For those who grew up in Lake Highlands, the Starbucks on the corner of Northwest Highway and Ferndale is likely a conflicting sight. The coffee shop sits on the plot of a former Lake Highlands icon, the Backus family’s full-service gas station that was there for 50 years.
Wayne Backus opened the full-service gas station as Backus Mobil in 1962. It later became Backus Texaco, and it was Backus Shell — one of three remaining full-service gas stations in Dallas — when it closed in 2015.
Since the closure, the long-trusted family has endured unimaginable heartache, the Advocate learned after checking in with Wayne and his granddaughter Meccala Wright. She was practically raised at the shop known to most as “that place with the ’55 Chevy out front.” (The car, on which was posted a “Win Me” sign for 24 years, was essentially a novelty meant to sell Texas Lottery tickets, the family previously told the Advocate.)
Darren Backus worked at the station since he was 5 years old, says Wayne, Darren’s dad, who now resides in an assisted living facility. “He hung around my wife [Margie] while she did the books.”
When Wayne retired, Darren, who took over, had already worked there for decades.
Everyone knew and loved him, neighbor Bryan Witherspoon says in a Facebook message. “I had a really good friendship with Darren. He watched me grow up. Like him, I worked in my dad’s shop and later took ownership. He and his wife were both great people we all miss.”
Last January, Darren was gravely injured in a head-on collision, according the Backus family. He held on for two weeks and underwent five major surgeries. It allowed time for his family to say goodbye, his daughter Meccala says. He died in February.
A few months later, his wife Charisse succumbed to cancer. And the previous year, Margie, the family matriarch, also died.
Margie was a fixture at the station from day one until 2013. “She outworked me and my dad both,” Darren told the Advocate in 2014. “She was here all the time. Did the books until she couldn’t handle it anymore.”
Darren, too, dedicated the majority of his life to the shop, Meccala says. “I’ve realized even more with his passing just how much he did for others. Working at the station, there were a lot of elderly customers in the area, and he did his best to try and help them.”
After Darren retired, most of his time was spent taking care of his parents or working part-time at Martha’s Senior Gourmet delivering meals to senior adults, his daughter says. He was bringing medicine to Wayne and Charisse when his accident occurred.
Lake Highlands mom Allison Hancock says her dad worked with the Backuses in the ’60s. When she was pregnant in the ’80s, “they would come out and pump my gas, even if I was in the self-serve aisle. When I would take my toddler inside, they were so sweet to her.”
They remembered what cars her grandparents drove long after they died, she adds. “You just can’t find people like that anymore.”
Each time Rhonda Clifford pulled in to gas up her 1980 Camaro, “they would check fluids, tire pressure and clean the windshield. They came to the rescue on minor repairs many times. They were a true gift to the neighborhood.”
Jessica Valentine, a childhood friend, recalls visiting the station with Meccala. “I remember thinking it was so cool that her family owned it.”
Despite the heartaches of the past few years, Meccala cherishes so many memories of Lake Highlands, the service station and the classic car on the corner — watching her Nana, Margie, working away on finances, her gregarious dad helping happy customers in the bay, serving Cokes and popcorn to Texas Lottery reps and, yes, actually riding around in the ‘55 Chevy.
“There’s a dent in the dash where my head once hit it,” she says, and the thought makes her laugh.
Correction: A correction was issued on Sept. 17 at 9:30 p.m. In the original version, a collision was mistakenly identified as being caused by a drunk teenage driver. Further information clarified that Darren Backus died due to injuries sustained in an accidental collision.