Danny’s Service Center
At the corner of West Bypass and Division Street, a tiny service station sits as cars hurriedly pass by. Above its door is a neon-lit clock, that tells an hour — but not a year, which could make visitors think of another time.
A time when, during the heyday of Route 66, travelers came by on their way to and from “out west.” A time when it was the norm that someone would come out and pump your gasoline. A time when you could walk into tiny mom-and-pop service stations and greet the owner by name.
In a world where such places are becoming fewer and farther between, Danny’s Service Center is a place that stands out for more than its bright neon out front.
The sign says it all.
As the still of night turns to sun, it’s greeted by station owner Wayne Perusse. He’s been serving customers at the station since he was in his early 20s.
In just a couple of months, he’ll be 72.
“I’ve been here for 47 years,” says Perusse.
Initially, Perusse came to work for the store’s original owner and namesake, E.L. “Danny” Daniel. Perusse doesn’t know when Daniel started the stop, and it’s difficult to tell from records when it started.
Historical accounts do mention “Danny’s” in the late 1950s. However, Daniel also owned at least two other service stations in the area at various times.
That said, while it’s unknown for sure, it’s likely this one began in the late 1950s or early ’60s.
It was the heyday of Route 66, and the historic road went right by the service station as it headed west. The “bypass” route, as it was known, took travelers down Kearney to today’s West Bypass, where they turned south and headed to Chestnut and right out of town.
A few years after that, Perusse’s brother began working at Danny’s. That hire ultimately led to Perusse’s ownership of the station: When his brother went to the Navy, Perusse took his spot.
“It was here several years before I got here. I came to work for Danny, probably, in 1970,” says Perusse. “Took it over in 1973 when I leased it.”
After buying it outright a few years later, he’s been behind the counter ever since.
“I’ve lived within just a little ways of here (basically) all my life,” says Perusse. “Never dreamed I’d own this corner.”
Even though he’s now owned Danny’s longer than the namesake Danny did, he never considered changing what it’s called. “Everybody knew the name,” he says.
The fan at work.
This bright, sunny Saturday, already threatening to be a scorcher, is initially slow. The loudest noise is that of a big metal fan, humming as it helps the breeze blows through the station’s open door and windows.
Perusse sits behind the worn counter, working on paperwork at a desk pushed to one wall. Next to it, a window displays rubber tie-down cords for sale.
He taps figures into an adding machine — click, click, click — as he works. Little modern technology is in sight.
“I’ve never been much of a computer guy,” he says, preferring to do things the old-fashioned way.
The “open” sign shines on Perusse as he works.
As the clock turns, customers begin come one right after another.
“Used to, you could kind of tell when it was going to be busy, but you can’t anymore,” says Perusse.
Some want gasoline, while others come seeking other products including diesel, off-road fuel, propane and kerosene. And as some folks pull up, he goes outside to help — even pumping gas for his customers, a “full service” remnant infrequently seen these days.
“We’ve got a lot of female customers who come here just for that,” says Perusse.
Customers can grab other items from the store’s shelves, such as snack items (including at least four different types of jerky), sweet treats, beer, and candy bars stored in the cooler to keep them from melting in the summer heat.
But the majority of items on the shelves are vehicle-related.
No customer seems to be random; all seem to be known to Perusse. An older man is so comfortable that he simply reaches up and takes some cigarettes from the old-fashioned rack above the counter to pay for them. Another talks about how things are going at work. They all preferred to come here than go to the modern service station across the street.
And they help the fan with the breeze by shooting it with Perusse, who says the customers are one of the perks of his job.
While many of those faces have been the same for years, Perusse has seen other things change. One is the development of that part of Springfield. Back when he moved there as a child, it wasn’t even in the city limits.
In terms of the station, he talks of the days when he used to have more pumps, and more services.
“We used to do tires years ago, but kind of got away from that. We used to change oil years ago, but the EPA took care of that,” says Perusse, the latter tied to increased regulations. “I had two rows of pumps, but they took out the last one (when West Bypass was widened).
“If they decide to ‘take’ it, they’ll figure out a way to do that.”
He technically still sells fuel wholesale, but the only place he sells it today is to himself.
“Ain’t nobody left to sell it to now,” he says, since with the rise in chains, small service stations needing fuel are far and few between.
Of course, other things have changed in unexpected ways. In addition to its regular clientele, Perusse says the station is also a frequent place to pause for tourists traveling Route 66, who stop and take photos — including of the aforementioned clock, which does work and tell time. It’s just an hour off, thanks to daylight savings time, and how complicated it is to change it.
“It’ll be back on time this fall,” says Perusse.
And regardless of time in clock-form or in terms of life, still he goes on.
“I figure I’ll work until they throw dirt in my face,” he says.
Keeping tradition alive.
Want to stop by?
Danny’s Service Center is open Monday through Friday from around 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Enjoy this post?
While Ozarks Alive is a project of passion, crafting each story takes a lot of time, energy — and gas money. That’s why I would greatly appreciate if you’d donate even just a few dollars to support this site. For the price of a meal at your favorite fast-food spot, you can have a direct impact on sharing and preserving Ozarks stories. Let’s work together to show the world this wonderful area!
If you feel led, a link to Paypal is at the very top right of this page. Donations may also be mailed to Ozarks Alive at P.O. Box 2004, Springfield, MO 65801.