Marathon man retiring after 40 years

·6 min read

Waiting for Newt Chitwood to put some much needed water in her car, Maxine Pontius was put on the spot.

"Do you know my real name?" Chitwood asked Pontius, a longtime friend and customer of Newt's Marathon.

"Newt," she said.

"Well, you're lettin' me down," Chitwood said. "My name's Richard."

Learning Chitwood's real name is the easy news for longtime customers who heard the full-service gas station is slated to close Thursday.

Richard “Newt” Chitwood, 74, left, talks with longtime customer and friend Blaine Allen, 69, right, about Chitwood’s decision to retire.Chris Howell | Herald-Times
Richard “Newt” Chitwood, 74, left, talks with longtime customer and friend Blaine Allen, 69, right, about Chitwood’s decision to retire.Chris Howell | Herald-Times

"I sure hate to see him go out," Pontius said as she watched Chitwood work. The station property has been sold, and Chitwood speculated a convenience store might be coming. Chitwood, 74, has lived in Bloomington all his life, and he's been a Marathon man since 1966. He started at a station at the corner of Third Street and the Ind. 45/46 Bypass. He then went to Third and Jordan. In 1977, he took over what is now known as Newt's Marathon at the corner of 17th and Madison streets.

All those years, Chitwood has been known as Newt, a nickname he's had since he was a baby.

"There's not one in 20 people that trades with me that knows my name," Chitwood said.

Going by a nickname made it easier for Chitwood to spot telemarketers. When someone called asking for Richard, he would always say that Richard wasn't there.

"He ain't never here, I tell you that," Chitwood said with a chuckle. For many customers, Chitwood has simply been Newt — the man they could depend on. His station offered more than a tank of gas. He ran a full repair business, and Chitwood dedicated himself to the job. He said he was never sick and only took the occasional vacation of a few days.

"Ive worked every day for 40 years, except Sundays" Chitwood said.

Jeff Chitwood, one of Newt's three children, said his dad worked seven days a week when he was really young. Despite the long hours, Chitwood has fond memories of his "awesome dad." The two often went to IU basketball games together and shared a passion for air shows. He also remembers short trips the family would take to Gatlinburg. He said the family often got only two days' warning about the trip.

"We had a blast," he said. "It's something we'd always done."

Now that his dad is retiring, Jeff Chitwood thinks it will be an interesting transition. For Newt's children, there will be no more free gas or established mechanic to help out. But he admits he is looking forward to spending more time with his dad.

"I don't even know if he has any hobbies," he said. And now, Newt Chitwood contemplates a future without the smell of fuel. On Tuesday, he pumped gas and chatted with customers. Most of his employees have moved on. Only a couple of them, including his 17-year-old granddaughter, remained.

When a red Chevy Lumina pulls up, Chitwood heads to the pump. He fills the car with $15.06 worth of gas, pops the hood and checks the oil. Using a blue paper towel to wipe the dipstick, Chitwood reports back to the driver that the car could use one, maybe two quarts.

After getting the OK, Chitwood grabs a couple of bottles of 10W-30. After filling the oil, Chitwood closes the hood and cleans the windshield.

"I put in two quarts of oil, ma'am. That's $20," Chitwood said.

That kind of old-time service is what customers will miss. Chitwood knows most of his customers, although sometimes he struggles with the names. On Tuesday, customers came inside the station to verify the signs that indicate Thursday as the last day. One customer said she thought the signs were simply announcing the upcoming holiday.

"The sign's kind of misleading," Chitwood admits. "My wife made those signs. There's nothing I can do about that."

Another customer came in, confused by the duct tape which covers the price for premium. Chitwood explained that he isn't buying more premium, but the regular unleaded is available. The customer took a moment to tell Chitwood how much she'll miss him.

"I'll give you one last little chunk of change," she said before walking back to pump her gas.

Another customer teased Chitwood about being able to pump her own gas and come in on the dollar. "I came in right on the penny," she told him. "I bet you couldn't do that."

Richard “Newt” Chitwood, 74, brings hange to a customer in the full-service lane of his Marathon gas station at 17th and Madison streets. Signs on the office windows announce the station’s last day will be Thursday. The property has been sold.Chris Howell | Herald-Times
Richard “Newt” Chitwood, 74, brings hange to a customer in the full-service lane of his Marathon gas station at 17th and Madison streets. Signs on the office windows announce the station’s last day will be Thursday. The property has been sold.Chris Howell | Herald-Times

He admits that he can no longer pump the gas to the precise amount the customer requests. But it doesn't matter.

"Nineteen ninety-nine or 20.04. I still charge them $20," he said. "I'm not worried about it. What's a dime anymore?"

Inside the station there are glimpses into Chitwood's life outside the station. Family pictures adorn the wall space behind the counter. In his office, there are even more pictures including one with three of his granddaughters, bare-bottomed next to a bathtub. The picture was a present from his daughter.

"Might have been the best birthday present I ever got," Chitwood said.

The office is filled with other personal mementos. Along with the pictures, there are two electric shavers on Chitwood's desk as he always shaves at work. A map, brown shoe polish and a box of pens litter the desk and nearby shelves. Inside the station's business checkbook, Chitwood has a white piece of paper taped inside with the names and birth dates of all his grandchildren.

"That way I can always find it," he said.

The door to the office is grimy, but it's obvious kids have spent some time in the station. A line of stickers decorate the door. Written on the door are two hearts around the phrase "I love you pap." The handiwork is signed and dated 1999.

Morgan Cole, now 17, is responsible for the stickers and phrase. As Chitwood's oldest granddaughter, she has the privilege of being the only grandchild to have worked for "pap," as she calls him.

"His office has looked this way since I was itty-bitty," Cole said as she walked in to show off the family pictures.

She's only had the job for a short time and is sad it will end this week. She's got an interview lined up for another summer job, but it's clear she's happier with pap.

"Working with my Grandpa was the best thing," she said.

Standing in front of the garage doors, Chitwood surveys the surrounding area. Back in the day, the business across the street was a Shell station. Next door was a Village Pantry. Now, he's the only gas station within the block.

As customers continue to pull up, a bell continues to alert Chitwood to customers. He walks out to greet customers with a smile as he fills their tanks and washes their windows. Customers that he recognizes are usually told about the impeding closure.

"I appreciate all the money you left with me because I needed it," Chitwood tells one customer. "Thank you very much."

Chris Howell | Herald-Times
Chris Howell | Herald-Times

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Marathon man retiring after 40 years