Have you been to a 'gas station' lately? If you drive a car or light duty truck, the answer is probably "yes." And even if you're an electric car enthusiast, most of those types of vehicles require a "range extender," an internal combustion engine that runs a generator (and maybe even a mechanical drive to the wheels) to give the vehicle an acceptable range of travel.
So ask yourself, "what was at that gas station'' where I just refueled my vehicle? Most stations are now "convenience stores," where you can pick up a drink (soda, coffee, or shush flavored drink), snacks (generally cookies or chips, maybe a pastry, a slice of pizza, a hot dog/sausage or a tightly rolled enchilada, or if you're real lucky fast food from a chain restaurant), maybe a map of the local area and state, a newspaper or magazines, or the local "auto trader," maybe a quart of motor oil, transmission fluid or a gallon of coolant and on occasion from a store that doesn't care about being politically correct, tobacco products. But what about the fuel itself?
Most of us are almost oblivious to the process. Around 15-20 years ago (my first experience was about 15 years ago, at an Exxon Station off of I-81 in Virginia, Northeast of Roanoke, but not in to Lexington) was that of using the automated Card for Fuel system, long after the attendant had gone home for the night. On vacation to see my now late aunt, Celeste, in a rental car, with my wife and young kids, we pulled into a darkened station. The gas pump was typical of what you see now: A card reader to pull the bank account information off of your Credit or Debit Card , a set of buttons, for you to selective type of fuel you want to purchase, and a digital display of the cost of the fuel per gallon, the gallons you'd pumped into the vehicle and the cost of the fuel and lastly a thermal receipt printer. It was my first experience of this kind of pump. The technology is amazing and it worked well. It opened my eyes to how existing technologies could be linked to allow "self-service" operations that would reduce the cost of everyday necessities of life.
So, why am I asking you to tell me what was at the gas station, where and when you last purchased fuel? Because it wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, there were gas stations attendants that would take your cash and give you a receipt for your gas. Once upon a time (not so very long ago, there was a time when gas pumps were ANALOG, where an attendant had to set the pricing numbers mechanically on the pump and the Volume of liquid fuel and the Purchase price was also an ANALOG display.
Living in one of the 20th largest metropolitan cities in the US, these pumps have long disappeared from the vast majority of fillying stations. Analog Liquid Fuel Pumps have disappeared from the market in which I live years ago. However, when getting gasoline for "the GEZROKET" last week, another piece of technology, the Gas Buddy program on my iPhone directed me to a station that was supposed to have the cheapest price per gallon in the area. Following the driving directions, I pulled in to an old station convenience store in front of an older trailer (mobile home) park about 7 miles from my normal haunts to find this:
Those of you who follow my blog might recognize my 1996 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Elite II sedan. It's an older car. It was the last year the "C-bodied" Ninety-Eight model and the Regency Elite II sub-model. It was a luxury sedan for well-heeled older people, a demographic group that was dying off rapidly. While Oldsmobile trotted out the "This IS NOT YOUR FATHER'S Oldsmobile" tag line, and the Aurora Sport Sedan, the 4.0 Liter DOHC Pent-roof Aurora V-8 and the "H-Bodied" (Eighty-Eight) LSS Sport Sedan, they tried to hedge their bets with the Ninety-Eight Regency Elite II Sedan. It didn't work as Oldsmobile kept losing market share to Buick. And within a few short years, Oldsmobile was no more, the first modern day casualty of a mature market (Studebaker, DeSoto, Edsel and Packard, all died more than 50 years earlier). But look at the whole scene: My last year ever Olds Ninety-Eight Regency Elite II is being fueled with a Gilbarco Veeder-Root Analog type Liquid (Gasoline, in this case) Pump. This type of pump dispenses only one type of gasoline (octane grade) rather than 3 or 4 (typically E-0 Gasoline, 87 Octane E-10, 89 octane E-10 or 93 octane E-10). It's a rareity near the Interstate and the Big City Markets.
But this is not the first time it's happened that a radical change has occurred with dispensing gasoline. Look closely at the O. Winston Link photograph, Sometimes the Electricity Fails, taken in the mid to late 1950s at Vesuvius, West Virginia. You'll notice two pumps. The pump to the left, behind the old man from the General Store, with the AMOCO globe on the top of the pump, is the predecessor to the Gilbarco Veeder Root Pump. It too, is an ANALOG TYPE liquid fuel pump, but these pumps could only go to $.99.9/gallon (and NO ONE COULD IMAGINE THAT GASOLINE WOULD EVER EXCEED $1.00 in price in the 1940s and 50s!). The pump to the right, being operated by the owner of the General Store is operating a much older pump, with a lever action pump that fills the globe with Gasoline before dispensing it into the car. Note the markings on the globe, to measure the amount of fuel dispensed. It was hardly accurate and the calculations were a (best guess) combination of the volume of fuel multiplied by the cost per gallon of fuel.
Examples of old school technology such as the Gilbarco Veeder-Root Analog Liquid Fuel Pump are still around us. Take careful notice of them as you go about your business in the world, as like old cars, they will one day be relegated to the scrap yard or a museum in the near future.