When gas dried up: How Dayton managed the 1970s oil embargo

Miami Valley gets creative to keep driving

It was tough to find gas for your car in the early 1970s.

An oil embargo was imposed on the United States and a handful of other countries in 1973 by OAPEC, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.

That embargo came hand in hand with rising gasoline consumption in the United States combined with less domestic production. The nation leaned heavily on oil imported from foreign countries – a pipeline many believed would never stop flowing.

The fuel crisis turned our automobile-obsessed country upside down.

Drivers sat for hours in line – some miles long - for a turn at the fuel pumps. Station owners armed themselves to prevent gas theft, and oil prices spiked from $3 a barrel to nearly $12.

Back home in the Miami Valley, the supply was cut off to independent stations like the Gas-N-Go in Miamisburg or rationed at others including the Swifty on North Main Street in Dayton.

Area gas stations devised a number of strategies to stretch their dwindling supplies. Some stations limited purchase to $1 of gasoline while others required a $3 minimum. Others shortened their weekday hours or closed on weekends.

One area station found a creative way to discourage anyone but their regular customers from buying gas. Vehicles were strategically parked helter-skelter at the Mobile station owned by Charles “Mac” McClellan on East Helena Street in Dayton, making it hard to reach the pumps.

“That’s the idea,” McClellan told the newspaper, “I tell the regular customers that we’re open as usual. The others are discouraged from coming in here because of the trucks.”

Drivers were on a constant lookout for an open station available for a fill-up. The Dayton Auto Club advised drivers to slow down, drive during the cooler mornings to avoid running the air conditioning and to “fill up whenever you can and drive off the top half of your tank.”

Modes of transportation considered off-beat for the time made headlines in the Dayton Daily News.

The newspaper published stories about carpooling and novel photographs of a woman commuting on a three-wheeled cycle and another of a rare “economy car” with a bicycle attached “just in case you run out of fuel.”

An advertisement for Holiday Inn in the pages of the newspaper touted a new “Gasoline Advisory Service” for traveling motorists.

The hotel chain, which dubbed itself “the most accommodating people in the world,” could inform travelers booking a room along I-75 if gas was available within 3 miles of the inn.

A shortage of gas cap locks to prevent thieves from siphoning gas caused Bob Morgan, co-owner of the Salem Auto Wash, to stock a new invention called the “Gas Guard.” “They are selling like mad,” said Morgan.

The spring-like device was shaped like an ice cream cone and permanently attached to the tank. Station attendants could fill the auto with gas but a crook could not insert a siphoning tube into the tank.

“Lots of people seem to prefer these guards to a locked gas tank since it is a pain to have to unlock the tank all the time,” said Morgan. “Besides, people lose keys too easily.”

The oil crisis eventually subsided leaving a lasting impression, for a time, on the county and the auto industry. Consumers scaled down their desire for large automobiles creating a demand for more fuel efficient cars.


HISTORY EXTRA is a weekly pictorial history feature showcasing the Miami Valley’s rich heritage. If you have a unique set of historic photos found in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic that depicts the past in the Miami Valley, contact Lisa Powell at 937-225-2229 or at Lisa.Powell@coxinc.com.

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