Driving along Highway 60 as you come and go through Miami, you can’t help but notice what looks to be an old gas station of your grandfather’s vintage, except this one looks like it did back in 1934. This is no accident. It is by design. And the man behind that design is Ron Hughes, who owns Soda Pops Antiques in Miami, and has been the creative genius and hands-on talent for several of Miami’s most memorable remodels.
The property you see on the highway was originally a Mobile service station with a showroom for international trucks on one side and Chrysler cars on the other side. Just across the street was a Plymouth and Dodge dealership. Although the dealerships closed, one-by-one, with the last one shutting the doors in 1952, the gas station remained for another ten years, although it changed hands and became a Chevron Dealership before closing in ’62.
The building was later used as a taxidermy business, muffler shop, U-Haul office and a garage for a diesel mechanic. When Hughes bought the property several years ago it had seen better days, and one could be forgiven for thinking it might be best just to tear it all down.
He can see things as they can be — not as they are. He has a warehouse full of cool, old things that have long since lost their shiny luster, their chrome handles and their bright colors. They are rusted, bent and broken. But in Ron’s hands they come to life again. When he gets time, that is, which is always in short supply with Hughes. At any given moment, he is working on a dozen projects, while his wife Marcia runs their store, Soda Pop’s on Sullivan Street.
Currently, his primary focus is restoring the old gas station to its 1930s prime.
When he first took over the property last year, he discovered the tenant who had been in the building previously had kept dogs locked inside on the carpeted floor. So the first order of business was to rip out all the flooring and pour a granite-like floor with an embedded image of the Mobile Oil horse in the center.
The large plate glass windows came out of a target store which was being dismantled, and Hughes picked up nearly 40 thousand board feet of red oak from a TGIFs which was being dismantled. He, his stepson and a friend spent several weekends hauling out five 16-foot trailers of oak which have gone into refurbishing the Mobile Station and outfitting a shop.
“I took the bar, which was three inch solid oak, and made my workbench,” he says, pointing to over 30 feet of bench with neatly racked bins, which serve as the nerve center for a man who is continually restoring, fabricating or repairing something.
Hughes is standing next to his latest project involving a 1941 Ford Cab Over Engine, which originally served as the go-power for a two-ton wrecker. Ron took a torch welder to it recently, and has cut up the back half to make way for a new oak flat bed. When it is done, it will have new chrome, a new paint job and an oak flat bed, and will serve as an eye candy to help entice traffic off of Hwy 60 and onto Sullivan Street downtown.
At one point, Ron says, “the Town of Miami would give you an entire block of Sullivan Street if you brought a business to Miami.” That was in 1972. By the time Ron and his wife Marcia began shopping around for a place to retire, that deal was off the books, but the buildings here were still affordable, the lake was nearby and they loved the small town charm.
Their antique store, Soda Pop’s Antiques, could hold its own in any market, and many are surprised to discover the quality and quantity of so many restored antiques. In fact, when people visit for the first time, many just gawk, prompting Hughes to put up a sign, “This ain’t no museum. This junk’s for sale!”
The Mobile Station is slated for completion this fall, and Hughes has already had inquiries from car clubs, motorcycle groups and local organizations to use the place. He is happy to oblige. After all, what good is restoring something to this level, if people aren’t around to enjoy it?
He is fishing around for a name, and says he thought of naming it after his dad, Sam, who had five filling stations at one point and as a master craftsman himself, has provided much of the inspiration for Hughes’ own efforts. But then again, he might just name it after the local creek bed: Bloody Tanks Service Station.
You can be sure that whatever name he decides on, it will look like it has been there since 1934.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.