I grew up in Upstate New York on the family farm. We raised oats, hay, sheep and horses. At that time you could drive on the road at 14, if the vehicle you were driving had Farm Plates. (no actual paperwork was needed — and the county cops rarely patrolled the roads anyway). But the rule on the farm was different, if you were big enough to fully depress the clutch on the Tractor (by standing on it), you were big enough to drive it. Now my initial actual road driving was limited to a mile or so down the road from the farm to one of the leased fields we used for oats, and the traffic was basically non-existant. So, remember, the next time you are on the Ramble and stuck behind a Hay Wagon that’s using ¾ of the road and going 12 MPH, the 13 year old at the controls has that tractor flat out – as fast as it will go, has no turn signals, and is likely to turn left into a field at any moment, without checking to see behind him ( because he can’t see who’s there anyway over the 5 tons of hay in the wagon ).
Experience with the tractors led to being allowed to drive the other vehicles with farm plates, the WWll surplus Willis Jeep that served as the snow plow and did the trail clearing and the Ford Stake Bed, both with non- synchromesh transmissions. The Stake Bed was the most fun, not just because it had no muffler and made a great noise when opened up, it also meant driving a 20 minute trip alone into town to the Feed and Grain to pick up whatever had been ordered. The roads at the time were still gravel and in the late spring after they had been freshly grated, they were smooth as glass. Did you know that you could 4-wheel-drift a big (empty ) under powered truck? It’s amazing what you can do when you are young and stupid.
Actually getting a valid driver’s license would have to wait until I was 16 and home from school for the summer and had the time to study the rule book for the written test and practice driving in actual traffic. ( There were rules to learn ??? who knew ). The dreaded parallel parking test was never really a problem, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get tested on my ability to back a trailer. By that time I could not only back a trailer exactly where it needed to be on the first pass, I could back the 4 wheel Hay Wagon connected to the Bailer which was connected to the Tractor.
- Ted Shaw