Like other typical farm boys in the 1950s and ’60s, Dad taught my brothers and me to drive in our fields as early as twelve years old. Perhaps I should say, “By the time we could reach the pedals and see over the windshield.” By age fourteen, I was driving our old 1949 Studebaker flatbed truck, picking up bales of alfalfa hay in our fields, and driving loads of wheat from the field to the house.
Most of you are probably not familiar with the Studebaker brand. They went out of business in back 1967, but were not even common to see before that. Studebaker was known for making some very ugly models with decent engines and beautifully styled cars with poor engines. They couldn’t seem to get it right. They were most successful at selling pickups and trucks. Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep them afloat.
Our truck, unlike modern cars and small trucks with manual transmissions, had unsynchronized gears. Synchronized means the transmission matches the speed of the turning engine to the speed of the vehicle’s wheels. This gave the matching gears a smooth transition. Therefore, in synchronized transmissions, you shifted from one gear to another, by pushing in the clutch and moving the gear lever. These days, new drivers will never have driven anything other than an automatic transmission, which doesn’t even require a clutch pedal.
Learning To Shift The Studebaker
Not so with our Studebaker. By a tricky method known only to us who are older than dirt or those who drive eighteen-wheelers, you manually have to match the engine speed to the speed of the gears to shift up or down. When first learning to drive it, I was only allowed to stay in first gear while Dad loaded hay onto the truck bed. I would steer from one bale to the next until the truck was loaded, and he took over driving it to the barn.
By age fifteen, I drove loads of wheat to the grain elevator. That old truck would reach a speed of seventy miles per hour, and I kept the “pedal to the metal” (all the way down) as much as possible. Local farmers on my route would routinely call my dad to complain about my recklessness. Dad would chastise me, but I would do it all over again. My love of driving fast outweighed the consequences of being dressed down for the infractions, and I never had an accident. Since I was needed to help with the harvest, I never got grounded, and the Studebaker truck survived.
Studebaker Truck Transformation
After I returned home from my government-sponsored all-expense paid trip to Vietnam, I converted the same truck into a pulpwood logging truck. I hired my brothers. Local farmers let us cut all the cottonwood trees we wanted for free. After several loads were sold and transferred to rail cars, my brothers decided it was far too much work and quit. For some decades after, that old Studebaker truck stood in a field south of the barn as a testament to my first truck driving experience and business venture. A tree later grew up through the engine compartment, creating a “Kodak moment” for my wife years later.
Oh, those fond memories of barreling down the road, bouncing on the springy seat, while hitting every pothole on an old, well-used road, with engine smells coming up through holes in the floorboard, looking through the dusty windshield at the Oklahoma countryside, hot wind blowing through the open window – life was sweet. Was I ever switched with a Mulberry branch? Sorry – I can’t remember that part.