One of Darlington's best-known citizens, Larry Binford, passed away last week. Larry served in the National Guard, sold petroleum, was a member of the town board and fire department, and was also well-known as a toy tractor collector. But to most people around here, he was best known as the owner of Binford's Service, the gas station and car repair garage located at the corner of Main and Madison streets. In the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, this establishment was the most popular hang-out . . . or "loafing spot" for many men of the community. Larry purchased the business from Alex Cox, the renowned teacher, coach, and practical jokester in 1964 . . . and he kept the tradition going.
When men needed a break from farming or their town jobs, they would often head to Binford's . . . their "safe haven" . . . to catch up on the latest news, and talk about "men things" such as crops, mechanics, cars, politics, sports and the latest funny jokes or stories that were making the rounds. Kids would often accompany their fathers and listen in on the conversations, and that was a big part of growing up. Larry was a hard worker, but he also had a dry sense of humor, and was always ready with a good comeback and a big grin.
In addition to auto repair, Binford's Service also sold tobacco products, candy, pop and lots of miscellaneous items that men needed on occasion. Alex Cox's old red and white Coke machine stood up against the wall, a relic of the 1940s, along with the old wooden desk in the corner. For the kids, Larry also stocked the machine with bottles of Choc-Cola. An old sofa sat in the middle of the main room, with several chairs scattered around. You had to be lucky to get a seat on the sofa, because the "regulars" were usually seated there. As I mentioned in a previous article, Harry "Hab" Weliever, and his three sons . . . Dick, Don and Jimmy . . . should have rented a room at Binfords. I could have sworn that it was their second home! You could always count on Hal Royer to show up two or three times a day to offer his opinion on the local basketball team. Other regulars were Bob Anderson, Bernard Hole, Royden Paddack, Gene Smith, Wally Peebles and Bob Groves . . . just to name a few.
Binford's was one of my Dad's favorite loafing places, along with the pool room, the elevator, the drug store and the restaurant, especially during the winter months. Dad was a great story-teller, and during the years that Alex Cox and Larry Binford owned the gas station, I would guess that Dad literally told thousands of jokes to the eager listeners. Practical jokes were played on unsuspecting participants, and funny stories about others were a common occurrence . . . like the time Eugene "Beaner" Hampton, the postmaster and one of Darlington's most popular fellows, had one beer too many at the Legion one evening, and subsequently wrecked his moped on the ride back home. Gary Ryker and Gene Jackman helped him inside his house, and then later that night sneaked over to his house and attached bicycle training wheels to Beaner's moped! That classic story was repeated for years.
When I was married and started my college education at Purdue, my wife and I lived in Clarks Hill so it would be closer for me to commute. I certainly missed the stories, jokes, advice, and camaraderie in the daily happenings at Binford's Service station. When Larry retired from the auto repair business in 1989, he sold the building to Boyd Hopper who had a manufacturing business. In turn, Boyd sold Larry the smaller building across the street, which had been the Cain/Timmons service station. Larry restored old tractors, toy tractors, and worked on his other hobbies, but I think he missed the old gang. The original Alex Cox/Larry Binford Service station was torn down several years ago, and now all that is left is a vacant lot owned by the bank.
But when I turn that corner from Main street to Madison street, I always think of Alex Cox and Larry Binford, the stories, the jokes, the advice . . . and the men who visited there each week. And I can see myself sitting in an old wooden chair . . . eating a nickel's worth of Spanish peanuts and drinking my Choc-Cola . . . receiving my "other education." And believe me, I learned a LOT of things they never taught me in school! Each little town in Montgomery County at one time had a "loafing spot" like Binford's. Today most of these places are just memories of the good ol' days . . . I sure miss 'em.

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.