Then I Tried to Drive It


Ross gave me his old truck while he was home during his leave between finishing his two years of nuclear power school and reporting to his submarine in Norfolk. There were several things wrong with it, notably faulty steering (needed a new gear box), no rear brakes (uhhhh!!!), and a radiator in need of replacement. I turned the truck over to my cousin and his mighty mechanic, Peewee, who does all the work on my vehicles, while I worked on the registration, insurance, and license plate. Yesterday, it was done–all fixed, all legal, all inspection stickered up, so Weston and I went to pick it up. He drove my Explorer home while I drove the truck.

I anticipated that the most dangerous part of this operation would be that I was letting Weston drive my Explorer. I had temporarily forgotten that the truck is a manual. My first car was a stick shift. It was a Toyota Tercel. Blue. Little. Brand new. It looked so cute on the car lot in Orange, California. I was 17 years old. My dad bought the car for me. We (or mostly he) picked it out, he wrote a fat check, then he told the car salesman to show me how to operate a stick shift and he went home.


You didn’t miss the part about Orange, California, did you? As in, Orange County, California. In case you don’t know, this is a highly congested area with wide avenues of six or seven lanes, complex interstates, and fast drivers.

The car salesman put me at the wheel, took me around the lot, instructed me on shifting gears, and said, bye, moving on to his next customer.

Getting home that day was one of the most terrifying drives of my life.

I kept that car for six or seven years. My next car was an automatic transmission and I’ve never looked back. Of course, I became quite adept and accustomed to driving a stick shift while I had that car, but that was a long time ago. Yesterday, I got behind the wheel of Ross’s old pickup and remembered that it was a stick shift. I knew there was some “trick” to starting it, but I couldn’t quite put the whole picture together and finally had to go get my cousin. Like my dad abandoning me at the car lot, he’d simply handed over the keys and gone back to his easy chair.

After he re-taught me how to start a vehicle with a manual transmission, I was ready to roll. There are two ways to get home from my cousin’s house–one involves getting on the two-lane state highway for most of the way and the other way is a shorter but slower back roads route. I decided I should really take me and my rusty stick shift skills in the less-trafficked direction, and besides, did I really want Weston driving my Explorer on the two-lane highway? So we set off, Weston driving behind me. I was feeling it. I was driving a truck! With “REDNECK” emblazoned on the back window! I’m a farmer now! I was shifting gears, drawing out my long-lost manual transmission skills. This was fun! I could hardly wait to go to the little store to pick up feed or fencing supplies IN MY TRUCK!

Then, oh yes, THEN I got to this funky intersection about halfway to my farm. It’s a four-way intersection of two very rural one-lane roads. This would all be perfectly fine except that the four directions of the intersection are not evenly spaced. The turn I have to make here is very tight, like doing a jack knife. I’m accustomed to making this turn in my Explorer, but the truck is a little bigger, a little longer, and handles differently. I didn’t make the turn tight enough. If you don’t make the turn tight enough, you have to go for a three-point turn. This requires going in reverse.

Did I mention that on one side of this four-way intersection, there is a steep drop-off with no guard rails? And on the other side, there is a steep cliff going up, with a ditch between the road and the cliff? I was in the middle of the intersecton facing the cliff going up and the ditch. Behind me was the steep drop-off. I tried to shift into reverse.

The truck moved forward.

I tried to shift into reverse again.

The truck moved forward.

I was so close to the ditch at this point, I knew that if I made one more mistake shifting into reverse, the truck was going to nose straight into the ditch, or the cliff, or both.

I knew where reverse was, I just couldn’t shift into it for some reason and by this time, I’d lost confidence and was scared of going into the ditch, from which I would have to be pulled out.

Weston pulled over and parked. “You should call Ross,” he said. “Ross would know if there’s something weird about shifting into reverse. It was his truck.”

Me: “ROSS IS EIGHT HOURS AWAY. I DON’T CARE WHAT HE HAS TO SAY ABOUT SHIFTING INTO REVERSE.” I was in a slight panic. “I NEED A PERSON!!!! RIGHT HERE!!!!” I called my cousin on my cell phone.

I sat in the intersection with my foot on the brake, not sure how to safely turn off the truck because every time I tried to take my foot off the brake, it inched forward even though I was in neutral and had engaged the emergency brake. I worked on finding my favorite radio station, learning how to turn on the lights, and finding the window washers. It took me five minutes to figure out how to turn off the window washers once I got them on.

My cousin arrived, told me how to turn it off properly, told me to get in his car, and drove the truck on to my farm.

Whereupon it shall not move again EVER.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on May 17, 2012  

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27 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 5-17

    What a BEAUTIFUL truck!! We live in the U.P. of Michigan…that truck would come in very handy. Loved your story, and oh, by the way, Practice Makes Better!!

  2. 5-17

    :fairy: After all the time and money spent to get it road worthy i know you’ll manage to conquer this demon! :) Just NEVER take it to your cousins!! lol

  3. 5-17

    The problem with that truck is quite obvious. There is no gun rack in the rear window. No wonder it doesn’t behave.

  4. 5-17

    Nope, that truck won’t move again EVER. At least not until you want or need to go somewhere in it!!!!! :yes: It’s just a pickup truck!!! Drive that puppy like you mean it and show it who’s boss. I learned how to drive on Daddy’s farm truck. Manual on the column, long bed, 3/4 ton pickup. Oh, did I say it was red? I’d sit with my foot on the clutch (and brake) and practice going through all the gears. Before you know it, you’ll be a pro driving YOUR truck. Have fun!!

  5. 5-17

    Aww…come on, Suzanne. You can do this. You need this truck. It can be part of your advertising for the farm. Get a pair of those vinyl magnet deals with your farm logo on them…or better yet-have the painter lady paint Sassafras Farm and some cute pix on the truck. Don’t let that truck get the best of you. You and Morgan can practice on the place or up and down your road. Turn this painy truck into an asset.

  6. 5-17

    My mom bought me a truck for my 17th birthday. It also was a stick. I never once drove it. If I couldn’t borrow my mom’s van, then I paid my friends to drive it for me. When I went to college, I traded that sucker in on an automatic Buick Century. I LOVED that car!

  7. 5-17

    You are all over it!! Drive the cr*p out of that thing, haul stuff like the farmer you are!! what you need are some racks around the bed so you can haul sheep, goats, pigs, whatever!! You are a FARMER girl!!! You have beat more than this crazy beautiful check

  8. 5-17

    Jeez, get a gun rack, put some racks on it to haul animals and USE IT! A bedliner would be nice too.
    DH always insisted on a stick, but before he died he got me an automatic (I had just had replacement knee surgery so knee was still tender), I LOVE IT!!!

  9. 5-17

    I know it wasn’t too funny at the time but it sure did make for humorous reading! I learned to drive a stick when the ex husband bought a standard transmission truck and we only had one vehicle. It was time to grocery shop and he wouldn’t take me to the store (26 miles). I ground every gear that truck had but I learned!
    You will have reverse figured out soon and that truck will be piled high coming home from the feed store!
    Good luck!

  10. 5-17

    :wave: It’s not the going forward! Anybody can go forward! There are few things in life I thank my ex-husband for. Teaching me to drive by taking me to the top of a hill on a wild twisty country road – then turning the driving over to me with the words, “back it down” is one of them. I must have backed his stick shift pickup down that road two dozen times before he was satisfied with my driving. “Now you can go forward,” he told me. :lol: Take your lovely new truck to the top of a quiet hill behind the farm, and ‘back it down’ until you OWN it! You CAN do this :happyfeet:

  11. 5-17

    It’s not just a little intimidating learning to drive a standard (stick shift) vehicle, it’s A LOT intimidating. I remember the first stick shift I owned. I was VERY nervous the first few days of driving. I have owned 3 stick shifts in my life, drive one now, but this will most definitely my last one. I’m getting too old to shift gears! Get out there and drive the tires off it. It will get easier and who knows, you may love it. :happyflower:

  12. 5-17

    Shoulda parked it next to the tractor. :devil2: Come on Suzanne!!! If you keep getting equipment you can’t drive, “THEY” are gonna revoke your farmer cred. :bugeyed: . Get in that #@@%& thing, take it out in your field and try and get it stuck! Just don’t go anywhere near a cliff or deep ditch, ’cause then you might have to use the tractor… GOOD LUCK!! You can Whip that :dancingmonster: thing!!! :snoopy:

  13. 5-17

    Oh, I can soooo relate to so much of this story! My daddy gave me his used Fiat coupe for my 16th birthday~~~in Los Angeles (Montebello, to be exact). And yes, it was a stick shift. And no, I didn’t know how to drive it. Heck, I had only had my license about a week when I went out there to bring it home. 5 days and several scary episodes later (think rolling backward down a hill that ended in a freeway off ramp :bugeyed: , etc.) I drove that little car home to Phoenix accompanied solely by my then 13 year old brother!! You can do this, Suzanne. Go somewhere with no traffic and no cliffs and just drive in all directions. You’ll be fine in no time and then make that trip to the feed store!!!

  14. 5-17

    That is not the answer to the problem, YOU have to get to the place where you can drive the truck just like you have to learn to drive the tractor. Is that the problem with the tractor also, it is a stick?
    Keep trying, you’ll get it and master all those driving things.

  15. 5-17

    If you’re a real red-neck you’ll get back on that horse! :). I love driving standard and I know you will too once you’ve mastered it!

  16. 5-17

    Drive around in the cemetery. Around and around. That’s where I cut my teeth on a stick shift. After I mastered cemetery driving I graduated to the Sears parking lot, after hours, of course. I’m so glad I learned to drive my little Datsun because then I met the man of my dreams who had a Corvette with manual transmission. After our wedding we switched cars because he worked further away, and wasn’t I hot snot driving to work in my new Corvette. (smile)

  17. 5-17

    Do you have a big ol’ empty parking lot around there somewhere? Like a department store when it’s closed, maybe? Then you could get someone who knows how to drive a stick drive the truck there, and you could drive around where there’s nothing to drive into or over, until you feel confident. ‘Cause you are gonna do this thing. You aren’t a quitter, we know.

    I learned to drive a stick in my boyfriend’s 1950 Chevy pickup, and once I’d learned to drive that, I felt like a could drive ANYTHING. Of course, it had the advantage that it was well nigh indestructible; it was built like a tank, and steered like one, too.

  18. 5-17

    I’m sorry – I know you were terrified, but I thought it was hilarious! Took me wayyyy back to my days in San Francisco when I drove a manual – oh, those horrifying stop signs at the TOPS of the hills! I just knew I would back into the car behind me when I had to move again! Get back in that beast and drive!!!

  19. 5-17

    Heh. I’ve been driving a manual pickup for years now. I love my truck, but my heartbeat still comes to a standstill when I come to a stop sign or traffic light where the truck will have to stop on an uphill slope. I’ve never mastered that trick, but I DO have the art of the “rolling country stop” down to a science.

    And it took me a few weeks to figure out how to put that beast in reverse. The first time I got stuck I had to swallow my pride and ask a stranger for help. It’s nerve-wracking, but you can do it!

  20. 5-17

    Suzanne, in all seriousness, one of the evil things about standard shift driving is that every different clutch “catches” at a different point in its pedal travel. Learning to drive a stick in one vehicle won’t make it a snap to drive smoothly in another, especially years later. Some of the comments above are spot on. You need to practice. Drive that truck around in a safe area, stopping and starting and stopping and starting, until you get a feel for the clutch catch point. To make matters worse, I have found that trucks — even small pickup trucks — have clutch properties worse than cars. But you’ll catch on. You did it once, you can do it again.

    To Nana Ellen: that’s a great story. I was a driving teacher for a year before joining the Air Force. I could have used that trick a few times. We only had to teach the “K Turn”.

    Now, in order to get a CDL (commercial license) you have to do something similar to your story but using only the mirrors. Look back once and you’re failed (I have a Class B CDL — good for buses and large non-tractor-trailer trucks). And now I’d like to try driving a truck with a range selector and a splitter. Loads of fun!

  21. 5-17

    I know you won’t give up that easy! As the saying goes “get back on your horse”…just like riding a bicycle, it will all come back to you. I have faith in you :)

  22. 5-17

    Cousin Mark taught me to drive a stick with his 1982 VW Rabbit in MORGANTOWN, WV!!!!! One of the hilliest cities with the craziest drivers this side of San Francisco. Suzanne – take that truck to Morgantown on a ballgame Saturday this fall and you will be an expert in no time! LOL

    You will do fine around here. :shimmy:

  23. 5-17

    So many memories associated with this blog. I learned to drive a stick (think gearshift on floor). I never did master the art of shifting into 2nd at the correct time.

    I agree “practice makes perfect”

  24. 5-17

    Suzanne, you aren’t seriously going to let a stinkin’ truck beat you, now are you? You are a FARMER! You are a WOMAN! Let me hear you ROAR!!! After all you have been through? Nah, that truck doesn’t stand a chance. Tame it, girl! Bring it on!!! :yes:

    Pat in Eastern NC

  25. 5-18

    I love this blog, so much fun reading all the posts-you guys are hilarious!

    I was four months pregers, and my husband had been drafted, and I didn’t know how to drive :/ We had a 67 Chevy four on the floor-I mastered that bad boy because I had to! You’re gonna do just fine-get back on the horse and ride!

  26. 5-18

    The only way you are going to learn is to get in that truck and drive it again. You got a big farm drive it around there. Practice going up hills, and getting it in reverse. Go down your little road where there is not much traffic. Do this daily and you will get your confidence back. Its not as hard as you think. Just different. If you can operate a farm, bake, clean, clean up animal poo you can drive that truck. Go on get in it and go. :)

  27. 5-18

    You crack me up, lady.

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