The Pennsylvania Turnpike

A busy filling station on the Pennsylvania Turnpike before gasoline war rationed in the entire United States, September 1942.

Back in June of 1942, Jackson County had a problem with gas.

Actually, two problems, as related in two front page stories in the June 26 edition of the Jackson County Journal pointing two major flaws with the newly-enacted gas rationing program:

1) there weren’t nearly enough workers to help implement the rationing, and

2) there wasn’t enough gas to go around on this end of the state, rationing or not.

Or at least, that’s what Congressman Zebulon Weaver of Asheville was fuming about. Weaver was also angered that evidently the gas was flowing freely in eastern Tennessee, a point with which Ralph Davies, Deputy Petroleum Coordinator for the country, was in disagreement.

Gas rationing was initially restricted to 17 eastern states, including North Carolina. Weaver was riled that the lack of gas meant North Carolina wasn’t able to enjoy the benefit of travelers to the North Carolina section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, whereas one could fill up in Gatlinburg and tool around all over the place. He tangled with Davies over the matter. In the June 25, 1942 edition of the Jackson County Journal:

Rep. Zebulon Weaver, of Asheville, has taken issue again with Ralph K. Davies, Deputy Petroleum Coordinator, over the rationing of gasoline in the North Carolina section of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, a condition that exists while the Tennessee park area remains free from rationing. Mr. Davies thus far has refused to do anything about the situation. In a follow-up letter to Mr. Davies requesting another conference on the subject, Congressman Weaver stated that East Tennessee gets some of its petroleum supplies by the Plantation Pipeline as well as by overland transportation rather than pipeline. “My information is that Western North Carolina, including the counties in the western part of the state from Asheville to Murphy, have ample resources from which supplies may be had, if permitted to use them,” Mr. Weaver said.

“Your letter in no particular reaches the specific matter which I undertook to bring to your attention. As I pointed out in my letter to Secretary Ickes, to which you reply, as an illustration, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is situated one half in North Carolina and one half within Tennessee. The Tennessee side of the park can now secure an unlimited gasoline supply, while on the North Carolina side we are denied this privilege. Such places as Waynesville, Sylva, Cherokee, Bryson City and Murphy, which are contiguous to the park, and to Tennessee, are in a very desperate situation.

“Naturally, Western North Carolina has looked forward to the benefits to be obtained from the National Park. Under the present setup, these benefits are now entirely turned over to East Tennessee. The towns which I have mentioned and others are as great a distance from the Atlantic Coast as Knoxville and East Tennessee towns. In fact, Murphy and some others are further west than Knoxville. They can obtain ample supplies of gas without resorting to deliveries from the terminal of the Plantation Pipeline at Greensboro, North Carolina. I would be glad to have a further conference with you about it as the situation is one which demands further consideration.”

Meanwhile, the daunting task of issuing ration cards to everyone in the county was called “utterly impossible’’ with available manpower. Thus, teachers were “volunteered’’ to help with the task, and a call for additional volunteers was put out:

“The Jackson County Rationing Board is calling for volunteers to assist in handling the gasoline rationing applicants at the office of the board from July 9 through July 22. Mr. W. R. Enloe, chairman of the rationing board, stated that, since all persons will be given only A cards at the regular registration and all who require more gasoline than is provided by that classification must appear at the rationing board and present applications for additional gasoline, it will be utterly impossible to take care of the applicants with the clerical and administrative force that is allowed. He asks that business and professional men, men who know the people hereabouts, volunteer their services at once. Thus, he stated, the working hours of these volunteers can be arranged so that there will be sufficient help on hand at all hours to handle the situation, and at the same time work no undue hardship upon the individual volunteers. Such help will be absolutely essential, Mr. Enloe stated. The permanent gasoline registration will be held in the school houses on Thursday, July 9, Friday, July 10, and Saturday, July 11. This work will be done as a patriotic, free service, by the school teachers...”

By year’s end all 48 states were subject to gas rationing, and in hindsight it’s safe to say the program was a success.

Gasoline wasn’t the only commodity rationed during WWII. With the U.S. supply cut off after the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies, rubber was the first item restricted. Part of the rationale for gas rationing was that Americans would drive fewer miles, extending the life of tires. Another effort to reduce gas consumption was the institution of the “Victory Speed,’’ a mandatory speed limit of 35 mph.

From the start of the war to 1944, civilian gas consumption had dropped by a third – from 1.7 million barrels a day in 1941 to 1.2 million.

And by 1945, domestic oil production rose by about one-third from production in 1938. The U.S. was able to provide four-fifths of the Allied war effort needs of seven billion barrels of crude oil.