Pumping Gas

Note: This isn’t quite a genealogy story. However, it’s one that I think I’m going to write down. After all, if we wish our ancestors had written down a few things, we should at least do it ourselves.

It has been difficult to watch the news lately without seeing something about the new law that went into effect in Oregon about self-service gas pumps.

This post is not about that.

But it did remind me of my own experience the first time I ever pumped gas at a gas station. I was twenty-one years old.

Before that I had always used the gas tank we had at the farm. There was no sensor to shut off the pump. Determining when to shut off the pump was a combination of several pieces of information:

the capacity of your gas tank

how much gas was approximately was in your tank

the gauge on the gas tank indicating how much gas had been pumped

the sound of the gas going into the tank

Once you came close to filling the tank, you listened. You really listened for when you could start to hear the gas in the vehicle start to approach the nozzle. You could hear it,but you had to listen. You could not be “doping around” and thinking of other things. You had to be paying attention to the gas. And when you heard the louder bubbling was when you stopped–not one second later. It may have been the 1980s and gas was cheaper than it is today, but you did not want to run the tank over.

As a kid we rarely went far enough from home that we had to use a gas station. Those times were few and far between. Then I grew up.

I was twenty-one years old, living away from home for the first time and my gas gauge indicated my car needed gas. I did the commonsense thing and went to the gas station. Using the pump that first time was an experience. I was used the pump at home. I knew how to use it. You plugged in the motor. You got the key and unlocked it and followed the “don’t overfill rules.” This was not the gas tank at home.

I managed to read the instructions on the self-serve pump. I chose my gas and put the nozzle in my car. That took what seemed like an eternity. I was certain the attendant was watching me because it was taking me forever to do what most people do in a few seconds. I was certain I looked like some hick who had driven out of the hills and hollers to the big city. The nozzle was in the tank. I had chosen the type of gas. I was ready to pump the gas into my car.

But I could not just stand there and let it fill the tank without holding the gas nozzle myself the entire time. That went against years of training.  I simply could not do it. It just seemed beyond belief that the nozzle would shut off in time and not overfill the tank. I was not going to pay for any wasted gas–so the attendant could just think I was a hick.. And so there I stood, holding the nozzle the entire time while I filled my nearly empty tank.

It would be several months before I could fill the tank without holding the nozzle.

And for a long time I would stand there and listen.




4 thoughts on “Pumping Gas

  1. Your story brought back memories. Similarly, my own childhood was on a ranch where my dad was the hired help, and there was a gas holding-tank, which I remember watching him use to fill the ranch vehicles. I believe there may also have been one for diesel for the Caterpillar tractors. I don’t recall my own first ever filling my gas tank event, but I certainly do remember the gas shortages and subsequent gas lines in the 1970s. Those days were challenging as it got to the point where you could only get gas on days that coincided with your license plate (odd/even) number.

    • Anymore I don’t care. I’m well past twenty-one at this point and quite a few of the things I used to worry about no longer bother me .

  2. Kristy Gravlin says:

    I, too, appreciated your gas filling story…and it was very much as I remember doing many times. And as soon as my brother and I became at least somewhat adept at the farm gas tank, mom soon learned that she now had two kids who could do that job for her. What was good practice at first soon became less fun for us.

    I lived in Oregon for about 30 years…and when I returned to Illinois life I had to learn to pump my own at the local gas station. It was a challenge. 😎 Recently I was in California and noticed that I wouldn’t get ‘home’ without a refill. The nearest station was quite new and I eventually had to call for help…it just wasn’t the same as it was at home. I got the young man to come out and tell me the tricks of the trade. There was an “accordion” area next to the nozzle…and it had to be just so before there was any gas entering the car. Who knew!?! But eventually, I got the job done and could go on my way. Whew! –Thanks for the memories!

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