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Photos by Carroll Foster
Nostalgic Station, a renovated 1930s-era filling station in Laurens, provides a scenic backdrop for photographers and car buffs who like to show off vintage rides during monthly cruise-ins.
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Photo by Carroll Foster
Leaders of the pack
Owners Richard and Cindy Kuhnel share their love of 1950s car culture with visitors to Nostalgic Station.
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Photo by Carroll Foster
Reliving old times
Larry Penland, a Laurens Electric Cooperative member, regularly brings his 1961 Chevrolet Impala to the Friday-night cruises at Nostalgic Station. “It’s a fun place to come and just hang around with your friends,” he says.
Every car at a Nostalgic Station cruise-in has a story to tell, and in the case of Larry Penland’s Roman red, 1961 Chevrolet Impala, it’s the tale of a proud 22-year-old buying the car of his dreams.
Along with a photo album showing the classic American muscle car before and after some recent restoration work, he’s happy to show off the original owner’s manual and a neatly folded bill of sale. But the real story is told by the gleam in his eye as Penland, now 73, recalls the days spent tooling around Laurens in a car that was “the talk of the town.”
“It was my get-up-and-go car,” the Laurens Electric Cooperative member says with a laugh.
Reliving memories, peering under hoods, swapping car stories and shooting the bull—this is exactly the sort of behavior Richard and Cindy Kuhnel had in mind when they renovated a vintage gas station on the outskirts of Laurens, stocked it full of memorabilia and invited classic-car owners across South Carolina to stop by on the first Friday of every month. The goal: Provide a place where young and old could experience the uniquely American car culture that flourished in the ’50s and ’60s, right down to the antique jukebox inside the station cranking out hits of the era.
“In the day, there was always a place for the kids to hang out. There was a gas station, there was a burger place, there was a hot dog stand,” Richard Kuhnel says. “We want this to be a community place.”
It all began when the couple moved to Laurens in 2002 and started house hunting. Car buffs to the core, they collected and sold memorabilia at races and auto shows, and they needed a fixed location for their side business. A real estate agent was about to show them a house at 1110 West Main St., when Richard’s eyes went straight to the neglected 1930s-era filling station on the edge of the lot.
For a man with motor oil in his veins (as a teen he ran a junkyard and went on to race dragsters professionally), it was love at first sight.
“‘We want it! It’s sold,’ ” Cindy recalls her husband telling the real estate agent. “And I said, ‘Richard, I haven’t even looked at the house yet!’ ”
It took nearly five years to remodel the filling station, and today the eye-catching establishment and the Kuhnels’ 1949 Ford Coupe are popular backdrops for photographers. But the Friday night cruise-ins are still the heart and soul of Nostalgic Station.
For regulars like Barrett Stewart, a local repair shop owner who enjoys showing his cars on site, it’s the authentic setting and the variety of car buffs who show up each month that keep him coming back.
“You’ll have some new guys come in every month, and everybody flocks to that car,” he says. “It’s just a neat experience.”
Nostalgic Station is located at 1110 West Main St. in Laurens.
HOURS: Cruise-ins are hosted on the first Friday of every month from 6 to 10 p.m., rain or shine. Photographers can book the station by appointment.
ADMISSION: Cruise-ins are free and open to all car owners, car buffs and curious spectators.