Past Times

In the line to buy gas in 1974, folks got creative to pass the time

Lines backed up in the early morning at this station in Western Boulevard.
Lines backed up in the early morning at this station in Western Boulevard. N&O File Photo

If you’re old enough, the line you find yourself in as you wait your turn at the gas pump might remind you of the oil crisis that began in late 1973 and flowed into the early months of 1974. Cars lined up to fill up. Odd-even rationing meant your license plate number determined whether you could even buy gas that day. Neighborhood kids on their bikes watched the cars in line. And with no smartphone apps to occupy their time in line, Raleigh residents had to get creative. Staff writer Susan Phillips talked with a few folks waiting in that 1974 line.

There’s a new folklore being spun in America today – yarns about waiting in gas lines. Already it’s hard to determine between fact and fiction.

No one waiting in a gas line has heard of anyone falling in love and marrying after meeting at a gas pump, but there’s the tale circulating of the man who saw a slow moving line, got in line, and didn’t realized he wasn’t queued up for gas until the funeral procession reached the cemetery gates.

And over the weekend four gas seekers – all strangers to one another – formed a foursome for cards right on the ground outside their cars and got up a spirited game with the help of a sixpack of beer.

One Raleigh man parked his car in a service station overnight, intending to leap out of bed and be there the next morning before the 7 a.m. opening. Only problem was, he overslept, creating a mammoth traffic snarl as gas hungry drivers tried to pull around him.

One morning a long line of cars began to inch forward when the pumps are turned on. But one car doesn’t budge. Thinking it’s been abandoned, a few irate people stalk up to see if they can push it out of line, waking up the woman in pajamas and robe snuggled up sound asleep on the front seat.

By visiting Penney’s Auto Center this week before its 4 p.m. opening we discovered how people really spend time waiting for gas.

An hour before opening time there were close to 75 cars parked in irregular lines in the North Hills Mall parking lot edging up to the pumps.

There are those who sit idly in line staring out the window, but as lines wear on, more and more veterans are finding ways to entertain themselves.

Two sisters drove their cars over together, bringing coffee, knitting and magazines. “And we’re talking about family,” added Mrs. Brooks Liles. Her sister, Mrs. Roger Cockrell, is wife of the manager of North Hills Mall.

For constructive activity Mrs. John Adams Jr. led the list. Mrs. Adams spent her stint in line “stringing pole beans.”

One way to pass the time is to meet other people, and according to Mrs. Louise Clinkscale, her talk with Col. Charles Lucas started when they debated “who was in line first …”

Richard Rivers was taking turns with a co-worker at Ivey’s sitting in the gas line, but to relieve his boredom he directed traffic, helping shoppers maneuver around gas lines to get out of the center.

Billy White and Helen Jamison of Wilmington looked like they could have sat in line for eternity without caring a bit. Engaged to marry, they sat close together holding hands. Helen was trying to get gas so she could drive back to Wilmington, obviously not caring if she ever left Raleigh.

Mrs. Irving Varon was thumbing through the Sears catalogue and had already run an errand at the post office when interviewed. She fumed about people “bucking lines” and those “insincere about their reasons for needing gas” and in particular, those in line with the wrong day’s license tags.

Miss Anna Vassilion was one of many reading books, but she curled up in the back of her green VW for extra comfort. She had just bought her novel in the drugstore nearby. “There’s noting else to do,” she noted. “I’m floating on empty.”

Other constructive activities included a woman putting in a zipper by hand, Robbie Denney studying a correspondence life insurance course and Miss Deryle Askew doing her math homework from Sanderson High.

Possibly the most dejected person in the whole long line was Wayne Paul of Leesville, La. who said he was “just waiting. I’ve been trying to get out of Raleigh for two days.” The N&O Feb. 27, 1974

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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