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NO TEMPEST IN 1922 WASHINGTON TEAPOT

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There's no tempest in this teapot. It's the nation's oldest working gas station, built in 1922 as a monumental protest against the Teapot Dome scandal.

Seventy-two years later, the Teapot is a slow-moving, homey place where customers are addressed by name, offered credit without plastic and encouraged to take time to chat in an old barbershop chair.Lyn Dasso bought the Teapot five years ago just outside Zillah, a town of 2,000 in central Washington's fruit-growing Yakima Valley.

Dasso spends seven days a week behind an antique cash register in the squat, one-room building that looks like something out of "Alice in Wonderland," complete with a concrete spout on one side and a handle on the other.

The Teapot, widely photographed and easily visible from I-82, was built as a protest to the 1921 Teapot Dome scandal. In that scandal, President Warren G. Harding's interior secretary went to prison after a Senate investigation revealed he leased naval oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyo., and Elk Hills, Calif., to men who had lent him large sums of money without interest.

Dasso's Teapot is sandwiched between the interstate and the Yakima Valley Highway, where it was placed in 1984 after being moved to make room for the highway. A national registry lists the Teapot as the oldest working gas station in the nation.

Dasso says he enjoys the rhythm of working alone and working for himself. "I do exactly what I want," he said.

He invites customers to stop and shoot the breeze when they have the time and uses 3-by-5 cards tucked in a recipe box to keep track of credit he's given out on good faith.

"People pay me when they see me," Dasso said. "I never bill them. I've only ever had to go to three houses and say, `Look, I can't handle you anymore.' "

Though life may be hectic elsewhere, the steam rises slowly at the Teapot. During a recent 45-minute visit, only three cars pulled up to the gas pumps.

Dasso works alone, from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter or 6 p.m. in the summer, seven days a week. He doesn't earn much money from the business, but he enjoys the freedom.

"It's a trade-off. I don't have retirement or paid vacations, but I have peace of mind," Dasso said.