Natoma's longtime gas station fills every need
Fawna Schwien can think of one thing that Masters Oil Co. LLC on Natoma’s main street doesn’t sell.
“Castle nuts,” Schwien said, after giving the question quite a bit of thought. “Someone came in the other day and wanted castle nuts. I’ve never carried castle nuts.”
The newest item in inventory is air fryers.
“I got them in last week,” she said on Wednesday.
And even though it’s billed as a gas station, Masters Oil at the corner of 2nd and Ash streets downtown has a rush hour at lunch.
On Wednesday, Schwien was back and forth behind the pizza making station and the sales counter, which overflows with everything from lottery tickets, candy canes and Chapstick to an impact wrench, key cutter stand and a sump pump alarm.
Ringing up a charge of $10.78 after employee Chad Clark replaced windshield wipers for customer Pat Williams, Schwien said Clark is one of a number of longtime employees.
“He does everything,” she said “Anything and everything.”
That describes the store too, which Schwien’s father, Milan Masters, founded more than six decades ago.
“He started out across the street, when I was a kid,” she said. “He’s been here, well, I’m 63, and he’s been doing it since I was born.”
Since then Masters Oil has spread out and spilled into at least two other neighboring buildings. The main store is a maze of connected rooms, each one stacked floor to ceiling with neatly placed merchandise.
“Dad’s 86 and he’s out hauling propane this morning,” said Schwien. Her mother, Dianne, does the bookwork. “They started it all.”
Something for everyone
Michael Schmidt came in for pizza for himself and his wife and three-year-old son, Theo, as well as for a balloon. No special occasion, said Schmidt, because “every day is a balloon day.”
As helium swooshed in the canister, Schmidt explained he’s a regular at the store like so many of Natoma’s residents. He’s been pastor for 13 years at Peace Lutheran Church, which sits right under Natoma’s water tower.
“This is like the everything and anything store. This is the Natoma Walmart,” he said.
Schwien adds with her hearty laugh, “We’re the local, ‘How much rain did ya get?’ My dad has a rain gauge and people call and ask.”
So how much did Natoma get the past week during the widespread storms over western Kansas?
“Three and a half,” she says, not skipping a beat.
“Also,” jumped in Schmidt, “this is where you go to find out people died. They always have the obituaries on the counter.”
Schwien handed him a shiny inflated mylar balloon imprinted with Class of 2005.
“Perfect!” he said. “That’ll keep him happy for a week.”
“Free balloon, to entertain his son. It’ll make his son — he’s a cute little boy — extremely happy,” Schwien laughed again. “You can’t sell a 2005 graduating balloon. There’s not a big market for that.”
When Kayden Martinez comes in, Schwien introduces him as one of the high school’s star athletes.
“He comes in here every day,” Schwien said. A high school junior, Martinez is out for spring break. Schwien offered sympathy for Natoma High School’s heartbreaking loss March 6 in Wakefield to neighboring St. John’s/Tipton. Vying for the 1A sub-state championship, Natoma narrowly lost.
“Tipton knocked ‘em off at the very last,” Schwien said. “They were ahead the whole game.”
From 6 to 6
With longtime employee Stevie Scott at the cash register, Schwien takes a few minutes to talk.
“Sheer determination” has kept her parents’ store going all these years, she says, bucking the trend of dying main streets in many small towns.
Bypassed decades ago by Kansas Highway 18 just to the north, Natoma has about 300 or so residents, according to several customers taking a guess at the population.
“My father gets up yet every morning at 6 a.m. to open. We’ve been open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for as long as I can remember, six days a week,” said Schwien. “We’re talking about closing down on Saturdays, at least at noon.”
For the past 21 years, Schwien has driven every day from Russell where she lives to manage the store. She’d enjoy more time there with her grandkids.
It was longtime Natoma native and artisan blacksmith Larry Naylor who dubbed the store Mastermart, says Schwien, explaining he makes “lots of cool stuff,” crafting rocking chairs, patio furniture, gliders, flowers and hummingbirds, among other things.
Another regular, Naylor popped in over the lunch hour to buy a remnant of PVC pipe for a waterline outside back of his shop. He is usually looking for “welding supplies, plumbing supplies, automotive supplies, anything and everything,” he said.
When Chris Broeckelman enters the store, Schwien introduces him as the high school woods teacher for the past 15 years in Natoma.
“Let me tell you, there’s a talented man,” says Schwien. “The stuff he gets out of those kids is unbelievable. There’s a story for you. He’s also a referee, and a coach, and a father.”
Broeckelman is looking for E6000 industrial adhesive.
“What are you gonna use the glue for?” Schwien asks.
“Glue back the sole on a shoe,” says Broeckelman.
Another regular, he’s usually there for tires, electrical or plumbing needs, stain, pizza, paint, you name it, he says.
Sorting under the counter, Schwien doesn’t find her open bottle of E6000 she thought she had, for Broeckelman to try, so he spends the $7.99 for a bottle to take with him.
“You’ll probably see me back later,” he said, reminding her of his kitchen cabinet project as he goes out the door.
Schwien gives a quick tour through the maze of rooms.
“See this is electrical, this is our plumbing, caulking, stain, more plumbing, paint, filters, lots of filters, belts and hoses,” she says on the walk through. “There’s the shop back there. It varies down there, starters down there, alternators down there. Batteries. Brakes. Tires. Hydraulic oils. Engine oils. Oilfield supplies. Hydraulic hoses. Water heaters.”
Chad Clark sells a lot of tires, she adds, and employee Ed Brummer is a really good welder and does a lot of the mechanic work.
That’s not all, though, there are even farm supplies. “There’s gates across the street. Fence posts, wire, solar water panels, solar panels and solar wells for cows. Sump pumps from Arizona.”
She hopes to hire another employee.
Schwien admits her brain is a little foggy upon the one-year anniversary of the death of her husband, Stan, last March. He farmed near Milberger south of Russell and it’s been a tough year without him, she says.
Asked what’s the most popular item, she guesses it’s maybe chips, or pizza.
How do they keep track of all this stuff?
“Honestly we don’t,” Schwien said.
Does she always know where everything is?
“No,” she laughs.
Is there anything they don’t have?
“Well ask, and I’ll tell you whether we got it,” she laughed, saying if they do, she’ll look until she finds it, and adding “depending on the day, sometimes the chip supply is low.”