As a teenager in the 1950s my first part-time job was a driveway attendant in a service station in suburban Sydney at a time when customers didn’t refuel their own cars. Filling up without spilling any fuel required some skill as there was no automatic nozzle cut-off when the tank was full. Customers would often vent their spleen if fuel was spilled on the duco and the service station proprietor would take you to task if fuel was spilt on the driveway.
The solution was for the attendant to put his ear close to the opening to the car’s tank so as to be able to hear when the fuel was about to reach the top of the tank’s neck (I say his ear as I don’t recall there being any female attendants back then). Some makes of car, whose tanks had long filler necks, gave fair warning, with an audible change in sound as the fuel travelled up the neck. But some Morris Minors, whose tanks’ caps were low down, almost level with the bumper bar, were an exception. Their short filler necks meant there was no detectable change in the sound until the very end. And if there was any competing noise in the vicinity you didn’t stand much of a chance.
To avoid spillage, if you were asked to ‘fill ’er up’ you’d want to ask the customer roughly how much fuel she’d take and then keep a close eye on the bowser’s gauge and slow down to a trickle towards the end. This was harder than it seemed, as having your head so close to the open tank, the fumes could affect your concentration.
On one such occasion, somewhat disoriented, I forgot to screw the cap back on, which the owner didn’t discover until later, by which time quite a large quantity of fuel had leaked out. Of course he returned to the service station to give the proprietor a piece of his mind which in turn earned me a reprimand from the boss and the threat of dismissal.