WINTHROP — Carl Arata turned 80 in April and he’s been slowed down by diabetes. But he doesn’t have to look too far back in his life to recall a time when he worked 70 hours a week or more helping motorists and homeowners.

That’s because he ran Arata’s Texaco station on Main Street in Winthrop for 43 years. It was the last full-service gas station in Winthrop, offering both gasoline and car repairs. He also ran a very active wrecker business, towing cars and trucks out of ditches and lakes, wherever they had ended up off the road. And he plowed snow for more than 100 customers in the winter, some of them for free.

His eyes light up as he tells stories about innumerable emergency calls he made during his career.

In 2001, Arata had triple bypass heart surgery and he sold the station to a new owner who had it torn down. The Maine Legislature passed a resolution honoring him for his long service to the public. It read in part:

“His garage was a gathering place for local townspeople and several generations of teenagers. He provided immeasurable assistance and performed acts of personal kindness to citizens in the surrounding area.”

Arata’s illness has confined him to the first floor of his attractive home, but his loving wife of 56 years, Shirley, stays right beside him.

They met at a dance hall on the West Side Rotary in Augusta. Shirley was from Gardiner. He spent his early childhood in Hallowell. Then his family moved to Winthrop.

“When I saw her, that was the best day of my life,” he said.

Shirley was 22 and Carl was 24.

His father was John Arata, who worked for Wingate Oil Co. Carl had bought the service station in 1957. He and Shirley were married in 1958.

“We didn’t have any arguments for the first 25 years of our marriage,” Shirley said. “Whatever the husband said was right in those years. Now we bicker about things. He worked from 7 in the morning until 7 at night most days.”

The couple had a daughter, Kelly, and a son, David, both of whom worked for their father in the service station.

“Back then, when somebody filled up their gas tank, they also got their windows washed,” said Shirley. “They don’t do that any more either.”

Arata was very popular with the teenage kids in town.

“I never had any problem with the kids,” he said. “If they ever caused any problems, I told the cops to call me and I’d take care of it. If they were too loud, I’d take care of it.”

He said his young visitors never stole anything from the gas station except once when a car radio was taken.

“I said I want that back on my front step in the morning, and it was put back!” he said. “Those kids still remember that time, and they still come and tell me about it.”

Shirley said, “He did a lot of favors for a lot of people, but it came back around when he retired.”

At first, Arata towed disabled and wrecked vehicles with a homemade wrecker.

“It was just something I put together. I was young and foolish,” he said. “I just fell into it (towing). I learned how to do it on my own.”

When he retired, he was using a 30-foot long Chevy flatbed tow truck with a 19-foot movable bed to carry cars and trucks on.

“Whenever I had a wrecker call, I’d ask someone to keep the station open for me,” he said. “When I had a call, no matter what time it was, I’d go to the station and the neighbor’s black Lab named Blacky would come down and he’d go on the call with me in the truck.”

He once towed an airplane, minus its wings, from Manchester, where it had been painted, to the Waterville airport.

Arata said all of his wrecker calls were difficult — especially when it came to pulling vehicles out of Maranacook Lake.

“I would swim down and hitch a tow cable onto the vehicle, then haul them out of the lake,” he said.

Arata towed some vehicles on Interstate 95 north of Augusta when he was called by the state police, but he said most of his calls were within Monmouth, Readfield, Mount Vernon and Winthrop.

Arata remembers towing young people who got stuck in the Wayne Desert, a sandy area where kids went parking.

“It was all sand,” he said. “You needed a four-wheel drive when you were up there. If I got myself stuck, I always got myself out of it.”

He repossessed some cars for Key Bank. He remembers letting a woman who had a doctor’s appointment have her car for an extra day so she could make her appointment.

Arata was a member of the Winthrop Fire Department for 25 years, retiring with the rank of lieutenant.

During the Arab oil embargo of 1973, when there were gas lines and a gas shortage in this country, Arata would close up shop and leave early when he ran out of gas. This gave him more time to be with his family, and he discovered he liked not being at work all the time.

His wife says Arata was always an active man.

“I think he missed the wrecker more than anything,” she said.


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