50 Years Ago: Complaints about the price of gas

If you were above the age of 18 in the 1970s, it’s quite likely you were among the tens of thousands if Navajos who complained about gasoline prices.

The 1970s were a time when, for the first time, consumers saw prices go up by 10 percent or more overnight as the country first saw the outbreak of gasoline shortages. But that was just a common complaint felt by all drivers in the country. The Navajos had their own complaint.

The Navajo Times brought up this subject for the first time in the newspaper after Dick Hardwick, the paper’s editor, began hearing stories from the people who delivered the paper throughout the reservation each week.

Gasoline prices were, without exception, higher on the reservation than they were in border communities – sometimes far higher.

Of course, this could be explained by the fact that gasoline trucks had to travel farther to get to gasoline stations on the reservation so mileage charges and the cost of the driver had to factored in. But this, according to Hardwick, should have added only a few more cents to the cost.

But, according to figures supplied by the BIA, the prices were 50 cents or more on the average. In some of the more remote areas of the reservation, it could be almost a dollar more.

The BIA during this time had a policy of going around to trading posts and other places that sold gasoline or commodities to compare prices, which the agency then made public. The purpose was not an effort to regulate or control prices but just to give reservation consumers an opportunity to compare prices.

One thing the surveys discovered was the more local competition the business had the less items seemed to be charged and this was particularly true in gasoline prices since business owners realized everyone needed gasoline and getting gas sales often ended up in the customer stocking up on other items as well.

The Times later learned that trading posts and gas stations could not justify charging different prices than their competition because of varying cost to buy the gasoline since almost all of the gasoline sold on the reservation came from the same distributor, which was based in Gallup.

Over the years, the gas price story would come up whenever there was a major gas shortage and the editor would ask circulation staff to write down the price of gasoline at places they dropped off the paper. The results would be published the following week.

Another issue would come up a couple of decades in the future and this is when Navajo Oil and Gas Company, a tribal enterprise, began operating its own gasoline stations. Consumers soon learned that the price they charged was in line with what other companies in the area charged for their gas, despite being owned by the tribe made them exempt from paying taxes.

Consumers wanted the company to pass on these savings to them but company officials argued that this would not be fair to the other dealers who would have to forgo making a profit on gasoline sales in order to stay competitive.

In other news, disputes over treatment of drunks by the Gallup Police Department is continuing, despite pressure being put on DNA-People’s Legal Services to drop their lawsuit against the city jail for mistreating persons picked up for public drunkenness.

There has been only one exposure death, which is in line with the number of deaths on average when the jail was accepting drunks and piling them on top of each other because of lack of space.

The jail was under a court order limiting it from accepting more than 60 individuals at any time, leading jail officials to shutting down the practice all together because the number picked up on Friday and Saturday night averaged more than 120.

City officials argued that following the court’s limits would pose a serious liability issue if jail authorities had to pick and choose who would be accepted. If someone then rejected later died as a result of that decision, the person’s family could file a wrongful death suit against the city and probably win.

The state liquor inspector has been in and out of the city numerous times in the past two weeks cracking down on dealers suspected of selling to intoxicated individuals and minors.

The Times has learned from police that dealers have set up ways to counter these efforts. The dealers have set up a hot line so that if anyone sees a liquor inspector or anyone else that looks suspicious, an alert is sent out to all dealers to be careful. Bartenders would stop serving anyone until the coast was clear and package liquor dealers would be very careful whom they sold to.

None of this, of course, had any bearing on the number of intoxicated individuals on the street since if one avenue was shut down, the hardcore drunk knew other sources, including local bootleggers.

About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.


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