Underage Driving

When I was 12, I drove a pickup truck.  True story.  Even better, I had an accident.

In 1977, we went to visit my grandparents in Humboldt, Minnesota.  Humboldt is a kind of place that has plenty of room.  Not only that, it is safe.   Kids could wander through the very few dirt roads without parents and try to find something to do in a very sleepy town.

Grandpa (Harvey Diamond) would often invite grandkids to come to the farm.  Sometimes he would have small jobs for us (like picking things up) or perhaps bringing out some food or drink to the tractors in the field.  Over time the jobs would get bigger.  There was machinery to be driven including cultivators, and grain trucks.

One thing you need to keep in mind is there is always a limited supply of drivers for the grain trucks.  During the farming year, you really only need a few farmers due to the amazing amount of automation.  However, after harvest, there is a need to haul massive quantities of grain (or other crops) in a short period of time.  The weather does not stay good forever (remember bitter winters) and crop prices can change quickly.

This means that every available driver in the family has to help.  This includes grandkids (in their teens).

Now, I cannot say what the motive was but Grandpa decided that it was time that I learn how to drive.  These were pretty exciting times for me.

Grandpa took us to a field that needed cultivating, put me and my cousin James in the two pickups, gave us some basic instructions, and as I remember him saying “I let them loose”.  I had the green pickup that was Grandpa’s main work truck.  It was a Ford automatic with a shifter on the steering wheel.

Ford Pickup circa 1973

The included picture is not the pickup itself.  It’s the closest I could find on the web.  Grandpa’s version was more like a deeper green with a single color.  (Most of the pictures I found showed nature reclaiming the Fords from that era)

Grandpa and his son Dennis started plowing up the field starting from the outside.  James and I were ready to get going.  James had his Dad’s Chevy pickup.  If I remember this correctly, James was the driver and was also five years younger than me.  They start early on the farm.

James was first to go since I was still not sure this was okay.  I remember staring at everything and thinking Grandpa must be crazy to trust me with his work truck.  Eventually I worked up enough confidence to pull the shifter into drive with the brake engaged.  Letting the brake off, I was surprised to find the pickup moving forward.  I had thought that it would not move forward until you hit the gas.  Another one of the grown up mysteries revealed.

I experimented with the gas pedal to quickly realize that I was pressing it too hard.  With an instant adrenaline rush, I was hooked.  After a few circles around the center of the field, I was getting the hang of steering and also avoiding the only other truck that could cause an accident.  The tractors were far away and the field turned out to be a very safe place to learn.  It is kind of like going to a parking lot with a teenager.  On the farm, you only have lots of field and very little to hit.

I noticed that James was mastering it much faster than me and also going a bit faster.  I decided not to be so cautious and try a bit more speed.  No wonder so many people find driving fun.

James had found a dip in the field that if you hit it just right at the correct speed, you could almost go a bit airborne.  That looked a bit naughty but at this stage I was willing to give a go.  I didn’t clear the ground but it was a rush to feel a sudden down and then up.

I don’t know how much time passed.  We had the best time.

Eventually Grandpa told us that we needed to get off the field.  They had plowed under almost the whole field and they needed to do the section that we were on.

Wow! Now we get to drive on real dirt roads!  This was incredibly exciting for my 12 year old self.

I exited the field and turned right on the one lane dirt road.  There were stories of my Uncle Dennis having an accident in the ditch when he was a young driver.  I tried to be careful.  I would call it hyper reality when everything slows down and everything seems incredibly new.

Soon, I realized that I was coming up to a T intersection.  I would have to turn.  Then something happened that was completely unexpected.  TRAFFIC!!!  Another pickup truck crossed the intersection on the other road.

My mind panicked.  I was not prepared for driving with other drivers on the road by myself.  I had to somehow turn around and get back to the field.

But how?  There was no place to just turn around due to the deep ditches around the road.

I decided the best bet would be to use the T intersection.  I moved up and turned left.  Then, shifting the gear to reverse, I started going back.  I couldn’t see real well where the road was due to the tailgate (and lack of experience).

Clunk!!  The pickup slipped into the deep ditch between the two roads.  I don’t remember what I thought at the moment but I do remember the shear panic.

One of the first thoughts to enter my head was “My Grandpa is going to be really, really mad”.

I tried moving forward again by shifting it into Drive but the wheels just spun.  The pickup was at a 45 degree angle.  In fact, the pickup was stuck on the undercarriage on the side of the road.

Realizing I couldn’t get the pickup out of the ditch, I ran back to my Grandpa in the field.  I must have looked pretty worried.  I told Grandpa what had happened and he just smiled and said that he would get his tractor and pull out the pickup truck.  He took the tractor to the T intersection, hooked up the pickup with some chain, and pulled it out of the ditch.

Not only did he not get mad at me but he also made me feel like it was just a mistake and that it was okay.

My story joined Dennis’ story in the family history.

I’ll never forget how good Grandpa was about this accident.  He was always such a kind thoughtful person.  He showed it in everything he did.

For years afterward I didn’t like backing up around ditches.  Things worked out eventually :).

In later years I was entrusted to drive the grain trucks when I was there on summer holiday.  The training paid off!


2 thoughts on “Underage Driving

  1. Trish,

    Thanks! I didn’t realize how much fun I would have writing this story. It was great to finally get it down on paper.

    I’ve remembered since then that the other pickup had my cousin Chris Jerome as well. I also remember that we had some kind of mini race around the field. It was like a taste of being grown up while still having the innocence of being young. Some of the images are still so vivid in my mind.

    You are so right. These memories make up our lives.

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