The bucking was fierce. Back and forth, up and down. Then, as quickly as it began, it quit. Once again I failed to meet the challenge. But I was determined. Again and again, the bucking continued until I rode to the metaphorical buzzer.
I was thirteen years old and all I thought about was cars. In Texas, a drivers license was freedom from riding the bus to school every morning. And a Texas license was available at age fourteen. It was time to learn how to drive.
For several years, I’d watched Dad drive his old ‘57 Chevy pickup with ease: starting, shifting, braking. His use of the clutch was an art I hoped to learn. Our two family autos had a three-speed transmission with what is now called, three on the tree. We just called it a manual. The clutch was the trick and learning it was the challenge.
Summer Weekends were Family Time
We spent almost every weekend the summer of 1964 on Buffalo Lake—skiing, boating, and fishing. With both Mom and Dad working full time jobs during the week, the weekends were family time. Mom would get home first on Friday evening and begin preparations. When Dad got home, we would hook up the boat trailer to his pickup and then I cranked the handle down to the hitch on the ball attached to the rear bumper.
The drive to the lake took about an hour, then we set up the tent and launched the boat in plenty of time to watch the beautiful Texas Panhandle sunset. A little night-time fishing and then off to bed in our big Army-surplus tent.
On this particular weekend, Dad asked if I was ready to solo. I knew exactly what he meant and immediately agreed. The area around the lake was the perfect place to learn to drive, and Dad tossed me the keys to the pickup and said “Don’t hit any trees.”
His pickup was not the kind you see on magazine covers with brilliant paint jobs and plush interiors. No, this was Dad’s work truck. It was that strange bluish aqua color so popular in the late fifties. The interior was plain and well-worn, and smelled like a welder’s truck. Grease, welding rods, burned gloves, and there was normally a welding helmet on the floor board.
It was one of those days we dream about. The sun was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was still early enough in the season so the lake was not crowded. A perfect day to learn.
Determination Won the Day
I was determined that I would learn to drive the pickup that weekend. Coordinating the clutch and gas pedal more difficult then I expected. More gas, slower on the clutch … more bucking, and another stalled engine. Again and again, until finally …
The first time I got the pickup going without killing the engine, I crept along in first gear, slowly keeping the pickup in the ruts which ran through the trees. In some places, the tree branches reached out from the side of the trail, encroaching on the narrow set of tracks. Some of the trees were bois-d’arc, with branches of sharp, sword-like spikes reaching out to poke and scratch. Dad’s pickup suffered from that day under my control, but he didn’t mind. He spent most of the morning laughing loudly. I believe he was having as much fun watching as I was learning.
Finally, I was getting the right combination of gas pedal and clutch pedal to get the truck moving.
Then came the next goal… shifting into second gear. Another challenge to overcome, that took several
That weekend, I learned to drive a standard transmission without burning up the clutch and later, Dad would work with me on the back roads around the house to make sure I understood all that was involved in driving. Checking the mirrors, paying attention to the gauges on the dash (yes, gauges, not lights), and watching in all directions for the unexpected.
It was the best summer of my life.
My Life with Cars
Looking back, cars have played an important part in my life and this is one of the chronicles of my life. There will be more to come.