Gas prices may teach us to sacrifice

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Is everybody out there ready for $5-a-gallon gasoline?

Evidently it won’t be long before a gallon of gas will be selling for more than a gallon of milk. Then again, with the price of fuel rising I suppose the price of milk and just about everything else will go up too.

A few years ago I remember a radio ad in which a convenience store owner compared the price of gasoline to that of the designer bottled waters Americans consume. I think the water came out to $8 or $10 per gallon and the announcer asked at the end; “Aren’t you glad your car doesn’t run on bottled water?” I always said if I had one that ran on bottled water, I’d train my pickup to make due on tap water.

Learning to make due is something we as Americans haven’t learned too much about lately. I thought we were probably in for a hard lesson after 9-11 but the economy went merrily on its way and our lifestyles never changed much at all. Experts are now saying that we shouldn’t expect gas prices to moderate for at least the next five years. They say that $5-a-gallon gas may not happen this summer but it will be here soon enough.

I’ve lived through two “energy crises” in 1973 and 1979. In the first one I was just beginning to think about driving and I watched as gas went from 38 cents to 55 cents per gallon after the Arab Oil Embargo. I decided if I was going to have a car I needed to keep a job all the way through high school and I did.

That crisis led to the nationwide 55 mph speed limit. It also caused long lines at the pump and gas stations often ran out of fuel, even right here in Tater Town. We all still drove our cars though.

The 1979 crisis came after the Iranian government collapsed and Americans were seized as hostages in our own embassy in Tehran. That oil crunch wasn’t as severe, but it did lead President Jimmy Carter to tell us all to put on our sweaters and keep the thermostats below 68 degrees. There was talk all through the 70s of gas-rationing like they had in World War II but it never happened. Deregulation of the oil companies followed instead, prices and supplies stabilized after Iran calmed down and we went on guzzling gas like a drunken sailor chugs rum.

We were inconvenienced, but we hadn’t really made any great sacrifices.

Immediately after World War II started, rationing of everything from rubber to groceries to gasoline began. According to Wikipedia and other sources on the Internet, the gas-rationing then wasn’t done because of shortage of oil, instead it was spurred by the fact that our country’s supply of rubber had been cut off by the Japanese and officials didn’t want people using up all the rubber buying new tires for their car. If they didn’t have gas to fuel their cars the rubber would last longer. Americans were restricted to just three gallons of gasoline a week for non-essential use, according to

I remember in a story my grandmother tape-recorded years ago where she recalled the war years in this area. She said that granddad had a nice new car up on blocks in a barn to keep the tires from rotting. He didn’t have enough gas coupons to run it. Everything they had went toward fuel to produce a crop on the farm.

In the story she tells that he started out walking into to Portales one day, then got picked up by a man with horse and wagon. He was making more miles faster on the wagon but when an automobile came up behind them he readily bailed out of the wagon and took the faster mode of transportation.

Often in the war years, grandmother said the best way into town was on the school bus. The bus drivers had no problems with adults hitching a ride back then. There’s probably a rule to prevent it now.

I’ve threatened lots of times to buy a motor scooter, and after pumping $45 worth of gasoline into my pickup the other day, I’m thinking about it again. I don’t see how I would ever be able to get by on just three gallons of gas a week but it would be nice if I could.

I guess if the price of gasoline gets high enough we’ll all find ways of coping and getting around using high-priced fuel. I don’t think any of us really knows the meaning of the word sacrifice but we may get a few definitions real soon.

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33 or e-mail: