Thursday, April 22, 2010

Learning To Drive On The Farm

Cliff Morrow
 Midwest Producer

I've been driving a long time. I can't remember the time I didn't know how to drive. It started with a 1940-something, Willys Jeep. The brother next oldest to me in age, by four years, taught me how to start, shift and steer the old rig. He was about 11 at the time. You're right, I was pretty young but it was in the days before the words "child endangerment" had been thought of and I was the last of seven children spread out over nearly 20 years. Looking back I don't think it was some kind of evil plot to reduce the number of children in the family but rather it was the fact that kids who could drive were handy.
My dad was pretty disgusted the day he found out that I'd been taught to drive. He had the Jeep sitting along the lane where it was being used to pull a wagon full of seed oats. He was alternately seeding and walking back to get the wagon. I pulled it up for him and he came unglued.
"Who taught you how to drive?" He already knew, but parents are required to ask questions they already know the answer to. "Well, don't do that kind of stuff again and while you're here you might as well pull it up; count off about 10 fence posts, and then shut it off.
"And don't slip the clutch."
From that point on I learned to find things to do that would require the Jeep and a driver. One was driving around the farm delivering lunch. Lunch back then meant the two breaks between breakfast, dinner and supper. The problem being I wasn't tall enough to be able to see out any of the windows. The old Jeep had a full cab and a vent door that opened wide, in the center of the dash. It was just below the windshields and that allowed me to lean to my right and see what was coming.
Our cocker spaniel, Taffy, always accompanied me and would sit in the passenger seat in the upright position. Yes, she sat up and leaned back like a human, and that made her taller than me and so she could see out. She was looking for rabbits and I was straining to see through the hole in the dash to see what was up ahead. I think she liked the way I drove because she never said anything about my driving. To this day, my older siblings remind me that they knew who was driving when they saw the Jeep coming with no apparent driver and a dog in the passenger seat. I'm sure it looked like a rural mail carrier dog.
I soon graduated to an Oliver 77 pulling a spike toothed harrow with all of the warnings that went with that and of turning too short on the end of the fields. I was soon raking hay and doing anything and everything else that required a child who knew how to let a clutch out without burning it. Looking back I probably should have stayed in the house and watched black and white TV on one of our three channels. Life got pretty busy for me after I learned how to drive.
I was seated in the back with the dog the day Dad taught one of my sisters how to drive the Jeep. She was probably about 13 at the time and I was the "smart aleck" little brother who already knew how to shift that vehicle. I watched as Dad carefully explained about giving it a little gas with your right foot and letting the clutch out with your left. "Not too fast…but not too slow either."
The Jeep was pretty short in the available torque department so it had a tendency to lurch and almost die and then lurch and then almost die again, causing the driver to also violently go back and forth making the problem with the pedals even worse. Over and over this went on while Dad practiced patience, something he had very little of, and he sat back and got out a cigarette and his lighter.
The lighter he had back then was more like a hand-held bonfire. When he would spin the wheel the entire top of the lighter would be engulfed in flames. He held it carefully by the bottom of the lighter. I know it didn't work correctly but it was effective in a strong wind. While my sister was trying to keep from killing the Jeep, Dad's hands went back and forth with the jerking of the Jeep while the fire licked his eyebrows and eyelashes, and the flame even temporarily cured his nose hair problem. It was the only time I ever saw Dad get a cigarette out, try to light it, and then put it back in the pack.
I've since decided that in these days, teaching young children to drive is not a good idea if you're concerned about the child. My reasoning comes from what my mom told my wife when she drew her aside almost 40 years ago and whispered, "Whatever you do, don't let either one of those two men teach you how to drive a truck. You'll be driving one the rest of your life." My wife took the advice to heart, so I taught my daughter how to drive the semi. You can't start them too young.


leeann said...

My stepdad tried to teach me to drive a manual shift. I think that's why I'm mostly deaf in my right ear.

Granny Annie said...

I don't understand why driver's education is not taught on a manual transmission.

Almost all of the grandchildren are lining up for their drivers licenses these days. One failed the written test two times and he is an honor student. One passed the written with flying colors and set for his permit. One got her license yesterday and San Diego is in big trouble!

My stepdaughter can drive any piece of construction equipment you put her on. She has always been a tiny little thing and the men would laugh until she out drove all of them.

I'm pretty sure we all could have guessed that Marilyn was smart enough to recognize the wisdom your mother imparted.

Ralph said...

Cliff as much as I would have liked to seen you driving while looking through the vent door, I would have paid good money to see your Dad with that lighter.

EV said...

Wow, good post. Another fun trip down memory lane - lurching and all. Thanx.

Lanny said...

My sides hurt from laughin' so stinkin hard. Your story is great and the icing on the cake are all the memories it prompts in my head. I miss old fashioned lighters, the way they whir and then click closed, the smell that is pretty much their own. Bein' able to smoke in the car with your kids in it is about as much crazy talk these days as lettin' your eleven year old drive. I don't like to think that my asthma has anything to do with second hand smoke 'cause my favorite thing to do was hang out with my dad and drink in all the aspects of his habit of smokin' among many other things about him. Not real sure I'd trade those memories and feelins for easy breathin' even if I could.

Did it take you a while to sit up while drivin' when you finally were tall enough?

Dan said...

Cliff taught me to drive a manual trans on my 57 Ford Fairlane that he helped me restore when I was 14. 3 on the tree, I'll never forget that. Of course I was driving years before that. I can remember hitting 70 mph on a corn field road in a 2 wheel drive pickup at around 13 years old with my good friend in the passenger's seat, he is now a cop here in Lincoln.

Peter said...

Ah the memories tales like this bring back from the depths of our past!!
I've never heard of anyone learning to drive while peering through the vent of a Jeep before.

Jerry in Indiana said...

This post brought back great memories. I was self-taught how to drive at the age of 13. We just had too many vehicles and not enough drivers. Dad told me to drive the old Ford sedan back to the other end of the farm. That was my instruction. After nearly backing into the barn, I figured it out. Have been driving ever since.

Paul Nichols said...

I started driving at age 12. I was really 11, but please don't tell my folks.

We also had a white Cocker Spaniel named Taffy.

This was a terrific post. Enjoyed it very much. Can see every bit of it.

Rachel said...

I sure did enjoy reading this Cliff! Brought back memories of us on the farm. Learning to drive on the farm is the best place of all, not many things to hit out in the open fields!

I wish I could have seen you looking out the vent with the dog in the passenger seat!!

I'm sure everyone reading this in the Midwest Producer will be smiling as they read it!! Well done!!

Janell said...

You reminded me of a time I was riding in the back seat of a '69 Chevy with my sister and Dad while he was teaching her to drive an automatic. He said, "You're going to want to shift it sooner than it shifts itself, but just leave it alone." That phrase had come back to me over the years in things not related to driving.

And I LOVED your link to the Mickelson story. What an amazing contrast between respectability and the lack thereof!

Shannon said...

See, that is why I DON'T drive the trucks. Ignorance is bliss.

Jim said...

Hey Cliff, I left a comment here a year ago. I hope I didn't say anything bad did I?

I taught Lois how to drive but Dad thought he did about a year later. I have only taught females to drive for some reason.

I barely can remember your Jeep. Was it yellow and green? :)

Lucy Stern said...

To this day, I still drive a stick...All of my kids learned on a stick and they can drive anything... Now, I was `6 years old before my mom ever let me near the steering wheel, but I am a good driver...

Great Story, Cliff.....

LZ Blogger said...

I am not sure I have heard this story (or not) Cliff... but I have no trouble at all believing it... especially that last paragraph! ~ jb///

Lee said...

Good story, Cliff.

I think parents of today wrap their kids of today in too much cotton wool. Speaking for myself, I reckon we had it better way back then in so many way.