Boomers Had Gas

As the world inches toward an all-electric transportation future, it is nostalgic to recall the boomer days when gasoline reigned supreme to power the internal combustion engine. There was not much in the way of alternatives, of course, but for some boomers, gasoline — and therefore the gas-powered engine — holds a place near and dear to their hearts. For some, even the smell of gasoline is a trip to another era, and another place. For Mister Boomer, not so much.

Mister Boomer’s introduction to the ritual of buying gasoline began when he was eight years old. That was when his mother would give him two quarters, and told him to go to the Sinclair gas station on the corner to fill up the red gas can that resided in the basement. The can was a rectangular shape made of metal, painted with “gasoline” in yellow letters running diagonally across the larger sides. There was a handle on the top, and a flexible metal spout.

Mister Boomer dutifully grabbed the can and walked to the gas station. There, he unscrewed the metal spout, removed the hose from the gas pump, and filled the two-gallon can himself. It was not unusual to see an eight year old do that in the early 1960s. Can filled, he screwed the spout back on, grabbed it by the handle, and went inside the station to pay the man at the register. Dropping the two quarters on the counter, the man opened the register to give him a few pennies as change.

Once home, Mister Boomer knew what was next: cutting the grass. In the early days, Brother Boomer cut the front yard, and Mister Boomer cut the back. The boys traded off in tipping the gas can spout into the tank of the lawn mower to fill it. Tank cap on, and choke switch flipped on the handle of the lawn mower, it was often Brother Boomer who would put one foot on the base of the machine while tugging the rope that spun the rotor to start the engine. Mister Boomer was stationed at the choke control, ready to adjust it as soon as the engine started. Smoke billowed out of the exhaust and an awful smell (in Mister B’s estimation) emanated from the engine; indicators that it was ready to mow.

For years, the Boomer Brothers mowed the lawn with the same gas ritual. Once Brother Boomer got a part-time job, Mister B took on the entire mowing himself.

A neighbor had an electric lawn mower. It was a Sunbeam brand, that ran off a long extension cord. Mister B thought it was pretty cool, and it was certainly quieter and did not smell. However, Mister B wondered how the neighbor managed to mow his lawn without ever running over his extension cord.

Mister Boomer’s relationship with gasoline was always one of necessity. After years of dealing with gasoline as lawn mower fuel, at the age of seventeen he bought his first car. Then the necessity of gasoline changed with an added trip to fill a car gas tank, at least once a week. Mister Boomer grew up in an area where being fluent in car culture was as expected of young men as riding a horse may have been fifty years prior. Like sports fans reciting statistics, neighborhood boys could spew all sort of gasoline-based car trivia, like the location of the gas tank spout on numerous models (some were behind the back license plate; on a ’56 Chevy, you literally flipped the red bullet-shaped taillight down to fill up the tank). Gas had become an inherent part of boomer culture.

The Oil Embargo in the 1970s changed public opinion about gasoline — for a short while. Jokes told by boomers about stepping on the gas pedal and watching the fuel gauge drop were no longer funny as the price per gallon tripled overnight. Americans quickly grew tired of rationing that required them to only buy gas on days that coincided with the odd or even last digit on their license plate. For the first time, boomers were watching how much gasoline they were using. As history has shown us, once the embargo was lifted, it didn’t take long for people to return to larger gas-guzzling vehicles. For a while, there was an attempt — mostly from imports — to downsize America’s love affair with the gas behemoths of the 1960s and ’70s. Though brands like Toyota and Subaru became household names with smaller, more fuel-efficient models, today we see larger cars that actually get better gas mileage than the compact cars of a few decades ago.

As boomers age, we are seeing a shift in the culture of gasoline-powered engines. Boomers and the younger generations have embraced electric battery-powered lawn mowers to such a degree that gasoline-powered lawn mowers are becoming an endangered species. Hybrid car sales have jumped dramatically in the past few years, as awareness of the environmental and economic issues that gasoline has presented in the decades since the boomer years becomes apparent.

It remains to be seen whether boomers will live long enough to see a day when no engines are powered by gasoline. Yet, if boomers look at the lives of their grandparents, most of them could never envision living in a world without horse-powered vehicles — still, it happened in their lifetimes. Whether you love the smell of gas or hate it, like the rush of driving vehicles with gasoline-powered engines or not, our old world is rapidly changing. Your grandchildren’s children may not know what “gasoline” was in the next couple of decades, the same way today’s kids don’t know what a rotary phone or VHS tape was.

What memories does gasoline evoke for you, boomers?

Boomers Loved Candy Apples

It’s Halloween time once again and you know what that means: pumpkin spice everything has co-opted the season. This year, it seems like the pumpkin spice products emerged around Labor Day. It wasn’t always that way, of course. In boomer years, the fall-leading-into-Halloween time was marked by the annual appearance of caramel and candy apples. In fact, for some people, candy apples were the go-to choice for giving Halloween trick-or-treaters. However, Mister Boomer did not appreciate this offering that added weight to his pillow case of treats. He was not a fan of the hard-shelled sugar candy coating, but the color and sheen — that was another story.

Candy apples were first made by Newark, New Jersey candymaker William Kolb in 1908. He was looking for a way to showcase his red cinnamon candy, and experimented with dipping apples in it. Displayed in his shop window, the shiny red apples with a stick in each one drew in customers, eager to try his new concoction. They were a big hit! The idea spread quickly to local and regional fairs, but early in the twentieth century, they became a popular giveaway treat for Halloween.

After the War, the Baby Boom began. Optimism was high in the country, and national mood was expressed by a series of heavily saturated colors. One of those colors was a rendition of that shiny red, inspired by candy apples. By the 1950s, a candy red could color could be seen on women’s handbags, footwear, jewelry and accessories, as well as home appliances.

It wasn’t long before the West Coast custom car culture experimented with methods of reproducing the color and shine that was pulsing through the consumer market. Mel Pinoli, of Pinoli’s Body & Paint Shop in California, is credited with creating the first candy paint color for cars — but it wasn’t red, it was green!

A couple of years later, around 1956, car customizer Joe Bailon built on Pinoli’s process in an attempt to create the color he saw on a set of Ludwig drums. Bailon’s method applied a metallic coat of paint (silver or gold) to the car, followed by a translucent dye layer, which was then covered with a clear lacquer. Sanding and polishing brought out the blends of each layer with a shine that mimicked Kolb’s original red cinnamon candy apple. Mr. Bailon called the resulting color, candy apple red. Voila! he painted the first car a candy apple red!

Mister Boomer remembers being wowed by the visual depth and beauty of a candy apple red finish on custom cars he saw in car shows and occasionally, in neighborhood parking lots.

In 1963, Fender guitars offered a candy apple red option for their iconic Stratocaster model for the added price of $15. The company offered the color only until 1974.

What about caramel apples? Not to be confused with candy apples, caramel apples are what the name says: an apple with a stick in it dipped in melted caramel, often rolled in crushed walnuts. Unlike its candy apple cousin, caramel apples were a true boomer-era invention, arriving in 1948. Mister B recalls Kraft caramels having as recipe for caramel apples printed on the back of the bag.

Mister Boomer much preferred the caramel apple variety, but not for Halloween. No way. To him, that was as bad as receiving a popcorn ball, or a plain apple! Nonetheless, Mister B concedes that somebody somewhere used to enjoy getting caramel or candy apples for Halloween, back in a time when homemade treats were an acceptable part of trick-or-treating.

How about you, boomers? Candy or caramel apple fan? Loved or hated the color?