This Was Then: Whit, Gabby, and Scotty

It was called a service station for a reason.

Gas station attendants Howard “Whit” Whitney, Gabriel “Gabby” Mello, and Walter “Scotty” Scott pose in front of Renear’s Service Station on Church Street in Vineyard Haven, sometime in the 1930s. Courtesy Chris Baer.

Lowell native Howard Whitney (1892–1972) operated Whitney’s Variety Store on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, in the early ’20s. Later he became the janitor at the Tisbury School, sold firecrackers to kids from a stand in an alley next to Vineyard Dry Goods, and served as the night operator at the phone company.

Gabriel Mello (1904–73) was born in the Azores and came to the Vineyard as a small child. He worked as a mechanic for both Ben David Motors and Renear’s before starting his own business on Spring Street.

But is that Gabby Mello? Others have identified the center man in this photograph as Manuel “Sheldrake” Baptiste (1891–1946), born in Vineyard Haven to Azorean natives. Baptiste served as a popular attendant at Renear’s for three decades, his occupation sometimes listed as “garage chauffeur” or “garage salesman.”

Walter Scott (1897–1973) was an African-American shipyard riveter from New London, Conn. In the 1920s, he moved to Gay Head with his wife Lolita, where he worked as a garage mechanic, before moving to Pine Street and finding similar work with Renear. “Scotty” is also remembered as a popular custodian at the Tisbury School in the ’40s. Renear’s Service Station was torn down in 1973, and a parking lot is there today. Socony is better known today as Mobil.

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.