Learning to Drive on an Idaho Farm

Written by: Lance McIntosh (Brenda’s husband)

I grew up on a farm in a small farming community in southern Idaho. Learning to drive was quite the experience and obtaining a driver’s license was a bit crazy as I look back on it.

I was fourteen years old when I received my first driver’s license. Back then all you had to do was take a state approved drivers education course and pass the state driver’s exam. Today I believe you have to be 14 ½, get a Supervised Instruction Permit, take the drivers ed course, and pass the exam(s). I guess they feel that those six months between fourteen and 14 ½ generate a lot of advanced skills and knowledge!

I think one of the reasons we weren’t required to have a supervised permit was because most of us had been driving for years. My first recollection of driving was when I was too short to reach the brake and throttle pedals on my dad’s pickup truck. He would often take me when he was feeding our range cattle, which happened to be every day in the winter. He knew if he had me with him that he could position the truck on a slight downhill slope, put it in gear, and I could steer the truck fairly straight until he finished throwing out the hay bales from the truck’s bed. Later he installed a hand throttle so I could control the speed somewhat. There’s a whole story about a broken ankle that goes along with the hand throttle.

Farm Hand at 8

Not long after this, my dad started having me help him with the farm implements. Farm implement is a fancy way of saying a tractor or combine. Our farm consisted of multiple locations so my dad would often have to move equipment from one field to another, sometimes requiring driving on paved roads and through neighborhoods of actual people. Okay, so it was quite rural, and the houses were mainly some distance apart but there were still people driving the streets and living in the houses.

Why does this sound strange, you ask? Well, because my dad would put me on the tractor, put it in gear, and jump down. While he drove his pickup, I would use the hand throttle in order to control the speed. He had to put it in gear because I wasn’t tall enough to reach the clutch or brake pedals. I was able to reach the kill switch which I would pull once I had driven to my destination. I sometimes think back on this experience and wonder what I would have done had I ever come upon a situation of a car or vehicle stopped in front of me.

Mini Enduro

My next driving recollection is receiving my brand new, Yamaha JT-1 Mini Enduro motorcycle for Christmas in 1970.

I had just turned eleven. This incredible gift opened up all kinds of new opportunities and adventures. I could go just about anywhere on the bike. I’m sure I put thousands of miles on it though I would never know for sure because it didn’t have an odometer. What it did have was 60CCs of butt kicking power and fun. Many of my driving skills from the Mini translated to skills in a car and also to my present-day hobby of mountain biking.

Now back to the time of being fourteen and taking drivers education. As I mentioned, most of my friends and associates had been driving for years so we came into drivers ed quite experienced, often to the irritation of our instructor. Our first day was spent driving around our small valley stopping at mailboxes. The goal was to stop so the mailbox was positioned perfectly next to our instructor, who was sitting in the passenger seat (and probably having his foot strategically ready to push the brake that the specially designed cars had installed). Most of us placed the mailboxes perfectly which created challenges like seeing how fast we could go and still getting the mailbox in perfect position. For some though, it was a constant challenge of stopping three feet too soon or four feet too late.

I believe we all passed the course with flying colors though for some (not me) it took several attempts to pass the written exam. I do recall that quite a number of our class had totaled vehicles within six months of us receiving our licenses. Perhaps that is why the requirement is now 14 ½. Again, those six months make a huge difference in our maturity.

So how does all of this tie into being a grandparent? Well, I’m not exactly sure. All of my grandparents had passed away by the time I was six. I never had the opportunity to learn from my grandparents other than learning to knit, croquet, and needlepoint from my Grandma McIntosh. My dad taught me the basics of how to drive. He started the pickup or the tractor, put them in gear, and sent me on my merry way down the roads or through the cattle. My dad was a wonderful man. I love and miss him dearly. But it would have been fun to have been able to spend time with my grandfathers and to have learned from them. If nothing else, writing this article has helped me think about spending more time with my grandsons, teaching them things that I feel are important and which will help them in their lives.

But I don’t think I’d better use my truck or the Mini Enduro. I could, however, use the riding lawnmower!