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Column: Generations ago, rationing made life challenging

WORTHINGTON -- The other day a couple of us were trying to figure out who we are.

We aren't just a handful. We filled whole classrooms in schools all across the country. Still, we aren't what the TV jabberers call the Greatest Generation. I was barely old enough to qualify for my Daily Globe paper route when the Japanese carrier planes attacked the U.S. battleships in Hawaii.

On the other hand, we most certainly are not what the jabberers call The Boomers. The Boomer Generation. Fact of the matter is, our generation contributed more offspring to the Boomer gang than did the Greatest Generation, the World War II fighters. 

As we talked, we edged toward saying all this generation talk has more holes than a fishnet. Nobody can measure where one generation stops and another starts.

Our parents -- the parents of a ton of us who are not Great but not Boomers -- occupied our same kind of gap. Many of our fathers were too young for service in World War I, too old for service in World War II.

Conversation floated into a different stream. We talked about how The War -- World War II -- reached out to us, to kids clear out in the snowbanks of southern Minnesota. The War remains a mile-high landmark. Many things, even now, are still identified as Before The War or After The War. 

One thing that reached everyone was rationing. There were limits on what everyone could buy. Limits on food. Strict limits on gasoline and tires.

This was one way The War -- the crazy brain of Adolf Hitler -- got directly to me. In 1940 my dad bought the Phillips 66 station at the corner of Oxford and Humiston By 1942 he couldn't make a living any longer. Rationed gas sales were puny. Tire sales were nil. Nothing was going to get better.

The government sent recruiters out for contractors building the Alcan highway. The government didn't want to tie up troops in the permafrost. Men beyond prime fighting age were contacted. They could serve their country building a highway to Alaska. Besides, they could get better wages than anyone earned at Worthington.

Off went my dad. My family lived the same as families with men in the service. No husband, no father for an unknown span. There was a big contingent of men from this area. I think of Art Paine. Cap and Stub Redinius. Carl Markman. Gus Ostermann's contracting company at Ocheyedan.

I came on a piece the other day about rationing during The War. One thing fascinating: America fought World War II with no imported oil and no offshore oil. The oil wells of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania were more than enough to fill the engines of all the U.S. tanks and airplanes and Jeeps. And that is only the beginning. 

The United States actually had enough oil to meet civilian demands, plus supply its military. The problem was not gas but rubber. Japan controlled the world's rubber supply.

The United States began tire rationing. It was clear a way had to found to provide drivers with tires. People had to get work -- had to get to defense plants. The worry was that people would drive anywhere and everywhere, burning rubber. The answer was gas rationing. There would be enough gas to get you to the bank and the grocery store but as for the cabin Up North, forget it.

Most people got "A" stickers. They had to paste the stickers inside their windshields. (Black "A's," not scarlet "A's.") Five gallons of gas per week (twenty-cents a gallon). Doctors, plumbers -- people who made calls on other peoples' houses -- got "B" cards. B's got double rations. Then there were "X" cards. Oh -- a county sheriff might get an "X" card. The milk man and ice man started coming every other day, rather than every day. 

You can see why it was tough running a filling station.

Somewhere in all this tangle, amid all these worries, there were kids growing up. It's a thing kids do. Maybe those kids are the Hidden Generation, the generation unknown to TV bauble heads, the generation between the Greatest Generation and the Boomers.

You seen any Hiders lately?

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.