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Gas War Brings Rock-Bottom Price: Zero Per Gallon

June 27, 1986 GMT

SANDOVAL, Ill. (AP) _ It started out as an old-fashioned gasoline price war and ended up as a party as hundreds of drivers, sipping sodas and joking with each other, lined up for blocks for the ultimate savings - free gas.

The Star service station and Huck’s Convenience Store in this southern Illinois village of 1,700 people began their battle Wednesday and kept cutting prices until, on Thursday, both were giving away fuel.

″This is great 3/8″ said Leanna Spitler of Odin, laughing as she filled her tank. ″They were charging 20-some cents. But when I got around the corner, they were saying: ‘It’s 9 cents. It’s 8 cents. It’s 4 cents. It’s free 3/8’

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″I figured they’d run out of gas before I got here, but they didn’t.″

The Star Service and Petroleum Co. station was charging 71 cents per gallon and 76 cents for unleaded - a penny more than Huck’s - when the battle began, said Jim Miller, the local Star manager.

″We’ve made a lot of friends with it,″ he said Thursday. ″I don’t have any idea how long it’ll last. I just do what they tell me.″

Across U.S. Highway 50 at Huck’s, manager Jody Nielsen said she lowered prices when Star matched hers because ″Huck’s always beats the competition.″

The stations were charging 50 cents a gallon as business began Thursday, and employees spent the day on ladders changing price signs until about noon, when signs at both read ″00.0.″

″I’ve been up and down this thing all day long,″ said Huck’s employee Tonya Anderson of Vernon.

″Who can argue with free gas?″ said Charles Fletcher Jr. of Centralia. ″It’s just like Christmas. Santa Claus came early.″

Both stations gave away gasoline until about 2 p.m., when Miller got a call from Star’s Corsicana, Texas, headquarters. Shaking his head, he walked to the pumps and raised prices to 49.9 cents for regular and 50.9 cents for unleaded.

Huck’s raised their’s to a penny less than Star.

Drivers lined up at the T-intersection of U.S. 50 and 51, where the stations are located, honked their horns and groaned when they no longer could get something for nothing.

But prices again began dropping after Miller got another call from Texas, prompting more honking - this time, accompanied by cheers - and, once more, they fell to zero.

Cars were backed up along both highways as drivers waited to buy gas, but at least one person watching prices fall hoped it would end - and soon.

″They’re killing me,″ moaned Leonard Morris, assistant manager of a Clark service station about six miles away in Centralia. ″I only did about $300 yesterday, and I do about $1,000 normally... I can’t compete with this.″