As my octogenarianism grows into its fifth year, my mind continues to wonder as I wander.
Seventy years ago I started paying serious attention to cars.
I learned some of the basics of driving when I was eleven. Not on the road, but in a North Dakota farmer’s field. The farmer hired me for $2.00 a day to drive his tractor and pull a combine for harvesting oats and wheat. This is not the time to discuss child labor! In ten days, I had enough to buy over 100 gallons of gas if I’d had a car.
I was sure I’d get to drive his truck alongside the combine and take grain to the elevator a few miles away the next summer. Underage farm kids had implied but not necessarily legal permission to drive with that purpose. Legal or not, it was a very common practice. But we moved.
The summer after my 14th birthday in Minnesota, I anticipated getting a learner permit, but with no family vehicle, I couldn’t even cheat at some time behind the wheel. Well, one of the farm kids I’d met in high school had been driving an on the farm only unlicensed pickup since he was about ten. I’d talked about my tractor work and he invited me to practice with the 1930s something REO.
I’m sure that his dad knew, but he never said anything about my friend stopping their newer truck a half mile away from the farm with a load of farm product and letting me take the wheel. That was good practice for me, but certainly not legal for either of us. As tempting as it was, we didn’t stop at the A&W or sneak a drive through town.
I got my official Minnesota Driver Leaner Permit in October 1951. My mother, legally blind, wasn’t licensed in Minnesota and as I said before we didn’t have a family car. We had a car in ND, and she drove it to MN. The prospect of getting legal experience was as bright as a snowless winter in MN.
My only option was to sign up for official driver education offered by the school as soon as the snow was mostly off the ground the spring of 1952.
My mouth got in the way of what the rest of me could do quite well. Parallel parking was done with posts at the corners of an on-street parking place. I’m not sure just what I said, but it was something like, “Mr. Xxxx, I believe it’s ridiculous to park with sticks when the real test would be to have some wrecking yard cars parked for us to get in between.”
The instructor’s look told me I should keep quiet, but I added as I completed the maneuver into the space, “How many times have you had to park between sticks.”
He got out and told me I was more than a foot from the curb to which I said something about the street-side posts being much more than a car’s width from the curb, so I’d actually parked correctly. I did a recovery and asked if he’d show me how to get closer to the curb. He hit the front stick twice, then sent me home.
I got a letter authorizing me to take the state patrol test and the next week two junkers were parked the required six inches from the curb in front and in back of the driver education practice spot.
Sixty-nine years ago this month I got my Minnesota Driver License.