Business

Pumphouse owner Jim Ross was known for his work ethic

The Ross family successfully transformed its full-service automotive station into what is now the Pumphouse in Old Town, which was reborn in 2007.
The Ross family successfully transformed its full-service automotive station into what is now the Pumphouse in Old Town, which was reborn in 2007. The Wichita Eagle

When Jim Ross’ son, Cory, had a thought of turning the family service station business into a bar-and-grill about a decade ago, some weren’t sold on the idea.

Despite the naysayers, the Ross family successfully transformed its full-service automotive station into what is now the Pumphouse in Old Town, which was reborn in 2007.

“A lot of people thought we were crazy,” said Cory Ross. “Our customer base was dying out, and we weren’t getting much new business.

“I’m lucky my dad took a chance on me and that it all worked out.”

Jim Ross, whose work ethic was legendary, according to his family, passed away Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Mr. Ross, a native Wichitan, took over his father’s downtown business, known for years as “The Station,” in 1969 and ran it for more than three decades. Cory Ross’ grandfather, Bob, opened the station in 1931.

“My mother says he only missed work one day in 45 years of marriage,” said Kelly Ross, another of Mr. Ross’ sons. “It was in 1971 and it was because of a snowstorm. He tried to go to work, but just couldn’t make it there.

“His work ethic was unbelievable.”

Mr. Ross’ wife, Judy, began the transformation of the business by offering sandwiches and soup out of the back of the station about nine years ago, Cory Ross said. The brothers said the bar-and-grill concept has been successful and that there are no plans for changes to the business following their father’s death.

“Dad was liked and respected by everyone, and he will be missed,” Kelly Ross said.

Mr. Ross received a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University and later earned an advanced degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. At one time, Cory said, Jim and his brother, Ron, owned about 60 gas stations in Kansas.

A downturn in the oil and gas business in the 1980s, however, forced them to downsize significantly, eventually to just the one station.

“The way the business was going before we made the change, it wasn’t sustainable,” Cory said. “We had to do something different or sell the property.

“We finally were able to get a bank loan for the Pumphouse in 2006, and we shut the station down that very day and I went out and got a sandblaster.”

It took about a year to transform the property with the Ross family handling nearly facet of the project except for plumbing and electrical work, Cory Ross said. Up until 2011, customers could still fill up their vehicle’s gas tank after filling up their stomach.

“It took a lot of guts for my dad to do it,” said Cory Ross while choking back tears. “I’m so happy that he was able to see the new business become successful. That’s a good feeling for me and for our family.”

A funeral Mass is set for 2 p.m. Monday at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 1321 Stratford Lane.

Reach Bryan Horwath at 316-269-6708 or bhorwath@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bryan_horwath.

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