Opinion: Recalling the gas wars


Commentary by Ward Degler

Coming home recently, I saw gas at $3.85 a gallon. I had just filled up at $3.50 a gallon.

For today’s generation who first got behind the wheel when gas prices were hovering in the $2 range, I suppose the current prices don’t seem so bad. To me, they are outrageous.

I am old enough to remember the gas wars of the 1950s. Apparently, our nation had an overabundance of petroleum at that time, and gas stations everywhere were determined to have the lowest gas prices in town.

This was a fun time for guys like me, a young college student living in Kansas City. It was 1954. I didn’t have a car, but a buddy of mine did, a 1936 Ford with faded paint and an oil leak.

The routine was simple. He would pick me up after supper, along with a couple of other guys, and sometimes gals. Then we would cruise through the city looking for the lowest gas prices. We would all chip in a dollar and buy a few gallons at this station and then that one.

Prices were in the teens, like 17.9 cents per gallon. The lowest we ever saw was 14.9 cents. We filled up at that station. It cost us $1.75.

We kept cruising, stopping along the way for ice cream and cokes. We stopped at one station and watched the battle firsthand. There was another station across the street, and a third one just down the block.

The first station dropped its price to 19.9 cents. Across the street, the price dropped to 18.9 cents. The third station went to 17.9 cents, and the first one then dropped to 16.9 cents.

All of this happened in less than 20 minutes while we sat sipping our Cokes. Meanwhile, cars pulled in to all three stations (whichever one had the lowest price at the moment), and eager station attendants rushed out to pump the gas.

It was cheap entertainment for us, but it didn’t last. Within a couple weeks, gas prices returned to around 27 cents per gallon.

Even so, a classmate and I drove from Kansas City to Taos, N.M., and back over Easter break that year for $28 in gas. Today, I would have to take out a second mortgage to make that trip.