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Longing for the days of $1 gas? 1973 was anything but the good old days
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

The cheapest gas in Turlock at 3 p.m. on Tuesday was $4.99 at Costco (and you have to be member to get gas there), according to GasBuddy. For those not mega store members, the cheapest gas to be found on Tuesday afternoon was $5.25 a gallon at both ARCO stations on Lander Avenue.

GasBuddy noted that in the Modesto region (which includes Turlock) the average gas was going for $5.49.

If it makes you feel better, that $5.25 gas in Turlock on Tuesday was lower than the average a gallon was selling for in California ($5.78) with the high topping out at $7.99.

In the World of Unformulated Gas where they dump more greenhouse gases into the air — also known as the other 49 states — the average gas price was $3.63 a gallon.

A year ago, the Modesto area was averaging $6.30 gallon on Oct. 1, 2022 compared to $4.45 on Oct. 1, 2021.

The odds are you are irked about the rising gas prices or ambivalent — if you’ve come to grips that is one of the joys of being in California where 90 percent of the gas consumed comes from in-state refineries due to reformatted gas, making us sitting ducks for unplanned refinery outages.

But if you’ve been driving for 50 to 55 years don’t curse the rising prices too much.

It was 50 years ago this month that you would have been willing to pay $4.59 a gallon for gasoline to get it whenever you could.

That’s because this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Arab Oil Embargo.

Events in the Gaza Strip over the weekend also bring back 50-year-old memories — the Yom Kippur War.

It is what triggered the oil embargo.

It also brought us 55 mph speed limits, temporary year round daylight savings time, odd-even days when you were allowed to buy gasoline based on the last number on your license plate, 8-gallon limits, gas lines and  — my favorite — people who had waited in line for hours being told the station was out of gas when they were a car or two away from reaching a nozzle.

Gas prices nationally rose 43 percent going from $38.5 cents a gallon at the start of October 1973 to 55.1 cents per gallon in June 1974. California had prices that flirted with the $1 mark.

Before the current run up in gas prices, the average a month ago in the Modesto area was $5.27 a gallon

To match the impact of the 43 percent price hike Americans encountered during the oil embargo, the price per gallon would have to reach an average of $7.53 a gallon.

But rest assured, you would have been thrilled to death to have been able to simply drive up to a pump 50 years ago, be allowed to fill up your tank, and drive away from $7.53 a gallon.

Buying gas at times was a chore.

Keep in mind, this was before card lock systems that made it possible to buy gas 24/7 when the station was “closed.”

Gas stations open around the clock were a rarity away from freeways and major highways.

Some of the pain was self-induced, thanks to the fear of running out of gas.

When tanks reached the half empty mark, drivers would start scouting open stations with short lines.

It got so bad that some states — including California — switched to even-odd days corresponding to the last number on license plates to reduce backups.

Besides consuming an ordinate amount of time, the backups had two major drawbacks.
They blocked traffic as many lines extended for blocks upon blocks.

And — drum roll — they wasted a lot of fuel from cars idling in line.

The 8-gallon limits that were often imposed were a tad problematic in a day and age when it was typical for a car to get less than 12 miles per gallon, It made commuting long distances difficult to say the least.

The even-odd system didn’t help much as on every day that matched a driver’s last license plate number, they’d go hunting for gas whether they needed it or not. They didn’t want to risk passing on an available day they were allowed to buy gas.

 There were cases were people had to push cars to the pump as they ran out gas sitting in line.

And there were times when stations ran out of a shipment of gas within hours of receiving it.

In each case, when such incidents happened and if they were amplified by TV or radio reports, the more it prompted people to buy gas more frequently.

That, in turn exacerbated the situation.

At one point there was talk of  the government reviving World War II style gas rationing, but it never got to that point.

The embargo started just a year or so of the start of the trend to self-service gasoline picking up steam.

Needless to say, it all but was killed off almost overnight.

Full-service survived for a while with some places charging a premium to pump gas for you.

It has since gone  to the wayside along with checking your oil, cleaning the windshield, Green Stamps, Blue Chip Stamps, and even free 12-ounce drinking glasses with every fill-up — 8 gallon minimum course.

Now you’re lucky if a gas station bothers to make sure there is clean water or any water at all  to clean your windshield.

That said, if we end up paying $6 a gallon for gas again at least we won’t have to wait in  line for an hour to get it and can actually fill up our tanks.