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Photos: Back when gas was under $1 in Sonoma County

There was once a time when a gallon of gasoline was under $1, if you can believe it.

At Rocket Gasoline in Healdsburg in 1977, you could pump gas for 59 cents a gallon. At the Wilshire Service Station in Santa Rosa in 1962, it was 28 cents a gallon. Back in 1929, it was a mere 11 cents a gallon at Crystal’s Service Station in Sebastopol.

These low prices, gleaned from old photos, may seem unreal in 2022 as gas prices soared this week. A gallon of regular-grade gas in Sonoma County averaged $5.69 a gallon on Wednesday, according to the American Automobile Association.

Gasoline is, of course, different now than it was before the 1970s, when lead was added to it. (Lead was entirely phased out of gasoline by 1996 due to public health concerns.) Additionally, gasoline in California is currently reformulated out of environmental concerns.

Gas pumps were available around Sonoma County during the 1910s, and by the 1920s full-fledged gas stations cropped in the area and across the country as automobiles became ubiquitous.

Photos during the 1910s through the 1930s of local gas stations — often called filling stations or service stations — sometimes show a lone gas pump on a sidewalk outside of a rural post office or tire shop, or small stations with an attendant to service customers.

Similar to now, gas prices varied across regions in California. The Press Democrat reported in 1930 that a gallon of gas in Fresno was as low as 5 cents while it was up to 15 cents in the Bay Area and Sonoma County.

Shell Gasoline advertisements in the Press Democrat in the 1920s said winning race drivers at the Cotati Speedway used its gas and established “a new world’s record — an average of 115⅓ miles an hour in the 100 mile race.”

There didn’t appear to be much opposition to gas stations in Sonoma County in the beginning, although in 1926 the Press Democrat reported that Napa would limit gas stations.

The 1926 report said: “Napa has decided to allow no more gas filling stations in the residential districts. These colorful kiosks are getting to be about as plentiful as were the corner saloons in the old days.”

See the gallery above for photos of gas stations in Sonoma County from the 1910s through the 1970s.

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