Early driving efforts were risky

The wonder of it all is that I never got hurt.

Beginning to drive a car or truck when I was a teenager could be different than it is for young people today.

I began driving our 1949 one-ton Ford truck hauling water when I was 15 or 16 years old in the early 1960s.

The big rust and green truck had a standard transmission, which, for you younger people who won?t get to share such an experience, means you had to depress a clutch to change gears using a long-knobbed gear shift on the floor.

Not only that, you had to double-clutch it to successfully change gears to the driving gear, which most of you would call fourth but we called third. In my family?s language the four-speed truck was a three-speed with forward gears of grandma, first, second and third.

Double-clutching meant you smoothly depressed the clutch once taking the truck from the gear it had been in, from second to third, while still moving, then letting it out and then depressing it again while smoothly sliding into third.

A kid could pride himself just a little bit for beginning to do this so the gears didn?t grind.

It meant one hand on the wheel, one hand on the stick, one foot on the clutch, and the other foot ready to use the brake. That was all complicated coming home with 300 gallons of water in the tank, about 2,400 pounds, that could shift the backend of the truck around while moving.

Our family farm was about eight miles west of Pauline on the south end of Topeka on modern 61st Street. I would bring the water home to put it in a cistern for household use.

Our water for livestock use came from a well in the pasture that my parents didn?t consider good for human use.

The water I hauled came from a well in Pauline across a gravel drive from the cooperative elevator. I would come in on 57th past the Co-op?s service station before turning right past an auto salvage yard, then a half-block away to the well.

It felt sort of good to be there as the well hose filled water into my tank?just pretty grown up?watching the other traffic go by.

My first indication that I wasn?t entirely grown up came one day when I was leaving with a full load of water. I had gotten the truck into second gear, and was moving right along, when this fellow suddenly backed his car out of the salvage yard right at me.

I hit the clutch and brake hard, but that load of sloshing water kept the truck moving right along and into the rear end of that car. The guy driving the car stepped out and approached me. Suddenly, I wasn?t feeling so grown up any more.

?It was my fault, my fault!? he was hollering.

Meanwhile, water was draining ominously from under the hood of our truck.

?Oh no, I?ve hurt our truck too,? I thought.

Suddenly my dad appeared at my side. I didn?t know he had been at the co-op on business, and had seen the entire thing out the window.

It quickly became my dad?s deal with me relegated to being an onlooker.

?You?re darn right it was your fault,? he said. ?Come on across the street, and we?ll call the police to make out a report.?

?No, no, don?t do that!? the guy said loudly. ?I don?t have insurance.?

?Well, we?ll have to see what kind of damage there is, make some kind of report,? my dad said, looking at the water still draining behind the truck bumper from under the hood.

?Here, here,? the guy said, pulling a small pile of $20 bills from his pocket, and handing them to Dad.

?There, will that do??

When the guy left, my dad counted out what I believe was $200, ?Not a bad day?s work,? he said, smiling.

Then he raised the old truck?s hood, screwed the pet-cock on the radiator that had been knocked loose back shut again, refilled it with water, and sent me on my way home.

It seems my dad always did know a bit more than me.

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