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The Last Windrow: Memories of cheaper gas

I come from a time when you filled your gas tank on the tractor or car and never even thought about it. Gas stations used to have things they called “gas wars.” It was a race to the bottom. We’re not seeing many “gas wars” these days.

Sometimes memory is a terrible thing to have. People of my generation grew up in a time of cheap oil and cheap gas. We didn’t ever list fuel as a huge budget item. When the truck came to the farm, the delivery man simply stuck the hose in the tank and filled it to the brim. At 19 cents a gallon, our 26-gallon tank amounted to $50.35. And, I think we got a further rebate from the state for using it as farm fuel.

Of course, our tractors and cars were not nearly as efficient as today’s models. It was rare to get more than 15 miles to the gallon with a car, and I have no idea of what a WD Allis Chalmers used per hour.

I do know that when we hooked my uncle’s F-20 Farmall to the silage blower, it kept one person busy carrying five-gallon cans of gas to the belching beast on a regular basis. But, the price didn’t really matter.

In the rambling days of my youth I purchased a 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge. I pledged two years worth of paychecks to purchase this vehicle and I would have spent more if needed. This particular automobile would not run on anything but premium gas; called Ethyl back then. There was a gas line about the size of your little finger pushing fuel to the four-barrel carburetor. But, it had 400 horsepower and there was no top-end to the speed, so it made me a happy camper.

I kept that car until the mid-1970s, when the price of gas spiked and Ethyl became almost impossible to purchase. The GTO would sputter and clank when fed anything except high test; hence, I traded it for a pickup and my days of high speed and jackrabbit starts ended.

Sometimes I wish I still had that vehicle. I hear they are worth a lot more today than I paid.

So, here in the upper Midwest we are again faced with gas prices that make us wince. No way do I blame our loyal and trusted station owners. They have nothing to do with this pain at the pump. The margins are razor thin for most of them, and I feel sympathy for them as drivers come in with frustrated dispositions.

I fear the price of fuel will get no better as we drive into the future. Cars have become more efficient, for sure, and will become more so. We have become more aware of public transportation and car pooling has gained some acceptance. Those are good things.

We’ll still be traveling on vacations and putting gas in our outboard engines, but not without checking our bank balance before we fill up. That time is gone.

Sometimes memories can be a bad thing. I’m still thinking about my folks purchasing that 265 gallons of farm gas for 50 bucks. We have come a long way.

See you next time. Okay?