By on November 7, 2014

Brian Saylor has managed to combine two of his passions, old trucks and Texaco memorabilia. You can see him at Detroit area car shows with his Texaco trucks,  Texaco gasoline pump and assorted Texaco merchandise, with Saylor dressed in the uniform that Texaco service station employees would have worn a couple of generations ago. Yes, Virginia, there was a time when gas station employees wore uniforms and they actually serviced your car.  They even sang songs about them. Okay, so they were advertising jingles, but I bet most Americans over the age of 50 recognize, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the big bright Texaco star.”

About ten years ago Saylor  bought a 1937 Ford dump truck that had been sitting in a Nebraska field for more than a quarter century. It was pretty rough, the engine was seized, but the body was in decent shape and it still had the power-take-off unit that ran the hydraulics for the dump bed. He stripped it down to the frame, which he had sandblasted and powder coated. The truck is a bit of a resto-mod. He was planning on it being a driver, not a trailer queen so he replaced the mechanical brakes (Henry Ford wasn’t a fan of hydraulic brakes so Ford used mechanical linkages for their stoppers well into the 1930s) with a hydraulic system. What was supposed to be a freshly rebuilt flathead V8 turned out to indeed rebuilt but with the rear main bearing installed backwards resulting in another seized engine.

Once that engine was rebuilt again the project picked up steam. On a trip to the big vintage car meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania Saylor saw an old tank truck and got the idea to turn his ’37 Ford into a Texaco fuel oil delivery truck. After some initial testing yielded a top speed of just 40 mph due to the the truck’s 1:6.67 final drive ratio, Saylor retrofitted a full floating rear axle from a 1983 Ford F-350 Super Duty pickup with 3.54 gears.  “Now I can go faster without the engine turning 10,000 rpm,” Sayler quips, though I doubt a Flathead Ford V8 has ever turned 10,000 rpm.

Of course a proper service station back then would have actually done service and repairs and if they did repairs they needed a “parts truck”, something to run to the auto parts store. Towards that role playing end, Saylor’s also restored a 1967 Ford Econoline pickup.

In real life Saylor manages the engineering laboratory of Gabriel shock absorbers, is married to Angie and they have a teenaged son. The Saylors make car shows a family affair, setting up their traveling service station and talking to folks waxing nostalgic.

That hospitality reflects Brian’s roots as a self-professed “southern boy”. Saylor lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida before moving to Michigan in the late 1990s. He told the Ford & Mercury Restorers’ Club bulletin,  “I haven’t lost nor want to lose my southern ways,” though for someone who describes himself as “addicted” to restoring Ford trucks, the move has had its benefits.

A lot cuter than those creepy "Cry baby" dolls people lean on bumpers at car shows.

Whoever’s exceptionally cute and charming child this is*, he’s a lot cuter than those creepy “Cry baby” dolls people lean on bumpers at car shows. Full gallery here

As expected, when they see Saylor, his trucks and his display, a lot of folks mention that old advertising slogan. Many remember the jingle, but few know who created it. Roy Eaton, first at the Young & Rubicam ad agency and later at Benton & Bowles, helped shape mid-century American popular culture and he was responsible for the slogan and the melody of the jingle that accompanied it. The first black man to have a creative role at a major U.S. ad agency, Eaton was also one of the first in the ad business to use jazz music in commercials. In addition to his memorable and catchy jingle for Texaco, he also coined the phrase “Can’t get enough o’ that Sugar Crisp” and it was his idea to have the Sugar Bear character that promoted the cereal effect a Dean Martin persona.

Born in Harlem, Eaton’s father was a mechanic and his mother was a domestic worker who had immigrated from Jamaica. Though he lost part of a finger in an accident when he was three years old, he took up classical piano at the age of six. By his teens he had played Carnegie Hall. Graduating from New York City’s High School of Music and Art, he then completed, simultaneously, degrees from CCNY and the Manhattan School of Music. He won a scholarship to study in Switzerland and upon his return he won a Chopin Award and was awarded a musicology fellowship at Yale.

While in the Army during the Korean War, he wrote and produced programs for Armed Forces Radio. After his discharge, he hired in to Young and Rubicam as a copywriter and composer for jingles. He’s reported to have been responsible for 75% of the music produced at Y&R during the first two years he was at the agency. The companies whose accounts that he worked on are a veritable who’s who of the business world, including Jello, Cheer detergent, Johnson & Johnson, Post cereals, General Electric. Spic and Span and Beech Nut Gum. He didn’t just write the music, he wrote the taglines as well. The music he wrote was contemporary and innovative for the ad business, incorporating themes and sounds from what at the time was considered the modern jazz of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk.

In the  late 1950s, after barely surviving an automobile accident killed his new bride and left him seriously injured, Eaton took the job of music director at the Benton & Bowles agency. It was there that he wrote the Sugar Crisp jingle, music for toys like GI Joe and Mr. Potato Head, Yuban coffee and, “Hardee’s, Best Eatin’ in Town”. After staying with that agency for more than three decades, in 1980 he opened his own music production company and returned to the concert stage. An enthsusiast of meditation, his 1986 solo concert, The Meditative Chopin, at Lincoln Center was praised by the New York Times, “The cumulative effect was deeply satisfying. One came much closer to the heart of Chopin—and by extension, to music itself”. He’s performed internationally and recorded albums of the compositions of Chopin, George Gershwin, Scott Joplin and others. His own compositions have been on the soundtracks of feature films. On the faculty of his alma mater, the Manhattan School of Music, in 2010 he’s was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Eaton credits his success to a lesson taught by his mother. She told him that in order to succeed in the face of the racial prejudice that was unfortunately common in his youth, he ““needed to do 200% to get credit for 100%”. “So,” Roy says, “that became my lifetime mantra.”

Roy Eaton’s talent for crafting jingles continues to resonate today. A black man from Harlem and a southern boy share a common chord. If it hadn’t been for Eaton’s jingle more than 50 years ago I’m not sure that Brian Saylor would be dressing up as “the man who wears the star” today.

*Photo taken with parents’ permission given in exchange for providing Zayde services.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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21 Comments on “A Man Who Wears the Texaco Star and the Man Behind the Jingle...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Now I can’t get the Sugar Crisp jingle out of my head. Great article, I knew nothing of Roy Eaton before reading this and will now have to research more into his life and accomplishments.

    As an aside, in the Toronto area, working at a Gulf station in the early/mid 70’s we wore a Gulf hat, shirt, bow tie and high-top Gulf running shoes for a number of months as part of a promotion for the brand. Yes, a full serve station.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Darn filter ate my post, (again, sigh!).

    Sugar Crisp jingle now burning an earhole while I am trying to work.
    Will have to research Roy Eaton, who I knew nothing of prior to reading this.

    Working at a Gulf station in Toronto in the mid/early 70’s as part of a promotion for a number of months we wore a Gulf hat, shirt, bowtie and Gulf branded hightop running shoes. Predominantly blue with orange and white as per Gulf colour scheme. Yes, it was a full serve station and the runners were to demonstrate the speed of our service.

    • 0 avatar

      Showed the super sugar crisp commercial to my wife, we both remember Sugar Bear very clearly as well as the 10 pack of little boxes of cereal which was a real splurge back in the day – i think you got Sugar Crisp, Cocoa Puffs, Kix, Apple Jacks,and maybe some others Post cereals too. Had also forgotten that Sugar bear had the Dean Martin personna which makes it even funnier.

      Two thumbs up on the Econoline Pickup.They’re pretty crude to drive but love the look.

  • avatar

    For some reason that I can’t grasp, I’ve always been attracted to those van based pickups, be they from the Big 3 or foreigners like VW.

  • avatar

    Did Texaco go out of business? Maybe there just aren’t any anywhere near where I live, because I haven’t seen a Texaco station in a very long time. Usually it’s Wawa, Gulf, Lukoil, or the rare Exxon station.

  • avatar

    A whole article about Texaco and music and the Rickie Lee Jones song ‘Last Chance Texaco’ does not get mentioned?

    • 0 avatar

      There are limits to my cultural knowledge. Cool song, I hear at least a little influence from her then boyfriend Tom Waits.

      I’d love to put together a compilation album of great car and road songs. There’d be at least a couple of Waits’ compositions on it.

  • avatar

    Hmm, black and white commercial, jingle is arranged in a Mitch Miller-y style, must have been in the early 60’s.

  • avatar

    Also, I remember hearing that jingle as a child, but I’ve never seen a service station dressed like that one. Invariably, they wore blue shirts with their names on them, and navy blue pants, like the ones Cintas delivers to most repair shops.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    Ronnie, thanks for posting a great piece. Brian Saylor is an interesting guy…but I had no idea who Roy Eaton was before today, which is a crying shame. Ever been the only person of your race in a roomful of people? It’s a little unnerving, isn’t it? Roy Eaton did that every day for years, and he did it with class and grace and his work endures today.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re welcome, thanks. I also didn’t know about Roy Eaton but as soon as I started to research the jingle I knew he had to be part of the post.

      “Ever been the only person of your race in a roomful of people?”

      The grocery store where I most frequently shop is 1.5 miles from the Detroit city limits and there just aren’t a lot of grocery stores in northwest Detroit. The neighborhood where the store sits is pretty diverse, Jewish, Chaldean and African American but the store’s clientele is well over 90% black, Detroiters buying their groceries.

      Sometimes when I’m in a situation like that I’ll notice it but I’m Jewish and used to being in the minority and it generally doesn’t make me feel that self-conscious. I go to lots of events where I can’t partake of the food for Kashrut reasons. I get more self-conscious being the only person in the room not eating a meal than being the only person of a particular skin color. I’d like to think that I can be comfortable with all sorts of people.

  • avatar

    Good job on the story (as usual). Your stories always strike a chord with me. I am sure that is partially due to my age and the relevance of the stories to my youth but you are also a good writer. I do remember the attendants in uniform and the neckties always just killed me.

    I understand the discomfort of being a minority. Retired from the Navy in Guam and was frequently the only Haole in the room.

  • avatar

    I remember those little cereal boxes too. They were perforated so you could break them open with a finger nail or a knife. Then you’d do the same to the packaging underneath, and pour in your milk.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget Texacos ‘ Registered Restrooms ‘ .

    In the 1960’s I had several different Texaco toys , oil tanker (with wheels !) , fire engine and fire man’s had with microphone & speaker .

    Texaco is still here in California .

    My head is always full of old jingles , can’t get ’em out .


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