Selling barbecue at gas stations is a long-time tradition in the Lone Star State. The combination of open-flame cooking with highly flammable liquids may seem counterintuitive. But for vacationers on a road trip or workers looking to gas up and grab some lunch, barbecue and gas stations go hand in hand.
Before there was Buc-ee’s, there was Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q. Rudy’s started out as a gas station, auto repair shop and grocery store in Leon Springs north of San Antonio in 1929. Barbecue was added to the lineup in 1989, and the chain now has over 40 locations in five states.
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One of the earliest references to gas stations and barbecue is from the July 17, 1929 edition of the El Paso Herald newspaper announcing a “New Barbecue Plant Opening Today.”
According to the article, “The idea of combining a barbecue plant, restaurant, filling station, and rest rooms for both men and women was originated by Mrs. Neil Shearman, owner of the new Pig ‘N Calf barbecue stand.” In this case, “barbecue plant” refers to what would be a pit room today.
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The Shearmans were a prominent El Paso family of the time, whose soap-operatic story rivals the Ewings of “Dallas” TV-show fame. In 1921, they owned a hog farm outside of El Paso, which, according to newspaper reports, was also a center for bootlegging, as Prohibition was in effect at the time.
A March 22, 1921 report in the El Paso Herald described a raid on the farm in which two federal Prohibition agents were shot and killed by patriarch C.P. Shearman and his son, Neil. The Shearmans were acquitted in a jury trial in Midland later that year using a plea of self-defense.
Starting in 1925, advertisements in the Herald announced the opening of the Pig ‘N Calf barbecue stand by Neil Shearman. In May of 1926, though, a notice in the Herald signed by Shearman announced “(On) Account (of) business in Florida requiring personal attention (I) will sell (the barbecue stand) at a big sacrifice.”
In December of that year, there was another notice in the paper signed by the elder C.P. Shearman: “From and after today I will be in personal charge of the Pig ‘N Calf barbecue stand.”
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In December of 1927, an obituary for Neil Shearman appeared in the Herald, noting he died in West Palm Beach, Fla., at the age of 38 “following an operation.” His widow and three children returned to El Paso, where “Mrs. Neil Sherman” would open the new and expanded Pig ‘N Calf in 1929.
Not much is known of the Pig ‘N Calf after the initial opening announcement. A notice in the May 5, 1933 edition of the El Paso Times references the reopening of the restaurant “Under New Management.”
Though the origination story of Buc-ee’s isn’t as notorious as that of the Pig ‘N Calf, there is no doubt that Buc-ee’s has continued the tradition of gas station barbecue and become far more successful. When I go in for a pit stop, I’ll grab the quite respectable chopped beef sandwich served there, along with a bag of savory Beaver Nuggets and a bottle of Big Red. That’s about as Texan as you can get without buying an Alamo snow globe.
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