Monday, April 21, 2014

Driving Lessons - Book of Me

There were no seat belts in the 1950s:  just long bench seats, front and back, from one side of the car to the other.  Of course, the average speed limit during my youngest years was probably about 35 miles/hour.  Even now, echoing in my ears, comes my grandmother's cry to my grandfather, "Slow down, Bob!  You're going too fast!  The speed limit's 35 and you're going 36!"  I think Gramma must have enjoyed riding at the gentle speed of a horse-drawn buggy.  What would she do at today's 70 or 80 miles/hour speeds?!

Riding with My Grandparents
My grandparents had a car similar to the one pictured at right.  My grandfather was always the driver, my grandmother the back-seat driver in the passenger's front seat.  She never had a driver's license.  When I was the only other rider in the car I nestled between them in the front seat unable to see out the windows.  If there were other young riders, we rode in the back and three adults squeezed into the front.

One time my grandmother rode in the back seat between my cousin and me.  The curvy road and my grandfather's somewhat faster speed caused the three of us in the back to lean first one way, then the other.  It was such fun because my grandmother exaggerated the leans and laughed with us.

Family Cars
For many years our family had just one car.  Mom could usually arrange her needs groceries or appointments around my father's work schedule.  She occasionally borrowed my grandfather's car if there was an emergency or my father's work schedule overlapped some other appointment and he was working afternoon shift.

In the late 1950s my parents bought a new Ford with an automatic transmission.  My father took us all for a ride the evening he brought it home.  He and my mother gave careful attention to the car to see if they could tell when it shifted.  To me, at the age of 7 or 8, the point of a car was to go -- it didn't matter how.

Sometime in the mid-1960s my father bought two older model Fords, maybe 1952 and 1953 versions.  Both had standard transmission.  Even as a teen I loved old.  They seemed to have just the right amount of character.  One went to college with my brother, the other took my father to work and brought him home.

Learning to Drive with My Father
As my 16th birthday approached I eagerly looked forward to learning to drive and anticipated the freedom driving could bring.  My mother taught me to drive in the new Ford with automatic transmission but my father seemed to think it was important for me to learn to drive standard, too.

My first driving lesson with Dad took place in the large and nearly-empty parking lot of a shopping center several miles from our home.  My father drove there, stopped the car between the parking lanes, and we traded places.  I'm certain that his instruction included an explanation of the H configuration of the movement of the stick shift.  I'm also certain that he explained the necessity of when and how to put in the clutch before shifting.  But I don't remember any other instruction from him.

I felt extremely pleased with myself when I manged to shift into first without stalling or grinding the gears.  I happily drove up and down the parking lanes and around the perimeter of the parking lot.  I drove until my father couldn't stand it any more.  He looked at me and said, "When are you going to speed up and shift out of first?"  I remember thinking, "What?  You want me to shift gears again?!"  He had explained to me about three gears but I definitely didn't understand the concept of gears and speed.  I shifted gears and drove a little faster.  I can't remember if I ever got the car into third gear.

I guess my father wanted the driving to include more than just driving.  (He obviously didn't yet have a clue that I was a slower learner in the driving department.)  He decided I should learn to park.  Not parallel park; just steer the car into the center of a parking space and stop.  The parking lot had painted lines marking the spaces and concrete dividers between opposite parking space.  He had me pull into one of the parking spaces.  Yes, I steered just fine but my clutching and braking abilities were minimal.  The car came to a stop with the front tires on the other side of the concrete divider.  Whoops!  My father sometimes had a terrible temper and I was sure I was in trouble.  But no, Dad got out, examined the situation, and we traded places.  He backed the car over the barrier and we resumed the parking lesson.  He was determined that I learn to pull into a parking space.  I was determined, too, but just not coordinated enough to manage it.  Once again the car went over the divider.

That was it!  My father's patience was gone.  The lesson was over.  We traded places, he maneuvered the car back over the barrier, and we drove home.  In silence.  My father never again gave me a single driving lesson, and to this day I can't drive a car with standard transmission.  (But I passed the driving test in the car with an automatic transmission with near-perfect scores.)

The First Accident
During a senior day picnic in high school I was driving my father's little red Valiant convertible, the one he drove to and from work.  He let me use it on the condition that I be very, very careful and that I not put the top down.  (I'm sure he had visions of a carload of girls screaming their way through Mill Creek Park.)  A group of us were standing in a parking lot getting ready to leave when another student pulled up in his car.  We were all talking as I stood at the back of my dad's car.  The boy in the car must had let his foot off the brake because he was gradually moving toward my father's car.  I didn't notice but a friend pushed me out of the way just before his car hit my father's.  It was a small dent but one that my father did not miss.  When I got home I explained what happened and commented, "Better the bumper than my knee."  My father said no more about it.

The Second Accident
Mineral Ridge's Main Street is a long, slow hill, easing down from north to south for a mile or more.  It was a state route used by trucks to travel from Warren to Youngstown and, a little later, to the interstate just south of the Ridge.  Semi-trucks with a full load could quickly pick up speed as they rolled down the hill.

I was headed south in my parent's recently purchased Chrysler waiting for a break in traffic to make a left turn onto a side street near the post office.  I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a truck higher on the hill, a ways behind me.  I looked ahead continuing to watch for the break in traffic.  When I next glanced in my rear view mirror I realized that the truck was much closer and wasn't slowing down.  The next thing I knew I was being propelled toward a tree on the opposite side of Main Street by the truck. 
The car narrowly missed oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, glanced off a tree, and came to a stop before it hit the house.  The truck missed oncoming traffic, the tree, and the house, continued in a semi-circle, and crashed into the post office.  I was shaken up but not harmed.  I hesitated to drive but my parents and brother insisted that I get behind the wheel again soon.  I did, but not the wheel of that car.  It was totaled.

Other Thoughts on Cars and Driving
One difference between my grandmother and me is that I love speed.  I know she would not like riding me with, but of course, I would drive to please her (as much as possible) if she were still here.  I enjoy driving, especially when I can go fast without concern for getting a ticket.  (Wyoming is a wonderful state to drive through because the state troopers ignore speed limits on the interstate.  (Yes, a Wyoming state trooper told me that!))  It's easy to enjoy the speed of 70 or 80 or 90 miles/hour in that wide, open state.  (And of course, because the state is so big and barren, you want to drive fast to get through it.)

I've owned several cars through the years.  They took me where I needed to go but not a single one of them was exceptional.  I now drive an older model, cherry red Honda CRV.  I love that car.  My daughter was still at home when we bought it car.  We were never in the habit of naming cars but she decided we should name the car Arvey.  Then we beeped the horn and realized the car was an R-V-etta, not an Arvey.  Little R-V-etta doesn't have much get-up-and-go but once she gets going she speeds along with the best of them.  We cooperate with each other and manage just fine.

. . . . . . . . . .

This is another post in The Book of Me series, created by Julie Goucher of Anglers Rest.

The topic was Cars and Transport.  The suggestions included:  Did you have a car in your family whilst you were growing up?   What methods of transport were there?  And what did you & your family typically use?  Your Driving Test.  Where Did you learn?  Can you drive?  Your first car?  Do you name your cars?  Can you remember the registration details?  And perhaps explain what the registration mean.



  1. Nancy,

    I so enjoyed all your memories of driving and riding in cars!

    We had a big family, and I can remember the baby always sat
    in a little booster seat, in the front seat, right between Mom and Dad. The seat did not have a good
    restraint system, and there was a little horn on it, so the baby
    could beep it :)

    1. I guess moms and dads thought they had a better chance of protecting babies if they were closer to them in the front seat. It's amazing the changes in transportation these days. How fun that the baby had a horn to beep, Dorene!

  2. Oh my -- the memories! I remember STANDING in the front seat of my grandfather's car as he drove me to the drug store for a coke and penny candy. Were we nuts or what???

    1. I think maybe there were fewer accidents 40 and 50 years ago. I don't think people were so impatient and maybe they drove more slowly and carefully. Even so, it seems crazy to let a child stand on the seat of a moving vehicle, Wendy. I remember my father telling the story of my sister standing in the back seat, hanging over the front seat encouraging him to go faster.

  3. I love this post. I remember the family of eight drove from Pittsburgh to visit my grandmother who lived in Sarasota FL in the June of 1964, So, we all rode, without seat belts or AC to Florida and back in a 57 Chevy station wagon. All I remember of Florida was it was hot, humid and lots of bugs.

    1. Thank you, Claudia. It's amazing how times and cars have changed. These days, no one would think of putting eight children in a station wagon without seat belts or air conditioning and driving a thousand miles in the summer. Eight children requires a van these days! I've never been to Florida -- and I'm not sure I want to go, either. I like to be warm, but not too warm.

    2. My dad used to tell us a funny story about my grandmother and their Model-T. My uncle was driving with Grandma in the front with him. The road was quite narrow going through a canyon and steep off the passenger side. This particular trip always made my grandmother nervous and she was anticipating the worst parts of the road when she said "Keith slow down, you're driving much too fast." So Uncle Keith sped up just a little bit. Grandma repeated her admonition a little stronger this time. Uncle Keith slowed down to the previous speed and Grandma was comforted.

    3. Oh, Kathleen, that's so funny. Sometimes it's about perception.


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