More than 30 years ago, Bill McCabe noticed that when gas stations began replacing repair shops with convenience stores, one basic service was no longer being offered: air to fill up tires.

To fill the void in the market, he partnered with a company that made compressed air vending machines he then installed at service stations and allowed drivers to pump up their tires with the drop of a few quarters. Later, he broke rank with the distributor, devised his own design for the equipment and installed thousands of them across the East Coast, Texas and California.

“We manufacture them here on Long Island, install and maintain them,” says McCabe, the founding CEO of Service Station Vending Equipment, Inc. “That was the genesis of the company. There was no one offering a compressed air machine that was compact, 24 hours a day, that was easy to use.”

The 62-year-old Floral Park resident won’t discuss what his privately held family business is worth, but don’t say it’s worthless. He’s in the midst of a lawsuit against the Town of Hempstead, which requires gas stations to provide air for free — although each costs $2,000 annually to maintain.

“People think that air is free,” he says. “People think it comes out of the atmosphere and goes into a tire. It has to be compressed…and a lot of components have to be serviced.”

His machines don’t just blow air, they also suck. His coin-operated car vacuums are ubiquitous at gas stations, often found placed directly next to the air pumps — both encased in concrete.

Drivers who found their way to one of his machines either because the air in the tires were low or their car needed to be vacuumed helped McCabe inflate his national presence, one quarter at a time.

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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.