Dakota Datebook

What drives you?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

 

Here is an excerpt for your listening pleasure:  “I used to pay my grocery bill whenever it was due, and in the butcher’s yawning till the coin I promptly threw.  But now in vain they plead and moan to get my good long green, for every dollar that I own I need for gasoline!”

Do you know when this was written?

If you said “today,” you’re mistaken.  If you guessed 1916, however, then you’re right on the money, because on this date in 1916, people were complaining about the price of gas.

Now, if you’re driving while you listen to today’s Dakota Datebook, then you are probably already cringing at every mile that passes on your odometer.  Gas prices are up everywhere, more than in our historical memory.

But in 1916, gas was at issue, too.  And Walt Mason, who printed this long poem in the Edinburg Tribune, was able to express his concern.  Though the language may be dated, the sentiment expressed has no boundaries.

During those days, there were many car troubles.  We were transitioning out of the horse and buggy days, into the days of jalopies and rumble seats.  “Gasoline was originally used for cleaning gloves and ejecting hired girls thru the kitchen roof, but has been taught a great variety of interesting tricks, such as running automobiles, aeroplanes, motorboats, windmills, street cars, hearses, corn shellers and bicycles,” one report said jokingly in the Edinburg Tribune.  However, by May of 1916, auto license requests received were already reported at 26,000, whereas around only 24,000 had been requested for the entire year before.

Also, car accidents were numerous; near Horace, a farmer who was trying to feed his young son candy drove right into a telephone pole.  Injuries were slight to all but the pole.

And, of course, 1916 was on the cusp of World War I.  War always seems to affect the people and the prices back home.

Nonetheless, the poem written by Walt Mason speaks to us today. The poem is quite long.  However, here is another excerpt of what Mason wrote:

“My children used to wear good clothes; they held their heads up high; no leaky shoes exposed their toes, no rents could you discry. But now they’re images of woe, they’re blots upon the scene; for every coin I get must go to buy some gasoline.  … I used to talk of books and art, and topics safe and sane, but … I’ve motor on the brain. I cannot even spare a dime to buy a magazine; it keeps me hustling all the time to buy my gasoline.”

By Sarah Walker

Sources:

The Edinburg Tribune, Friday, May 5, 1916, p.2

Bismarck Weekly Tribune, Friday, May 19, 1916, p.6

The Edinburg Tribune, April 21, 1916

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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