John Randolph Causey opened a Gulf station in Vienna, Georgia, in 1918. It was on State Route 7, a busy highway that later became part of U.S. 41. He also became a distributor for Gulf Oil Company, his territory covering the southern half of Dooly County.
His grandson, John Causey, has a round metal Gulf sign from that first year in business. His grandfather had put it up in the nearby town of Lilly at Mr. Clay Ingram’s store. When the store closed the sign came back to Causey’s Service Station. On November 30, 2017, John sold the station, but he didn’t sell the sign. He took it on a short ride north to his home.
John grew up working at the station for his father, George Causey. Longtime employee Willard Satterfield taught him how to drive. John would often go with Willard to deliver fuel to stores and farms. Outside of town they would swap places. He learned to drive behind the steering wheel of a tanker truck, a highly unusual but apparently successful approach.
John’s wife, Lady, has also spent most of her work life at the station. They could have stayed on a little longer and made it an even 100 years for the location, but with a buyer in hand they decided 99 was close enough. John was a baby when he first went there. That was 79 years ago.
The Vienna of John’s youth was bustling with people and businesses. Right next door to Causey’s Service Station was the Vienna Hotel, a three-story inn with a restaurant and gift shop. The hotel burned in 1953 and wasn’t rebuilt. Maybe they had heard some crazy talk of plans for a four-lane highway, a road without traffic lights that would bypass the downtowns of rural Georgia.
John’s father, George Causey, opened his own station on Cotton Street in 1924. He was 17 years old and not long out of high school, after which he had taken a six-month business course. In 1958 he closed that station and built a new one on the original U.S 41 site. That’s the one that was recently sold. Vienna had numerous stations and stores in 1958, plus banks, gins, and assorted businesses. There wasn’t much reason to shop out of town. The streets were often packed, especially on Saturdays.
In John’s childhood there was a grist mill in town and a livery stable. Mule drawn wagons were still common. Folks would park at the stable, then go by one of the general stores and leave a list of supplies. They would visit on the streets, take in a show at the movie theatre, then go back and pick up their groceries. Their simple routine makes me think that progress may be a bit overrated.
John made fuel deliveries to country places like Calhoun’s Store. Mr. Bivins Calhoun sold groceries, hardware, hand tools, and fuel, plus had a dealership for Oliver tractors. His cotton gin was just across the road. One-stop shopping has been around for a long time. The superstores have just wrapped it in fancier packaging.
In 1958 John and Lady got married. I’m guessing that brand-new Gulf station helped clinch the deal. John was paid $37.50 per week by his father. That was the exact amount of their monthly rent for a small apartment. Lady soon began working at Citizens Bank as secretary to the president, Mr. Grady Williamson. With a two-income household, they began thinking about becoming home owners.
In 1960 they bought a house on Sixth Street. They paid $6000 and financed it for 12 years with payments of $45. John wasn’t sure where they would get an extra $7.50 per month, but they found enough money for the house plus two small additions named Michael and Wynn.
Four generations of Causeys have worked at the station, the last one being John and Lady’s son, Michael. But the station isn’t the only common thread that runs deep in their family. Their continuous history with the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department preceded the station and is still going.
John’s grandfather served as fire chief from 1908 to 1925. Their family has been pulling those big hoses ever since. Michael is the current chief and has been since 2008. I doubt there’s been a fire in Vienna in the last 110 years that hasn’t had at least one Causey helping put it out.
Someone said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” I’m not sure I know what that means, but I’m thinking it’s probably true. There’s one thing that I do know. John Causey’s years at the family station left him with a tank full of memories. I see now why he kept that big orange Gulf sign. It came home when he did. There’s no doubt that’s where it belongs.