Nowadays, kids learn to drive when they are old enough. Most young people take a course and learn how to drive with a teacher.
When I was growing up on the farm, you learned to drive when you got big enough.
One day when I was about five or six years old I got my first driving lesson.
My grandfather had an old three quarter ton Ford Truck that was about the biggest moving thing I had ever seen. It was black with big rust spots on it and double tires on the back so that it could handle big loads.
We used that truck for everything from hauling cattle to hauling hay.
One hot June day we were in a big field and all the men were out there picking up bales of hay and throwing them up on the bed of that truck.
I was too little to do anything to be helpful so I was just riding along in the truck or running around and playing in the field. I would climb up on bales of hay and jump off. I would run like a maniac through the field until I got tired then climb up in the cab of the truck and drink water out of the cooler we kept in the floorboard.
After a couple of hours of that my Dad came and saw me standing up in the front seat of the truck and said he had a job for me.
I was so excited to have a job. It was an important rite of passage on the farm to be trusted to do a job of any kind. I was even more excited when I realized he intended for me to drive the truck to free up one of the men to help with the hay.
There were some problems to overcome. When I sat down in the seat of the truck I couldn’t reach the pedals and when I sat down I couldn’t see out the front window of the truck. So, my Dad jumped in, pressed the clutch, and put the truck in the lowest gear which was a gear they called the “Bulldog gear” or “Granny gear.” When the truck was in that gear it would go very, very slow and you didn’t even need to touch the gas pedal. Then, my Dad pulled the choke of the engine out to rev up the motor, let out the clutch and then, to my horror, he got out of the truck and slammed the door with a big bang.
That’s when the panic set in.
He reached in through the open window and pulled me over behind the steering wheel and told me to grab it with both hands. The roar of that engine was the loudest sound I had ever heard. He shouted over the roar and sternly said, “Don’t hit anything” and went back to help his brothers put hay bales on the back of the truck.
I was on my own. The bales of hay in the field now looked like a mine field and I was under orders not to hit anything.
As far as I know, power steering is a completely modern invention. It certainly hadn’t come to Moccasin Valley in the mid 1960’s. Turning the wheel of the truck just a few degrees either direction took all of the boyish power I could muster. Because the truck was moving at such a slow pace, it would take a long time for the truck to change direction when I turned the steering wheel. When a bale of hay was in my path I would go to one side of the wheel or the other and pull down as hard as I could and then wait for the truck to turn like a big black battleship in a sea of grass.
I got the hang of it pretty quickly and settled into a good rhythm. Then disaster struck but because the truck was moving so slow it was disaster in slow motion.
I was so busy dodging bales of hay that I hadn’t noticed that I was coming to the end of the field. When I did notice the honeysuckle draped fence ahead of me it was way too late for me to make enough of a turn to miss the fence.
I heard my father’s voice in my head, “Don’t hit anything” so I started doing what any six-year-old might do while trying to steer about 1,500 pounds of steel away from what looked like certain disaster … I started shouting for help at the top of my lungs.
It wasn’t a deep manly roar. It was a high-pitched scream not unlike the scream of a six-year-old girl and it had the desired result. My Dad came charging up to the truck, opened the door, knocked me out of the way and stopped the truck just a few feet from the fence. Judging from the big grin on his face, I figured he knew all along I wouldn’t be able to turn that truck at the end of the field and he and his brothers were having a laugh at my expense.
He backed the truck up, turned it, pulled the choke, put it back in Bulldog gear and jumped out of the truck. As he slammed the door I heard him say through a good natured laugh, “Don’t hit anything.”