Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tire Troubles

The United States, which had pioneered the mass production of automobiles, had transformed itself in the interwar years into an automobile culture. Car ownership had become widespread, spurred on by lower prices and the relative ease of financing by the banks and manufacturers. Automobile trips were all the vogue, with overnight auto camps springing up in towns and hamlets across the country; these would evolve into the ubiquitous motels that dot the landscape to this day.

All of this would change in a dramatic way in the closing weeks of December, 1941, after the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. The Empire of Japan set their sights on the resource rich Dutch East Indies and Malaysia and would acquire, from Vichy France, French Indo China. The Japanese invasion of these centers for rubber production led to the curtailment of raw rubber shipments, the source of 90% of the nation’s imports, forcing the United States’ Office of Price Administration to instituted the rationing of the first non-food item, tires. This action, and the concomitant rationing of gasoline, slammed the brakes on America’s earlier driving habits and placed them in park for the duration.

For most, some gasoline remained available. The United States was, after all, a major oil producer, and the non-essential gas ration was on average three gallons per week. Tires were another matter altogether. Local tire rationing boards were established and those seeking new or re-treaded tires were required to fill out OPB Form R-1 or R-1A and submit it to their local board. If not included among the official list of seventeen “essential” categories, an applicant stood little chance of approval.

My grandfather was a lumberman who operated sawmills just south of Medford, Oregon and up near Prospect, on the road to Crater Lake. Lumber was considered essential to the war effort, but being on the priority list was still no guarantee that the “Application for Authority to Purchase New Tires” (form R-1) would be approved by the local board. There was a myriad of Byzantine rules, regulation, and exemptions in the tire code, including one that discouraged “deadheading.” To maximize tire use trucks were not to make empty hauls.

One afternoon Grandad was in line at the Rationing Board, OPB Form R-1 in hand, and struck up a conversation with another businessman in line.

“This regulation about deadheading has always been a problem for me,” he explained to the next man in line. “I run a sawmill and I haul logs from the woods to the mill. What do these bureaucrats think I should be hauling back?”

“You think you’ve got it bad,” the man replied, “I own the Pearl Funeral Home… All my hauling is one way.”

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