Woodstock was blessed with more characters per-capita than any other town I have ever known. Two of them lived just across the road from one another in Bearsville. Few people can lay claim to the title “Legends in Their Own Time” but Roy and Wilna were people who could.
Roy Oakley had a small, one-pump gas station and garage on Route 212 above the Bearsville store. It stood roughly where the town garage is today. Despite the difference in their ages (Roy was a good deal older) he and my father were friends. We always bought our gas there and I loved it. The garage was a small wooden structure with one service bay and office attached. Roy lived in a few small rooms off the back.
The building, and indeed the property around the building, was a cacophony of gathered and scattered objects. Car parts from every era dating back to the dawn of motor vehicle travel covered the landscape. Some parts went back even further to the days of horse and buggy. Sheds, lean-tos and outbuildings were everywhere; all were overgrown and sagged beneath the weight of time. All, at least to my young eyes, held treasures. Paths wound among the piles of fortune, through the undergrowth and down toward the creek. The whole place had the ambiance of a sunken pirate ship or a Mayan tomb waiting to be discovered. I wanted to live in a place like Roy’s.
In his own special way Roy catered to the tourist trade. This was a source of amusement to people who knew him because they also knew that he disliked tourists intensely. He sold antiques, collectables, bluestone pavers, pumpkins, and potted plants; whatever came his way. His one pump was a thing of beauty in its own right. It had a dial for a face and was topped with a glass globe sporting the brand name ESSO. It would be worth thousands of dollars in today’s collectables market. As cars came equipped with bigger, more powerful engines the need for high octane gas grew. Roy only carried regular and his friends urged him to put in a second pump.
“Why on earth would I want to do that?” Roy asked.
“So people can have a choice.”
“They have a choice now,” Roy explained. “They can buy my gas or they can go someplace else.”
Roy was said to have been an excellent mechanic but when I first came to know him he had given up the trade. No one knew for sure why Roy quit working on cars. One day he just said that he had had enough. Legend has it that he carried his mechanic tools up onto the bridge over the Sawkill and threw them in. I do not know if that is a true story or not but I have a story of my own that might speak to the matter.
One day I was riding with my father up the Bearsville flats when we passed a pre-war sedan parked by the side of the road. “That’s Roy’s car,” my father said. In a short while we came upon a solitary figure walking. “And there’s Roy.”