News stories warned a few days ago that unleaded gasoline was being rationed to some filling stations.

The explanation given by the oil companies was that good weather this autumn had extended the peak motoring season past its traditional Labor Day terminus. Increased demand had depleted supplies.

For me, the message didn't really sink in until I stopped for gas over the weekend and found every unleaded pump dry. Regular leaded gas was available, but at a higher price, of course. "How come they've raised the price of the 'Regular' again?" I asked. The attendant grinned. "You ain't got no choice now," he explained.

The American Automobile Association says auto travel increased by 0.6 percent during the third quarter of this year. That's all: just 0.6 percent.

During most of 1978, storage tanks were filled with gasoline the oil companies couldn't sell. It was running out of their ears. The OPEC countries were reducing production to avoid an oil glut.

Do you mean to tell me that since the end of the third quarter (since Oct. 1) we have used enough extra gasoline to justify rationing and price increases?

I'd sure like to see some figures to support that contention; and I mean government figures, not industry propaganda.

THIS IS WASHINGTON

Jim Boren's popularity as an author and speaker is based on the premise that the government and its employees are inefficient bumblers, and that makes him at least half right. One can certainly say that our government does not serve us as efficiently as it should. But it does not necessarily follow that all government workers are inefficient.

Let me offer an example. Few government agencies generate more criticism than the Postal Service. One who must deal with the Postal Service at this time of the year has reason to be apprehensive.

Dr. Robert Schattner recently began to market his new sterilizing liquid, and over the weekend mailed brochures to 400 dental salesmen. His office scale indicated that 28 cents worth of postage would be enough, so he put a 15-center and a 13-center on each envelope. However, when he got the 400 envelopes to the main post office, he was told each would require an additional 13-cent stamp.

So there was nothing to do but buy 400 13-cent stamps and begin affixing them, one by one, to the 400 envelopes. But as Bob began that tedious chore, a cheerful female appeared across the counter and said, "Let me help you with those." When Bob recovered his voice, he said, "Thank you. I didn't realize the Christmas season had already started at the Postal Service." Lula Y. Pittman smiled and pointed at a sign nearby that said, "Service Is Our Second Name." If you were to try to tell Bob that all government employees are lazy bums you'd have an argument on your hands.

But let's get back to Jim Boren. He was the featured speaker at the National Forum for State Legislators on Nov. 28. As part of his act, he uses a "working model of the U.S. government -- a collection of parts that whirl, spin and make a noise, but accomplish little."

After the talk was finished, Jim left his Rube Goldberg contraption in a box in the lobby of the hotel and went around to say goodbye to the sponsors of the event.

When Jim returned to the lobby, he found the area cordoned off. The police bomb squad was gingerly removing his model from its box.

I'm reminded of a gadget that was popular as a gift a few years ago. It was a small box that performed only one function. When its switch was turned on, the lid of the box would lift open, a hand would emerge, the hand would turn the switch to "Off," the hand would withdraw into the box and the lid would close.

Instead of a gadget modeled after the government, perhaps we need a government modeled after a gadget that's smart enough to turn itself off.

VAGRANT THOUGHT

Has there ever been a presidential candidate who didn't promise to trim the government payroll and improve government services? Has any president ever left office with fewer people on the payroll than there were when he was sworn in?

THESE MODERN TIMES

Bumper sticker: "Inflation Has Us All Behind the 10-Ball."