10 Cent Sodas and a Story or Two

Roberson entertained many for 50-plus years at Ewing Electric

By Roger Moore

There was not a big news bulletin announcing the passing of Winston Douglas Roberson. The New York Times did not run an obituary. The sudden death of the 76-year-old was not part of the national evening news. But from the amount of people in attendance March 28 at Lost Creek United Methodist Church it was evident that Stillwater and the surrounding community lost one its favorite sons.

They came from all directions, from all walks of life, young and old, to honor a man who spent most of his 76 years in the Stillwater area. They had stories to tell, jokes to make, and longtime bets to pay off. Parking lots overflowed into gravel roads and folding chairs had to be added for a standing room only crowd. The service, filled with emotion, also brought tears of joy as a friend to many was laid to rest. Ironically, rest was something that rarely occurred in regards to 1023 South Perkins Road, where Doug Roberson had made his second home since 1964.

One of Stillwater’s longest running businesses, Ewing Electric Motor Company, opened in 1932 under John Ewing. Originally located at 1509 South Perkins, Ewing and his wife Irma lived upstairs and helped locals with electric motors, electric generators, providing parts and service. During the 1930s, there was not a gas station on every corner or a parts distributor every few miles. Ordering and getting required parts was not a click of the mouse away. Stillwater, still in its youth as a community, depended on people like Ewing. Around 1945, Ewing developed lateral sclerosis. Paralysis put him in a wheelchair, but that did not keep the business owner from making his way downstairs with the help of an elevator. Ewing died from complications of pneumonia in 1948 at the age of 48. Irma married Wilson Bartmas and the two continued the business for the next decade-plus.

After service in the United States Army, Doug Roberson, a bright-eyed young man, walked into Ewing Electric in 1964 – and never left. In 1972, Roberson took over management of the business and in 1977 he became the owner. In the 1980s, the business moved from 1509 to 1023 South Perkins where it remains in 2018. Oscar Montelongo, longtime friend and employee, became a business partner in 2008. On the Saturday, 24 March 2018, Roberson died. He, like always, worked a few hours in the morning before heading home to work on a yard that always excelled in the neighborhood.

Ewing Electric will continue to operate, continuing local service for its 86th year. But the environment for those walking in the door will never be the same.

Step inside the Ewing shop and you enter a time capsule. Family will tell you nothing was ever thrown away; not quite a collector, but a gatherer of things big and small. All ages enjoyed a cheap 10-cent soda pop from the vintage Coca-Cola machine in the corner. Kids were not required to produce a dime or two nickels, just a thank you and see you next time. Next to the soda pop machine you will find more vintage in the form of juke boxes in all manner of repair. Spread throughout the shop are an old barber’s chair, a handful of typewriters, and plenty of “what is that?” items here and there. The walls are adorned with all sorts of photos, newspaper clippings, and posters from previous eras.

Collectors are often tinkerers, working on many projects at once. Doug Roberson was no different with perhaps his biggest side projects focused on automobiles. Within the walls of the old shop and the current Ewing Electric location can be found a car or two, like the juke boxes, in all manner of repair.

There is the 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am. It’s big, red, and the engine roars like it is supposed to. Stillwater residents might have seen the 1961 Impala cruising around town a time or two. White, with the top down, rolling without a care in the world. Or perhaps, his daughter’s favorite, the black 1964 Chevrolet El Camino. Without power-steering or power brakes, anyone who drives it immediately asks how a 75-year-old grandma, barely 100 pounds, drove this thing back in the day.

Projects in the stage of “I’ll get to it at some point” also included a 1946 Ford and a Model A built somewhere between 1927 and 1931. The Trans-Am, El Camino, and Impala made it to Lost Creek United Methodist Church on 28 March to say goodbye to the man who spent many hours trying to keep them as close to the day they rolled off the assembly line so many years ago.

A hard day’s work, a few extra hours tinkering with a car or two, supper, a good night’s sleep, and back at it the next day. Doug Roberson was from a generation who worked, worked, and then worked some more. Financial benefits gained from solid employment went right back into the community through annual donations to church, school projects, and the local history museum. Longtime members of communities, like Roberson, often surprise many with unheralded charitable contributions annually.

As a college town, Stillwater sees many “temporary” residents who come and go for four, five, six years at a time. Some impact the community in positive ways, developing never-ending relationships with those of like minds and experiences. Others move to Stillwater later in life, growing up elsewhere, while still more spend the first 17 or 18 years of life in this community then emigrate to other communities similar and different, urban and rural.

For people like Doug Roberson and businesses like Ewing Elecrtric, Stillwater is home. When a customer walks through the door at 1023 Perkins, the regulars, expect to get razzed about something. It may be about something that happened years ago or just yesterday at a grandkid’s softball game. There might be talk of an approaching thunderstorm, or of a recent trip taken to Florida with a wife of 23 years.

It will take some time for customers, friends, family, and Stillwater to get over the passing of one of its own, a member of the community not known to everyone. But from the number of folks who attended a rainy Wednesday morning funeral service it was obvious plenty knew and genuinely enjoyed Doug’s company. Ewing Electric Motor Company will continue under Mr. Montelongo’s leadership, but, as he will tell you, a soda pop will still cost 10 cents; however, the jokes and stories will not be the same.