Learning to drive back in the 1960s was probably very different for me than it is for kids today. Many of the lessons I learned came while hauling water with a two-ton 1949 Ford Truck.
When I had my first driver?s license at age 15, I had already driven somewhat extensively. When I was 9, I began driving a tractor in the hay field at slow speed while the men picked up bales to throw on the wagon.
My most embarrassing early driving experience was when the men hauling hay forgot they had me along when it was time to go to my house, where my mother served everyone dinner. They had left me at my grandparents? place three-quarters mile away, and my grandparents weren?t home.
So, I took matters into my own hands, started up the John Deere ?B? just like my dad usually did for me. I stood up on the starter pedal with all of my weight instead of using one hand, like he usually did, while I sat in the driver?s seat. I had to push pretty hard in those days to pop the floor-mounted stick clutch into gear.
The tractor was still hot, so it fired right up without choking it. I drove home in second gear like I usually did in the field instead of being daring enough to drive in sixth ?road? gear.
I did fine driving on the road to home until I got there, and stretched up tall in the seat to see if anyone was watching me. That moment of carelessness was enough for me to hit our mailbox with a rear tire to fling it 15 feet.
I was so embarrassed that I went to the bedroom to hide my face in the bed sheets, expecting to spend the noon hour there. But Dad came in to get me, put his hand on my head, and steered me to the dinner table.
The men did a lot of smiling, and passed me food very regularly during the meal while they talked. I think they felt badly that they had left me behind, but nothing was said about it.
Two weeks later, my cousin, Garren, who was three years older than me, drove their tractor by our place. He was so intent on waving at me that he hit our freshly erected mailbox with a rear tire too, crushing it all over again. I felt a lot better seeing that an older, more experienced guy could do the same thing.
I went from driving tractors to driving a three-shift-on-the-column car to driving the old Ford truck. My first job with the truck was to haul water in a 300-gallon tank from the co-op well at Pauline, eight miles from home.
The truck had to be ?double-clutched? to change gears with the shift stick mounted on the floor. I can still feel the touch of doing this?in with the foot-pedal clutch to take it out of the last gear, and in again as you slide it into the next gear with just the right momentum and touch. If you didn?t slide it in just right, it would grind and refuse to go in.
It had four forward gears which we called grandma, first, second and third. It still confuses me for a moment when somebody tells me they drove a four-speed truck with first, second, third and fourth gears.
I got to be embarrassed almost right away on my first drive to Pauline for a load of water. Three hundred gallons was a lot of weight?2,400 pounds, sloshing around in the back end of that truck.
A car junkyard was situated between the co-op elevator and the co-op service garage, and a guy backed his car out of there right into my pathway as I approached him.
There was no way I could stop the forward momentum of 2,400 pounds of water in such a short space. I rear-ended him, and didn?t know what to do. There was water and steam coming out from under my hood, although with the heavy front bumper to guard the truck, there was no other visible damage.
I didn?t know what to do, but my dad did. He?d been watching my first progress from the service garage, and he came quickly.
The poor guy in the car frantically explained that he had no insurance, and he handed Dad $200. When he left, Dad opened the hood and turned a pet-cock closed at the base of the radiator that had been knocked loose by the impact, refilled it with water, and sent me on my way with no other damage.
My next big experience with the truck happened in the winter when an ice storm hit while I was filling the water tank.
Boley Hill was something else, with the water moving the rear end of the truck back and forth on the ice while I inched it forward, knowing that if I stopped I would have to somehow back it down to get up the momentum for another attempt.
But I made it. Thank God cell phones weren?t invented yet to distract me on a drive like that.