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Don Dunn Oral History Interview

My name is Don Dunn and I’ve lived in the Orlando area since 1961, but visited for the first time in 1947 in the springtime… there were six of us in a ’38 Chevrolet that belonged to my stepfather, my mother, my brother Ken, and my brother George, and my sister Betty so that was a crowded little Chevrolet. I got to drive part of the way because I had my New York license learner’s permit… Of course, it was way before I-4, Highway 301 coming into Florida. The speed limit was only posted in inhabited areas.. so I had an enjoyable opportunity to learn how to drive at higher speeds… I stayed about two weeks and because I still was in school I hitchhiked back to Buffalo from Orlando from a truck stop on the corner of Washington and OBT. And the trucker took me to Harrisburg, PA with 17 tons of oranges on his truck and he gave me to another trucker who had 19 tons of oranges on his truck and he was going to my hometown outside of Buffalo, NY.

LISTEN Part I (10:13)

(Text highlights are excerpts from audio recording)

Schwankweiler Summer Picnic, Orlando 1947 VIEW

And we always came to visit the Schankweiler family. Mrs. Schankweiler, Doris, was my mother’s sister so Paul and Doris Schwankweiler were our hosts and their three beautiful girls: Joan and Ruth and Lois. And, of course, Ruth [Schankweiler Butler] is with us today… she spent from ’46 to now in South Orlando, the Pine Castle area….

June 20, 1957 Sand Lake, the new road for the Martin Plant. VIEW

Phillips 66 Gas Station

My opportunities have been great to meet a lot of wonderful people as I’ve been in the automobile repair business since 1961. I had a partner who was married to my mother’s younger sister who was six years older than I was and he and I proceeded to open a service station on the corner of Oakridge and the Trail. It was a Phillips 66 gas station. And how that came about is on my visit in 1961 in July with my wife and my dad, my daughters and my wife was pregnant with my fourth daughter and Ruthie was with us in a ’58 Cadillac, top of the line Cadillac, no air conditioning. Just all the windows down when it got hot and it did get hot in July.

I met a man by the name of Robert S. Hughes and he was the Phillips 66 Fuel Oil & Gas Distributor at Orange Blossom Trail, 1421 South Trail was his bulk plant operation and he showed me a new Phillips 66 Station he had just opened in Maitland on 17-92. He showed me a new Phillips 66 Station he had just opened in Maitland on 17-92. He showed me one at the corner of East Robinson and Primrose and we’re going to build one just like that Maitland station on the corner of Oakridge and the Trail which was a grass covered palmetto lot at the time. And I was with him about two hours. He liked me and I liked him and he said, “When can you get back to Orlando?” I said, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve got a family to move. I’ve got a business to sell. I’ve got a house to sell, I don’t know.” “Well,” he said, “Get back as soon as you can because we’ll put you on the payroll when you get here” And he agreed to lease that corner of Oakridge and the Trail when he was finished building the service station to my uncle and I and we started out as Oakridge Phillips 66 and we’re still doing business with some of the same customers.

Of course, my Uncle Earl passed away and that left me alone and in 1968 I took in four other cousins so there was six of us, Uncle Earl and five nephews and we started a business called Service Station Enterprises and before you knew it we were leasing six service stations, running a business, that fell a part about a year later because you can’t get six guys to agree on any one thing and so I became a sole proprietor of a business on the corner of Lancaster and the Trail which was Atlantic Gas Station in 1969, in the spring, and still doing the same thing today that I was doing then: Helping people keep their cars running safe.

Martin Marietta, Tupperware, and Walt Disney

But I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way, one of which was Mr. Willey, G. T. Willey from Martin Marietta. And, of course, I met a lot of his employees over the years because there was a baseball field across the street from Oakridge, from our service station so people would come from the ball game and stop and gas up. And G.T. Willey would come in and cash a check once in a while so he’d have cash because there were no ATMs.

Sand Lake Road, circa 1960s VIEW

And we developed a lot of friends all of those years… Also Tupperware was a very prolific business at that time and the president and vice president of Tupperware both traded with me. But I got to know a lot of Tupperware people because it was 10 miles down the road towards Kissimmee and we just had a great time meeting people and meeting their automotive needs. I met a man from Disney who was in charge of building all the furnishings for the Contemporary and the Polynesian in 1971. And the property next to my business on the Trail was a lease-commercial building where Disney had their fabricating plant to build all their furnishings. And his name was Hank Danes. And I was working on Hank’s car one day and we got to talking and he said, ” When he first started Walt Disney would hand me my check and he’d say, “Now if you could hold this for a couple of weeks Hank it would really help the corporation.” Well, I assume Hank is long since retired… but that’s how businesses get started. They start on a shoestring and they end up owning the shoe factory and that’s what Disney has done….

South Orlando Businesses

We drew from Sky Lake, Oakridge, too, part of the Sky Lake group. Behind the lake was a customer of mine so I got acquainted with him somewhat. He was a very astute in the community, and, of course, built all those homes. I guess the thing I remember most on the corner of Oakridge and the Trail which is now a Walgreens, George’s Market was there. George Paul and his wife and five sons, and in order to have lunch we would walk across the Trail which was at that time only four lanes, two north and two south, with an 11 foot median. And we’d walk across the Trail and Oakridge over where Mrs. Paul was making sandwiches. She was the forerunner of the 7-11 sandwich cabinet. And she would make sandwiches for us and often times eat there. And next door to that was the ABC Liquor Store…George ran a tab for groceries and other things for most of the people in South Orlando, back in Southwood and Sky Lake, his customers all came from that area. And when they tore that down he built a real fancy brick building and it became a Holiday House. And He bought a Holiday House franchise. There was another Holiday House down by the hospital on Orange and he wasn’t in a Holiday House for long when apparently he realized he was sending part of his profits to the franchise so somehow he figured out a way to break the franchise and it became the Hostess House. And he did well until George passed away and Leona and the boys ran it for quite a while after that and then it was a Chinese place when they sold it. It changes hands, of course, they tore it down when they put up a CVS pharmacy….

“And for 9 cents more what else can we throw in Howard?”

Oh, McMillan Furniture City was on the West Side just north of Oakridge. The building is still there, but it’s a wholesale house now. But Mr. McMillan was always advertising on the radio to sell furniture. And he had a fellow that worked with him by the name of Howard. And when the radio ads came across Mr. McMillan would say, “And for 9 cents more what else can we throw in Howard?” He’d throw in a dresser or something, you know. And he also had a place on Highway 50 I think east of town, McMillan Furniture City. And just north of Wakulla, there was a lot that belonged to John Cook: John Cook Real Estate. And he was the local well known insurance agency and he and John Cook, Jr. eventually got together when John graduated from college to run that plus sell real estate… That’s Wal Mart now. So John Cook got replaced by Wal Mart. The service station that Mr. Barnes and I operated on the corner of Oakridge and the Trail that’s now a Papa John’s Pizza.

And, of course, there’s a McDonald’s next door. When McDonald’s was built we were the only business on that corner. McDonald’s bought a vacant lot and built their building. The first hamburger cost McDonald’s $250,000 dollars because that’s what it took to get that building… of course in the ’60’s when men were being paid a dollar an hour $250,000 dollars was a lot of hours. In fact, when Mr. Barnes and I started that business, the average wage of a technician to work on cars and pump gasoline was .75 an hour. When we came down from Buffalo and I heard that I said, “Well, it just goes against my grain to pay a man .75. We’re going to start them at least at a dollar an hour. And of course that graduated to a dollar and a quarter and a dollar and a half. The labor rate at that time when somebody worked on your car to fix it was $5.00 an hour and plus the parts. And today the average is probably $80.00 an hour…

LISTEN Part II (10:13)

Florida Shores Baptist Church

We became acquainted with a little Baptist church that was behind the service station west of the intersection of Oakridge and the Trail and at that time it was called Florida Shores Baptist Church. It was a church plant from Downtown Baptist Church and the pastor that I met came out of Kansas City, Missouri…. When I first met him, of course, he was buying gasoline from us and he wanted to know why I didn’t come to church. I said, “Well, I didn’t want to join that church because people would say I did it for business reasons.” He said, “You join the church and I’ll take care of that.” And we became very good friends of course….Of course we were very well grounded at Florida Shores Baptist Church as well when we got plugged in the girls went to Sunday School there and I served on the Board of Trustees and that church was split at one point in time and years later that building stands as a Hindu Temple….

Dr. Akbar Haqq

They had a revival there at one time at Florida Shores Baptist Church. Brother Jim Wilson who was a local missionary man and evangelist kind of patterned himself after Billy Graham. He brought in Dr. Akbar Haqq from India. Dr. Haqq would eventually become the interpreter for Billy Graham when he went to India. I got acquainted enough with Dr. Haqq at the revival to know those things and years later when my dad was 92 years old at a nursing home out at Rio Pinar near his last days, he wanted to know how to get to heaven and he knew I could tell him how. He said, “I need to know where I’m going and I need to know how to get there and I know you can tell me.” So I was beginning to explain the method that God has provided for a man to know Jesus Christ. A very tall dark skinned man came into the room and I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “I’m from India.” I said, “What do you do in India?” He said, “I’m a pastor in India…” I said, ‘Do you know Dr. Akbar Haqq?” He said, “Oh yes, he owes me $500.00…” And that man led my father to the Lord at age 92. Dad turned 93 on March 22, 1997 and passed away in July. So timing was perfect. God’s timing is always perfect. And he always provides. Always provides.

Don Dunn standing center behind the tricycle and in front of the adults in this family photo in New York, Labor Day 1936.

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Paul's Truck Stop: Homemade Pies, Delicious Coffee
Paul and Doris Schwankweiler with their three daughters baby Lois, Joan, and Ruth, right, in front of their new Amoco gas pumps. Ruth...
Don Dunn, South Orlando Business
Don Dunn came to Orlando in 1961 and started in the automobile repair business. He and his partner opened a Phillips 66...
Don Dunn, Labor Day 1936
Don Dunn standing center behind the tricycle and in front of the adults in this family photo in New York, Labor Day...
Summer Picnic, Orlando 1947
Paul and Doris Schankweiler, far right, with daughter Ruth, far left, her sister Joan, cousin Butch Dunn, Don Dunn's brother, Lois Scankweiler...
Digging the Road to the Martin Plant
June 20, 1957 photo of the construction of Sand Lake Road, the new road for the Martin Plant. Paul's Truck Stop which was...
Sand Lake Road, circa 1960
Photo of Sand Lake Road after the road construction was complete, circa early 1960s. VIEW June 20, 1957 photo of digging the road...
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