PAID AT THE PUMP
Here's how much the Markerts would have paid for gas when their photos were taken. The second number is adjusted for inflation. The current price is $3.92 per gallon.
1931 — 17 cents/gallon $2.55/gallon
1952 — 28 cents/gallon $2.41/gallon
1980 — $1.25/gallon $3.45/gallon
1991 — $1.10/gallon $1.84/gallon
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, www.USInflationCalculator.com
With gas prices seemingly forever on the rise, most people would happily avoid having to pull up to the pump. Once every couple of decades, however, the Markert family looks forward to the opportunity.
In January 1931, Ed Markert Sr., an Atlanta-area supply purchaser for Gulf Oil, received a package from Bob Gamble, a vendor working for Happ Brothers Manufacturing, the sewing company that produced Gulf's service-station uniforms. Inside was a pair of child-size, promotional khaki coveralls intended for Markert's 18-month-old son, Ed Jr.
Markert went to a nearby Gulf service station in Atlanta, where he took a photo of his son wearing the coveralls. The sepia-toned portrait, which has been preserved for more than 80 years, shows the boy standing, straight backed, next to a pump with a defiant, decidedly untoddler-like expression.
Markert's wife, Elizabeth, held on to the photo and the coveralls and in 1951 offered them to her son after the birth of her first grandson, Steve Markert.
"Finally, when Steve was born, I did the same thing with him. We took him to a service station and took his picture," said Markert Jr., who moved to Chattanooga in 1966 and retired from TVA in 1988.
Now 81 years old, Markert Jr. has helped ensure that dressing each new generation in the coveralls and carting them off to a nearby gas station became a family tradition.
THE NEXT GENERATION
As a teenager, Steve Markert was the only member of the family to follow in his grandfather's footsteps by working as a Gulf Oil station attendant. He retired from a career as a radiological technician at Memorial Hospital in 2008.
A self-described history buff, Steve Markert said he sees the photos, and the coveralls, as a tangible connection to the past.
"It's just a way to link to future generations so they can look back and see their grandparents and great-grandparents and have a sense of their legacy," he said.
The tradition entered its fourth generation in March when Markert Jr.'s grandson, Jason Alan Markert-Rambo, put the coveralls on his son, Colton Rambo.
A maintenance technician at Steward Advanced Materials on 38th Street, Markert-Rambo, 34, said he once thought he never wanted children. Once Colton came along, however, it was a foregone conclusion he would don the coveralls, too.
"It was never a question to me," Markert-Rambo said. "I knew it was important to my grandfather, and I wanted to continue it on.
"I thought it was something that would be interesting, a conversation piece, something to talk about and pass down."
The family has attempted, as much as possible, to replicate the conditions of the original photo. Every subsequent generation is photographed standing next to a pump wearing the overalls, which bear a breast patch embroidered with the name "Edwin."
Despite their efforts to copy the original composition, the price at the pump wasn't the only thing to change with time.
None of the photos has been taken at the same station where Markert Jr. stood so proudly in 1931. Of the subsequent generations, Market Jr.'s son's was the last to be taken at a station owned by Gulf Oil. The last three were taken at BP stations.
Even after more than 80 years, however, the coveralls are all but untouched by time, with all the original fabric and seams still "real tight," Markert Jr. said.
He attributes their pristine state to the fact that, with the exception of the generational photo shoot, they have remained tucked away in a closet rather than being worn during playtime by rambunctious children.
"They've just been kept in a safe place all this time," he said. "They obviously were good material."
In 1980, Markert Jr.'s mother sent a letter of thanks to Gamble along with photos of her son, grandson and great-grandson (Markert-Rambo) photographed in the coveralls he sent. In his response, Gamble, then 89, said he credited the garment's durability to quality craftsmanship.
"Merchandise in those days was much better made than what is available today," he wrote. "Even so, prices today are vastly higher than they were then."
THE FAMILY JEANS
In all, five members of the Markert family have been photographed in the coveralls, including Chase Holder, 22, Steve Markert's nephew.
Despite so far being limited to male members of the Markert family, Markert Jr. said any of his great-granddaughters are welcome to put on the coveralls. So far, however, his daughter, Joy, politely declined to include her daughters in the family's photo legacy.
That male dominance may soon come to a close. When she's a little older, Holder has said he would like to dress his daughter, Aubree Holder, in the coveralls, only with a more forward-thinking spin on the tradition.
"He commented that when she gets old enough to wear the coveralls, he'll take her down and get a more modern picture taken with her at an electric charging station," Markert Jr. said, laughing. "We'll wait to see if he actually does that."
Whether it deviates from the male line or not, Markert Jr. and his son said they both hope to see the coveralls continue to add contributions to the family time capsule, even if they're not around to enjoy them.
"After this many generations, it does put more emphasis on it, so we'll try and keep it up," Markert Jr. said. "It gives you a little bit of a picture of how time marches on and things change over the years."
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...