Column: Gas prices keep dropping

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Gas prices keep going down, and stations are dropping prices a penny here and a penny there to lure customers. There’s a glut of petroleum on the market, and it doesn’t show signs of diminishing.

Marketing minds are already creating reasons to fill up with one brand over another. There are additives to increase mileage, clean our engines and protect the environment. There’s television news at the pump, and special deals inside the store.

It’s nothing like the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, of course. We may never get green stamps, or free litter bags for buying gasoline again, but as long as there is an overabundance of petroleum, we can expect the merchandising gimmicks to come marching in.

One of the most notable doodads we got at gas stations was a realistic tiger tail that hooked over the gas cap – proof to everyone on the road that we had stopped at an Exxon station, filled up and put a tiger in our tank.

Another item was a small orange ball that Union 76 gas station attendants slipped over the radio antenna. For months you couldn’t find a car that didn’t have an orange ball or a tiger tail.

Trading stamps provided another draw. Stations that offered them got more business than those that didn’t. And lucky drivers redeemed stamps for new toasters, lamps and coffeemakers.

But the greatest craze of all was the gas war. It was also the most fun. In the 1950s gasoline generally sold for 30 to 50 cents a gallon, which was great for us guys taking a date to the movies. The low gas prices meant we could cruise all evening on two bucks worth of gas and have plenty left over for popcorn.

But every once in a while, one company would decide to drop the price of gas several cents below the competition. The competition would retaliate with an even lower price, which would spark further reductions at the other station.

Gas prices would drop from the norm of 30 cents, say to 25 cents, then 20 cents, 19 cents, 15 cents. Station attendants frantically changed the price signs as news of competitor prices rolled in.

Meanwhile, us guys would make an evening of it, literally driving all over town to see which one of us could get gas at the lowest price. The fact that we burned a whole tank of gas in the process didn’t matter. It was the game that was important. Besides, the loser bought the beer at the end of the evening.

We’ll probably never see gas wars like that again, and I think trading stamps are gone forever. Still, that tiger tail was pretty cool.


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