We might have to put a bunch of plugs out here to charge batteries. In the meantime, we sell all this kind of stuff in the stores, so it’s a different business that changes every day. We’re confident enough that we’re still talking about building.”
Dimmick services 86 locations.
To drive by every doorstep means traveling 1,200 to 1,400 miles.
“We go as far as Hicksville, Ohio, north to Big Rapids, Berrien County and east over into Jackson and Lenawee County,” Dimmick said.
“We’ve got a little bit of northwest Indiana. We’ve done business with Bud a long time and it’s been a real pleasure. I think our relationship has been good.”
“Actually, we built the shop in 1987,” said Bud’s son, Greg, of the garage facing W. Railroad Street operated by his brother, Tym.
Their sister, Tina Behnke, is also involved in operating Steinman’s Shell.
Bud’s wife, Nadine, was 74 when she passed away April 9, 1998.
They married on May 23, 1945.
“He was one of the bigger tire dealers in the area for a long, long time,” Dimmick said.
“I used to play by crawling in and around them. My mom used to get so mad,” Tina said, recalling how her father always brushed off her “begging” to let her pump gas in the full-service days when attendants made change in the drive.
“I was afraid she’d get run over,” he said.
When Steinman’s started serving fried chicken, potato wedges and other carry-out lines, food wasn’t yet a fixture in a convenience store that employs some 20 people.
Though it seems as if Bud has spent his entire life on the corner, 30 years elapsed between his birth and his decision to buy the gas station from a man who went on to operate a bar on the corner where Bakeman’s barber shop is known as the Bloody Bucket.
Bud said he worked at Steel Furnace, as a machinist at Kaiser Fraser across the railroad tracks and for Clark Equipment in Buchanan.
He spent a year and a half overseas with the Army during World War II.
“I said ‘Navy’ and they said ‘Army.’ Bang!” he said of his eventual shipment to Germany instead of the Pacific theater.
Arriving in France after an 11-day voyage from New York Harbor, “I was sick every day,” he said. “There were submarines upside down, smoking, and ships rolled over on their sides. I remember thinking, ‘What did I get myself into here?’ They herded us like a bunch of cattle.”
Steinmans owned a “general” farm with “horses, cows and pigs and corn, wheat and oats. I was plowing with a John Deere tractor at 8 years old.”
Born in Buckley, Ill., he was the last of five children, with four older sisters.
“I only weighed four pounds when I was born,” he said. “I’ve got one sister left.”
Melba, who lives in Three Rivers, turns 93 Jan. 11.
“Opal told me one time you were ‘just in the way,’ ” Greg teases his dad.
Steinman worked for a couple of years as a projectionist at the Gem Theatre in Cassopolis, the former Cass County courthouse sold for $25 in 1898 to make way for the current 1899 courthouse.
“Opera House Bill” Jones remodeled the old courthouse into the Colonial Opera House with a 24-foot by 40-foot addition on the rear of the stage.
There were dressing rooms under the stage and an orchestra pit in front of it.
Seating capacity on the main floor was 420. The balcony held 148 seats.
It was the Gem which introduced “talking pictures” to Cass County in 1929.
Steinman worked at the Gem two years for Gerald O’Boyle, who owned and managed the operation from the late 1930s until it was torn down in the summer of 1968.
“When you had (a break) between films or an intermission, you could watch the rats go across the stage,” he said.
“There are a lot of pages in learning, and you never stop turning them,” Steinman said of his decision to buy a gas station when he had never worked in one for someone else.
“I had no background,” he said. “I just did the best I could. Jobs were scarce at the time it became available. I thought it over and that’s what I did.”
He fondly remembers taking a couple of employees under his wing, like Ned, the high school sophomore whose dad had died and would stay on with Bud for a dozen years.
Or Hank the mechanic – “these are people I respect” – who took his tutelage to Three Rivers, where he ran his own service station for several years.
Of course, it was more complicated than a filling station with Magistrate Wilson’s attached stationery and office supply store, which Bud used for tire storage.
“When it rained, it rained as much inside as it did outside,” Bud said.
To the north was Hoover’s shoe store.
Another structure packed onto the Steinman block had housed Simpson Plumbing.
Tina worked at the bank when Hook’s moved north on Front Street to where Wounded Minnow is today in the old Elks Temple.
There was also a legal thicket to navigate from a 150-foot by 1.5-foot strip of untitled “no man’s land.”