Remembering World War II gas, tire rationing

Fischer, Jonathon & Dosch, Mike. "Remembering World War II gas, tire rationing." Emmons County Record, 5 April 2012, 9.

By Jonathan Fischer, O.S.B.

(Editor’s Note: Jonathan Fischer, O.S.B., formerly Frank Fischer, is a Monk of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., where he has been a member for 55 years. He has been the Priest Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., for 23 years.)

Wartime rationing certainly is a subject that can raise a buzz, especially among people on the sunny side of the street, that is, among those of us enjoying the ‘golden years” of life.

I was born in 1934 in Strasburg, so at the height of WW II I was about 10 years old and just old enough to be tolerated at my Dad’s (Wendelin M. Fischer) service station where I was expected to “help out” a little.

I was even allowed to “pump” gasoline. And it was indeed a matter of pumping. The old style gas delivery device was an 8 or 9 ft. tall pillar of which the top 3 ft. was a clear glass 10-gallon tank marked with graduated lines showing how much gas was being put into the customer’s gas tank.

The contraption was not electrified, so to get gasoline into the overhead tank the operator (I) had to “pump” the handle on the side back and forth until the required 5 or 10 gallons was visible in the glass tank above, ready to be dispensed by gravity to the waiting gas tank or can.

But the subject is rationing. During the war, before one could purchase gasoline one had to fork over not only the 25 or 30 cents per gallon(!), but also the required number of ration stamps. I no longer recall how many stamps for how many gallons, but it was probably in 5 gallon increments.

At any rate, we service station operators had to collect them and very carefully keep them. Back in the station, or more likely at home, we (it was usually we kids) had to transfer all those little colored ration stamps to large gummed sheets. These sheets, in turn, had then to be handed in when we needed to get our large underground tanks refilled at the station. I sometimes wondered how far up the chain these sheets of stamps had to be handed before someone got tired of it all and just chucked them aside.

Also rationed were rubber tires, which, after the first two years or so of the war, were being made out of some sort of non rubber, synthetic material. The word “butyl”comes to mind.

At any rate, when one of your tires was “bald,” “treadless,” blown out or just plain “shot” and absolutely had to be replaced you needed to fill out and hand in a requisition sheet of some kind. This sheet had to have a description of your ailing tire, including its serial number, along with the serial numbers of all the other tires on the car. These numbers were (are?) stamped into the rubber somewhere near the rim of the tire.

In order to be able to read these often nearly illegible figures one would use some sort of yellow chalk or crayon to make them stand out a bit better. More often than not, it seemed to me, the tire was mounted so that the serialnumber was on the inside. That, of course, meant you would have to get down on your belly under the car and look for it. Oh, yes, this was a good job for a bendable little 9 or 10 year old.

If I remember correctly, these filled out requisition sheets had then to be forwarded to some official related to the rationing board. And then finally, before you could get your new tire, you had to turn in to the dealer (my dad) the old tire which was being replaced.

The idea, I guess, was that these old tires were to be picked up by someone sometime and be recycled. By the end of the war, however, not one old tire had ever been picked up. There they sat on a vacant lot at the edge of town, next to Fischer’s Service Station, hundreds of useless old tires, stack after stack. All these teetering towers were “good” for was to provide a rather filthy but fun playground for local kids--much to the sorrow of the local mothers, who had to clean them up along with their black smudged clothes.

A few years later a large number of these dirty things (the tires, that is) were trucked to another empty lot nearby and set alight to provide some practice for our volunteer firemen. If I remember right, that was during the time my dad was fire chief. (Hmmm, crafty old fellow.)

One problem with that, however, was that they had not properly informed the townspeople ahead of time. Many people, upon seeing the column of black smoke out at the edge of town, where our service station was, were sure my dad's business had been burned out.

See, rationing does get people talking; at least it did that for me.

Dosch remembers
By Mike Dosch

Do you remember the famous “retreads” that were forced upon those folks with bald tires on their cars? Was it worthwhile to take a bald tire and have synthetic rubber wrapped around it to provide a “new” tread, or to purchase a new (whole synthetic) tire (if available)?

In either case, it was usually a losing situation. Neither tire would last very long. The retread would peel off in short order, due to poor “gluing.” The synthetic tire would last only for very few miles before it would wear down. Maybe what saved us was the fact that speed limits were (ridiculously?) low, and gas was rationed. It meant driving, in any case, was only on a “need” basis.

Of course, gas rationing was subject to the “gray” market because gas from the hand-crank pumps was sold “by sight,” not by meter, and someone in the Office of Price Administration (OPA) decided there was about a five percent possible error, due to the myriad gas tank exchanges from refinery to gas station fill. This meant one of every 20 gallons was subject to error, meaning that gas could be offered to individuals in need who needed more gas than their gas coupons allowed.

I am not certain what letter Dad had (A, B, C, D), but he always needed gas since we had this Ford-Ferguson tractor that used gas like it was rationed (which it was).

And would you believe that, a couple years ago, I found an “antique synthetic tire” in the farm garage which had been re-treaded and then driven down to practically no tread.

We should gather all our childhood-to-present remembrances in a single book and publish it as we were part of (how many?) wars, inventions, Presidents, electrical and electronic marvels, etc.

Pictured are Jonathan Fischer, O.S.B., seated, St. Paul, Minn.; Mike Dosch of St. Paul, and Lori Weiers of Phoenix, Ariz., who was a teacher of the two men when they were in school in Strasburg.

Rosemary (Engel) and Wendelin Matthias Fischer.

Reprinted with permission of Emmons County Record.


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