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Fill er up

Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 11/12/20

There is no getting around it. We all have gas. Despite the introduction of electric vehicles, most of us still need gasoline to run a car. The process of buying and pumping gasoline into your …

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Fill er up


There is no getting around it. We all have gas. Despite the introduction of electric vehicles, most of us still need gasoline to run a car. The process of buying and pumping gasoline into your vehicle has greatly changed over the years.

When I was 8 years old, I often went with my grandfather as he drove to the service station every Saturday to fill up with gas. It was called a service station because a squad of uniformed workers pounced on your car as you pulled up to the pump.

All my grandfather had to do was roll down the window and say the magic words “Fill er up.” Then the station's attendants began servicing the car. Like a pit crew at a NASCAR event, each guy had a different job. As one guy checked the pressure in all the tires, another washed all the windows using soap, water and the squeegee.

The head attendant “popped the hood” and checked all the engine fluids. The rookie of the group had the easiest job. He unscrewed the gas cap and pumped the gas. The whole job was done in less than five minutes. Then with a full tank my grandfather paid for the 10 gallons of gas and we drove off to get our Saturday afternoon hot dog.

Let us analyze the preceding paragraph. In 1965 the average price of gas was 30 cents a gallon. But in reality, it was closer to 31 cents. Even at today's gas stations the price you see in big numbers at the pump is deceptive. If you look closely you will see an additional “.9” or 9/10 added to the price. What is the purpose of that .9 add-on when they could have just added another cent to the price? It turns out there is a story behind the math.

As Americans in increasing numbers took to the roads, the Federal government devised a way to gather a piece of the action. During the Great Depression in 1932, the government imposed a $0.01 gas tax per gallon of gas. That tithe was supposed to expire in 1934. Instead when they realized that citizens were not objecting to the tax, they kept it. To eliminate any protests, gas stations used the terms “9/10” or “.9”, a process that continues to this day.

It turns out that the addition of that “9/10” leads to a lot of money to the gas industry. Thanks to the drivers who clog the highways and byways of our nation, those “9/10” of a cent adds up. It is estimated to yield over 1 million dollars a year to the gas industry.

Gas stations gave you more than service and fuel back in those days. Depending on how much you spent at the pump, they would give you something called Plaid Stamps or S & H Green Stamps. You licked the stamps and affixed them inside booklets. Once full, these booklets could be traded in for items such as sporting goods, pots & pans and other items for the household.

The system of rewarding purchases with redeemable stamps ended in the late 1960's. However, they still have value. Sheets of the stamps sell on eBay. If you still have full booklets in your attic, they are worth even more to collectors.

Owners of gas stations have discovered another cash cow. It no longer is just a place to buy gas, motor oil and windshield washer fluid. Many of them have added full service mini marts. When you go in to pay for your gas, you can buy all sorts of items.

If you are hungry, no need to drive to a fast-food place. Tacos, hamburgers, milk shakes and every type of packaged pastry and candy awaits you. You need a pair of socks or a bottle of aspirin? Go to aisle 12 right next to the selection of 35 types of potato chips.

Most of them also sell lottery tickets. You will realize that as you, holding a bag of Cheetos, a prepackaged chicken salad sandwich and a Pepsi, stand behind the guy with a list of the 210 lottery numbers he plays daily.

Eventually the angry trucker in line behind you screams “Hey dude, get the lead out! I don't have all day.” Actually, gasoline got the lead out years ago. After realizing that it caused health problems, leaded gas for on-road vehicles was outlawed in 1996.

I hope my readers enjoyed the 756 9/10 words in this column.


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