The Daily Star
---- — Had I been a licensed driver at the time, I probably would have been surfing the songs playing on the car’s AM radio in early March 1974. It could have been a bit of therapy for many local drivers, faced with long lines, waiting for gasoline.
“Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks happened to be the Billboard No. 1 song in the U.S. at the time. Those who remember the song’s refrain knew there was no “joy” or “fun” when it came to the long lines or high prices for gasoline.
“Mexicans relax with a daily siesta, Eskimos hibernate as much as possible during sub zero weather and the British opt for late afternoon tea,” it was written in The Oneonta Star of Friday, March 1, 1974.
“Until the energy crisis began, the fast-paced U.S. was one of the few countries in the world which had no provisions for a national form of relaxation.
“Times have changed, and Americans are now indulging in a relatively new type of ‘leisure time’ activity. It’s called the gas break and its practice is relatively simple — every time a gasoline pump starts pumping, an instant line-up of cars mandates a long waiting period from lines end to the pump.”
On that Thursday afternoon, Feb. 28, Highway Oil in Oneonta’s East End, now a used car dealership, had average lines of nearly 60 cars, being the only operating gasoline station in the area. One-and-a-half to two hours was the general waiting time.
Diane Huntington of Luther Street was catching up on letter writing, while Virginia Sanik of Union Street was making good progress with a navy blue and red afghan, when approached by a Star reporter.
“The waiting doesn’t really bother me,” Mrs. Sanik said. “The last time I was in line, I did up a whole sweater.”
Charles Rynkiewicz wasn’t so passive about the wait. The East Worcester contractor said jobs took him all over the area for work, but now he couldn’t get gas he needed for his travels. Rynkiewicz was using his “gas break” to balance the company books.
“This gas shortage has cost me about 50 percent of my business,” he said.
If waiting in line wasn’t frustrating enough, businesses located along the line of waiting cars in the East End had their problems as well — access for customers. Two car dealers, Putnam Motors and Hilts’ Sales & Service, complained how the lines affected them.
Harold Hilts, co-owner of Hilts’ Sales & Service, erected a series of barrels along the highway to discourage drivers from blocking his parking lot.
The Star reported about a week later that more gas was flowing and lines were shorter, “and all is well in the gasoline world — for the moment, that is.”
Then it was reported on March 22 how Sunday sales of gasoline would resume. Since December, local station owners had been complying with a request from President Nixon and Gov. Malcolm Wilson that sales on Sunday be halted as a way to put the brakes on demand.
The Star’s veteran staff writer Bob Whittemore wrote on March 26 about those who may have thought about traveling south for spring school and college vacations, worried about lack of gasoline or the high costs. Whittemore and family had apparently made the trip.
“Like most northerners we planned our March vacation, then canceled out because of gasoline problems and high costs.
“Then, suddenly, we decided to hell with it — we would go and see what happened. If we were stranded because of gasoline shortages, we’d sit where we were — at least we’d be away.
“To our delight, we found no problems as far as gasoline is concerned. There is plenty along the interstates.
“Everyone down here and along the way is waiting for you.”
Another story March 26 told that others had decided to switch to trains or planes.
“Sales of airline and train tickets are soaring at the Bookhout Travel Agency on Dietz Street. And again, said manager Terry Hattem, it’s because of the energy crisis.”
Almost amusingly, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver had moved into the Billboard No. 1 spot by the end of the month.
This weekend: Company G is welcomed home in style in 1919.
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.