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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Your Right to Pump Your Gas

Monday, September 26, 2011

When I was a kid rural Iowans often pumped their own gas. If the station guy was busy it was OK to start filling your tank. He would come out to finish, check under the hood and wash the windows, only to often hear, "charge it!" I worked in a station for a few months for 75 cents an hour.

Before the first gas station in the USA was constructed in St Louis in 1905, Pharmacies were the first to sell the fuel, then later general or hardware stores, and even blacksmith shops sold it by the can. Reighard's "filling station" in Altoona, PA, claims it is the oldest existing gas station in the United States, offering full service since 1909.

During his 2010 campaign, Governor Branstad set a goal of 200,000 new jobs by 2016. This ambitious objective is one for every Iowan, for government can't wave a wand and make jobs happen in the private sector. At least that is what I thought until recently. Read on.

In Sutherlin, OR, recently I was about to slip my credit card into the slot when from nowhere a young guy appeared and said, "I am not supposed to let you do that." As he inserted my card, handed it back and started pumping, I asked if he knew why. "Yeah, it protects our jobs. There are eight stations in town and that's a lot of jobs!"

Uh, only then did I remember that Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states where motorists are not allowed to pump their own gas! Or, apparently, even be trusted to stick the plastic in.

Although at opposite ends of the country, Oregon and New Jersey are often on the same political wave length. Both are in the top ten of liberal states, and they are also two of the states without a "Right to Work" law. Employees in a Right to Work state (such as Iowa) cannot be required to join, or pay dues or fees to a union. Most Midwest, South and Mountain states are Right to Work, while the East and "Left" coasts are not.

In 1949 N.J. made it illegal for customers to pump their own gas and in 1951 Oregon followed suit, listing seventeen different justifications, including the flammability of gas, the risk of crime from customers leaving their car, the toxic fumes emitted by gasoline, and the jobs created by requiring an attendant.

The constitutionality of the self-service bans has been challenged in court, but unsuccessfully. In New Jersey and Oregon, it is legal for customers to pump their own diesel though -- I'd pay extra for someone to pump that smelly, sticky stuff.

Factoring in vacations and sick leaves, a 24/7 station would require about 5 full time pump jockeys, more for a multi pump operation. Very unscientific figuring says this could mean at least 5,000 new jobs in Iowa.

Have I mentioned that Oregon's unemployment rate is 9.6% and New Jersey is at 9.4? The Midwestern states of Iowa, Kansas , Nebraska, and South Dakota do have Right to Work laws and none have an unemployment rate above 6.7%. The national average is 9.1%.

In the early 1970s during a recession to save jobs the town of Huntington, NY, banned gasoline self-service. Plymouth County Supervisors interested in jobs could pass a similar ban which would create about 50 jobs -- without taxpayer money.

Why stop there? Opportunities abound. In the name of "jobs" Iowa could outlaw self serve drink machines, even all vending machines (including newspaper stands). I've never liked dumping my own trash at a fast food restaurant, either.

A ban on self serve coffee could be just in time for the new foo-foo coffee shop in Le Mars. You hadn't heard? Good guy heavy machinery operators Charlie Eufers and Jerome Dreckman could open "CharJers Tea and Espresso Shoppe -- You will like it our way."

They won't have to go to some silly 'ol school (sounds Frenchie) for baristas, because they are already very good with machines. They know how to deal with customers, too. They share. Each of them have shared a piece of their mind with others.

The first self service gas station in the United States was in Omaha, NE, in 1958. Today, few stations advertise full service, and many who do are in wealthy and upscale areas, which probably explains why Le Mars has two stations offering, at times, full service! Actually, an increasing number of drivers could use assistance and should expect to pay for it.

Remembering all of the hard working gas station owners and employees of yesteryear. Often unsung heroes. Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236

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By Don Paulin
Been There, Done That


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