Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 16, 2012

Lifelines: Some memorable driving adventures

By Terry Wooten

---- — I drove my first motorized vehicle when I was six years old.

This was before OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Mom needed a baby-sitter. Our teenage neighbors agreed to watch me while they were harvesting hay.

Mom dropped me off at the edge of the field. Her idea was I would ride on the hay wagon.

But the crew was short on help and needed a tractor driver. I was lifted up onto the seat of their grandpa's old Farmall.

The brothers put the faded red machine in a low gear and set the hand throttle on slow. My legs were too short to reach the foot pedals.

I steered zigzag through the hay bales while the big guys loaded the wagon. I only ran over a few bales. It was a frightening and exhilarating experience perched up there on top of the work force.

A few years later I graduated to dad's red pick-up. This time my job was to cut burdock out of the horse pasture.

The plant grows prickly, pink heads that turn brown and stick to horses' and cows' tails. I was given an ax, and a half hour demonstration on using the clutch and gas pedals. I stalled and hopped around the field all afternoon.

By the end of the day the burdock and the clutch were almost gone. I found out later dad's clutch was in bad shape to begin with. That's how I got the job.

I never was a teenage hotrod. My only reckless accident was speeding 20 feet backwards in Marion's park at a teen dance. I hit both chaperones' vehicles.

I bumped into half of the husband's pick-up and half of his wife's car. There was no damage, but I got quite a lecture.

Here are some other adventures in driving.

Leona Waffle Clark (84) Ellsworth

I started driving cars

when dad wasn't looking.

First I drove in the hayfields.

Dad had what I called,

"a creepy-geared truck."

I didn't know how many gears

were in the thing,

but I got to drive that.

Only problem was

it had a clutch.

I pulled a hay wagon

with men on top

trying to keep their balance

while pitching hay in corners

and keeping the load level.

One day I backed them up

right into a stone pile.

First time I took the "creepy-geared truck"

out on the highway

I did the same thing.

There were too many stone piles.

Bruce McLachlan (81) Elk Rapids

Dad would never allow me

to have a bicycle.

He said they were dangerous.

Don't know why?

We had no traffic on the road.

I started driving when I was twelve.

I was thirteen when dad

put me in the truck

and said, "You're going to haul cherries

to Elk Rapids."

The co-op building

was where the marina is now.

The bridge wasn't very wide.

If you met another truck,

one would stop

and let the other go by.

One day I started across the bridge

with a full load of cherries.

The other truck didn't stop.

There wasn't a cherry pit space

between us.

Ruby Wooten Keehn (90) Marion

We were a wild bunch,

but never did anything bad.

Bill Gray had a car

with a radio.

We'd pool our money

and go out to Church Bridge

to have a weenie roast.

We didn't drink beer.

It wasn't available.

We had hard cider.

I didn't like it.

I never drank,

but I danced on Church Bridge

to the car radio.

It was a big old iron bridge

over the Clam River.

Evelyn Sorenson (96) Onekama

Few people had cars,

and the ones who did

had isinglass curtains,

a metal that's very thin and transparent.

There were no heaters in cars,

so people had buffalo robes.

Buffalo had roamed the plains

and got killed off.

The furs

from these poor animals

were scattered all around the population.

Sitting in the back of somebody's car

I remember a buffalo robe over me.

It smelled so musty

It was hard to breathe.

First time I rode in a car with a heater

it was my dancing teacher's Chrysler

with warm air

flowing like music.

How deluxe.

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 28 years. He is the creator of Stone Circle. Learn more about him at