Surviving another gas shortage, but understanding the message this time around

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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History has a way of repeating itself, even with a totally different narrative.

Last week’s gas shortage – caused by a foreign group who launched a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline – brought back bad memories for me and others my age and older.

In October of 1973, members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) imposed an oil embargo against the United States and other countries. This was in response of the USA supporting Israel who, at that time, was under attack militarily by combined forces from Egypt and Syria.

In retaliation, OAPEC drastically cut their oil production and to figuratively “pour salt into the wound” they stopped selling what little oil they had to the United States.

That led to a gas shortage of mammoth proportions across our nation as well as higher prices. Just prior to the embargo, gas was selling for a mere $3 per barrel. Three months later it was $12 per barrel.

Gas stations across the country and here locally saw their supplies dwindle while the demand skyrocketed. Everybody was filling up whatever container was available….aka panic buying.

To help ensure there was enough gas to fuel the tanks of motorists and delivery drivers, station owners began to ration what little product they had.

I remember the long lines at gas stations here in Ahoskie. Back then there wasn’t a station on almost every corner like there is today. I recall buying gas at Powell’s Texaco located on Academy Street in front of the Tomahawk Motel. To help alleviate the daily onslaught of those looking to purchase gas, a plan was hatched using license plate numbers of the vehicles. Those with odd-numbered plates could only purchase gas on certain days of the week. On other days, those with even-numbered plates would line-up for fuel. All were limited to a pre-determined number of gallons.

Fast forward to last week’s hack of the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies nearly one-half of the fuel supply along the East Coast. While there was no embargo in place, the fact that the pipeline was forced to shutdown due to the computer hacks sent everyone into a gas buying frenzy.

Folks were filling up their vehicles and whatever containers they had at their disposal. Meanwhile, the local gas dealers couldn’t keep up with the frenzied pace as they were forced to look for alternative sources of petro.

As expected there were some motorists who felt they were the only ones inconvenienced by this sudden shortage of gas. Instead of altering their daily lives over a short period of time in an effort to conserve gas, they opted against that, thus placing even more of a burden on those of us who understood the impact of the shortage.

From talking with one of our local suppliers, I learned of how they went out of their way to locate other sources of gas. Personally and professionally, I commend the owners of Jernigan Oil & Propane – the owners of Duck Thru Food Stores – for the way they handled the shortage. They sent their tankers to as far away as Wilmington, Greensboro, and Richmond, VA to bring gas back home. They would ration that supply to as many Duck-Thru stores in different locations as possible.

And they did it without a wallet-busting hike in price….a mere 20 cents per gallon (from $2.79 to $2.99). I saw one post on Facebook, shared by a friend, referencing one gas station in Richmond, VA charging nearly 7 bucks a gallon ($6.99) for regular unleaded (87 octane, which was the only type of fuel offered by the station at that particular time). According to the photos accompanying the Facebook post, the price per gallon wasn’t displayed on the station’s roadside sign, but only at the pump.

Another “tip-of-the-cap” goes out to Jernigan Oil / Duck Thru for keeping the public notified of when their stations would be receiving fuel. They used Facebook to relay that information….going as far as to list the location of each store and the approximate time the tanker would be there.

The owners passed the praise to their employees. I’m sharing this post I saw this past Saturday afternoon on the Duck Thru Food Stores Facebook page:

!!!!EMPLOYEE APPRECIATION POST!!!! Over the last several days, the roles and duties of our staff members have changed a bit. We woke up one day and became full-time traffic directors, telephone operators, and even mediators! The Duck Thru Family is fortunate and proud to have so many hard-working individuals who are dedicated to serving their communities in times when we are most needed. THANK YOU FOR BEING HEROES DURING THIS DIFFICULT TIME!!!!

Yes, I survived another gas shortage in my lifetime, only this time around I was mature enough to hear the message it left in its wake. It’s in times like what we saw last week that makes me appreciate living in a rural area where folks truly care about one another.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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