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A unique look back at the gas issuePosted Tuesday, June 17, 2008, at 10:24 PM
Paul and Claud Corbin of Advance show the shingle-making tool which they used as kids to build a cabin in the Greenbrier area west of Advance. Paul, who is 93, uses a computer to write for the North Stoddard Countian and several other publications. His brother Claud is 91.
"Panic at the Pump" by Paul Corbin
I started to write this article about the price of gas about two weeks ago and thought I had it all worked out, but when I woke up the next morning and listened to the news, I discovered that most of the figures I had used were already obsolete, so I dropped the article in the waste basket, and decided to forget about it. However, a few days later, when I was in the bank, the topic of conversation was the high price of gas. When I mentioned that I could remember when I could buy six gallons of gas for $1.00, the lady on the other side of the counter gave me a doubtful look and said, "You got to be kidding!" so I decided to go ahead and tell my story.
Today as we drive along, we are inclined watch that little red needle on the dash, and it seems that it just falls down toward empty much faster than it did a couple years ago. We know where the best prices are to buy our gas, but we wonder if we have enough to get there, so we pull in to the next gas station, and get a renewed state of sticker shock. Yep, it's up another nickel since the last fill-up, and as we dig through our billfold, we realize that it's going to take more than two twenties to do the job. If you're like the rest of us, you're complaining about these high prices and might even catch yourself longing for the good old days when you could fill up your tank with just one of those twenties and have enough left over to buy the week's supply of groceries.
Down on the farm in 1926 my father traded a few cows for a 1924 model "T" Ford. He could buy gas for eleven cents per gallon. Back then we measured the gas we bought by working a hand lever back and forth to pump the gas up into a glass cylinder that had markings to show the number of gallons. My dad was inclined to complain about that eleven-cent price. He said, "If they would make it just a dime, I could pump up five gallon, and that fifty cents worth would last me a couple weeks."
Well, that eleven-cent price didn't last very long. By 1928, gas had gone up to fifteen cents per gallon and the price of corn had gone down to ten cents per bushel. This time, my dad said, "If they had made this darn Ford so it would burn corn, I could keep driving it, but with gas at fifteen cents a gallon, I guess I'll just have to park this old tin lizzy and walk." And that is just what he did. He parked that beautiful vehicle under the shade of a sycamore tree and it was never started again.
It may seem ridiculous now that my dad would consider fifteen cents high for a gallon of gas, but when we consider the fact that his bushel of corn would not cover the cost of one gallon of gas, this price was higher than it is today, when a bushel of corn will pay for one and one half gallons of gas.
I bought my first car in 1937, and at that time I could buy my gas with pocket change. It was a common practice to pull into a station and buy 50-75 cents worth of gas at eighteen cents per gallon, but the station owners got tired of handling nothing but quarters and half dollars, so they hit on the bright idea of putting up a sign, "Six Gallon of Gas - $1.00." This idea went over big; it saved the customer eight cents, and then the stations were taking in folding money.
With the price of gas now over $4.00 per gallon we have "Panic At the Pump." It is an everyday subject, something like discussing the weather. Everybody is talking about the high price of gas, but nobody is doing anything about it. By this time next year, it will probably put a smile on our face if we can find gas for less than $5.00.
As of May 18, 2008, the average price of gas in France was $8.54 per gallon. In all of Europe the price was running at about $8.70, and in Turkey it was going at $11.00 per gallon, making it cost about $200.00 to fill the tank of the average size car.
Our price today for a gallon of gas is a classic example of price illusion, as back in the late 30's and early 40's, gas was selling for about 25 cents per gallon, and 50 cents per hour was considered a good paying job. On this scale, the average worker could buy two gallons of gas with one hour's wages. Today, there are many workers who can still buy two gallons of gas with one hour's wages, and a very high percentage of the labor force can buy three or more gallons of gas with one hour's wages.
Today, the price of the gas is getting all the headlines, but we can and will continue to pay the $4.00, $5.00, $6.00 or more for the gas to fill our fancy cars. But that is not the end of the expense, as this high price of energy leads to higher cost of production, and distribution of all commodities we must have to keep our economy growing.
I can well imagine that the oil-producing nations of the world are wringing their hands,(in glee) as they witness our panic at the pump. They have us on our knees, and may soon have us out walking on our feet in our desperate effort to provide the energy necessary to keep our nations economy strong
Just a few weeks back, Mr. Bush made a trip to Saudi Arabia, no doubt hoping to persuade their oil cartel to pump more crude, but he was politely told to "Get Lost." So it would seem that, if we want more energy, we are going to have to dig for it. But where will we dig?
At this time, it is being estimated that 25% of the earth's oil and natural gas reserves may be in the Arctic, and as the midnight sun rises over the North Pole, this area, which is 20 times larger than Kuwait, is still a "No Man's Land." I am wondering if the United States is going to sit idly by, while some other country lays claim to the oil-rights of this vast area.
Sure, it would be expensive to bring our oil from this area, which has the harshest environment on the Planet Earth, but it may not sound so expensive if and when we start paying $10.00 per gallon for our gas.
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-722-5322.