Monday, July 12, 2010

Learning to Drive

This past Friday my wife and I visited the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, NY. Our day vacation had the goal of seeing the countryside and satisfying my desire to review the history of aviation and motorcycle development in the Fingerlakes. The drive was pleasant, the lunch excellent and the museum stay intriguing. Along with boat, buggies, planes, motorcycles and bicycles their were some vintage automobiles. I was especially taken by a 1940 Buick Special coupe. See photo above. This triggered a memory of learning to drive with a standard shift 1939 Buick Special owned by my parents. Since I grew up on a farm I was introduced to driving a vehicle at an early age. My first experience was basically to steer a 1930 Model A stake body truck in a field while my dad loaded it with cabbage or other produce. The truck would idle along in low gear and I was instructed to turn the key off in case of need to stop immediately. I don't think I could reach the clutch at that time. Later on I learned to clutch and shift gears and drive on the farm roads. By the time I was 13 I had graduated to driving the 1939 Buick. Standard shift of course.

Glenn Curtiss was bicycle manufacturer first and moved on to motorcycles with a stage of motorizing a bicycle. As a youngster I was a tinkerer too. At age 14 I motorized my Schwinn balloon tired bicycle by mounting an old washing machine engine on the rear, rigging a spring pulley clutch to the drive belt and manually throttling the engine. I could manage about 16 miles per hour both up hill and down on the country roads. This was more learning to drive another vehicle. Of course tractor driving was another skill acquired on the farm with John Deere Model B tractor with a hand clutch and individual wheel brakes.

By the time I was 16 I was more than ready to obtain a driver's license. Passing the written test was a breeze. The road test was more challenging because I took the test with my brother's 1947 Chevrolet coupe that had something like a vacuum shift that was quirky. This was especially challenging when you had to stop on a hill, put on and release the hand brake without rolling backward. Fortunately I was successful on the first try.

I out grew my motorized bicycle and ended up with a Cushman motor scooter with about a 5 horsepower motor. Top speed of about 45 miles per hour. The scooter was easy to learn to drive and provided economical transportation, albeit somewhat dangerous. In my 30's I became interested in motorcycles and eventually received a license for motorcycle operation that I hold even today.

I think everyone has some form of adventure in the process of learning to drive. For many it is a traumatic and challenging adventure. For those of us that have had multiple children go through the learning to drive stage, we heave a sigh of relief when our youngsters master the rules of the road and skills to drive safely. Thankfully, I think all of my children/step children have learned good driving skills and so far, thank God, they have had just a few injury free accidents and one non life threatening injury.

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