Tricounty News

Learning to drive that old Model-T

By Elizabeth Cooper Mike

From the pen of Elizabeth Cooper Mike, Kimball Historical Society member in her book "The Girl From Stickney Hill, Kimball Prairie, Minnesota." (Reprinted with permission of the author.)

It was an old, black Model-T Ford, with no side curtains, three diamond-shaped pedals on the floor, adjustable windshield, and a gas tank under the front seat.

It was the car in which I learned to drive. My mother was my teacher. I was 14.

I remember well that summer when I got my license and learned to drive. My brother Jack was 13 in June and Daddy came home from town with a driver's license for him.

As I looked at Jack strutting around waving the license in the air, I thought, "Sure, boys get to drive. Girls don't."

But my mother had other ideas. She grabbed her coat and said, "Come on, Elizabeth." She cranked up the car and we sailed down the road at about 15 miles an hour, past the neighbors working in the fields and always gawking at Muddy's driving because none of their wives drove a car.

In fact, when I was younger, Daddy reported to the family at the dinner table one night that the neighborhood men had sent a representative to talk to my father about letting his wife drive.

"As if anyone could stop your mother from doing what she wanted," my father said looking around the table and laughing that deep amused chuckle he had that made us all smile with him.

Besides, he pointed out, it was handy to have two drivers in the family. He could stay in the fields while she did the shopping, went for replacement parts for broken-down machinery, and carted us kids around places.

When we arrived in town that day, we went to some kind of official where my mother filled out a paper, paid 25 cents, and assured the man she would teach me to drive.

The man said, "Lyda, I know you've been buzzing around between town and your farm for quite a while now, so I guess you can do it. But you know that's mostly a man's job."

My mother smiled and said, "Bill, you're 'an old stick-in-the-mud.'"

She grabbed my hand and we went out and got in the car. When we were well out of town going north on Highway 15, she stopped the car and came around to where I was sitting. "Move over. You're driving the rest of the way home."

I slid over behind the steering wheel, hardly knowing what I was doing, trying to remember to keep my feet on the right pedals and stepping on the gas at the right time and not the brake. I gripped the wheel for "dear life" while Muddy fiddled with the levers on the steering column, adjusting something she called the spark.

The car jerked and sputtered a few times until finally I was driving down the road at a steady 10 miles an hour. Past the Benson place, I turned left onto the narrow, dusty dirt road that would lead to the farm after about four miles.

Then I met my first car coming down the road toward me. I couldn't take my eyes off the car as it came nearer and nearer heading right for me, me frozen behind the wheel and still stepping on the gas.

"Brake! Brake! Hit the brakes," Muddy yelled, grabbing the wheel and turning the car. We stopped with two wheels in the shallow ditch at the side of the road, my mother breathing heavily, and me still gripping the wheel.

Herbie Yanisch, a young man I sometimes thought I could be interested in, waved wildly and edged his car around us, a big grin on his face.

"Learning to drive, are we?" He leaned out the side of his car grinning in my face. I was totally humiliated listening to his laughter as he drove on down the road.

I had regained my confidence by the time we came to the steep little hill, about a mile from the farm, which was hard to get up if the car was low on gas, so I pushed the gas pedal down, gathering speed, hoping to get up the hill before the gas all ran to the back of the tank. The car chugged to a stop half-way up.

With Muddy's hand on the wheel and me hanging on tight, I backed down the hill without going in the ditch. Going forward a little, backing up a little, many times, Muddy finally managed to turn the car around. Then she backed slowly up the hill. She turned the car around again and I triumphantly drove home.

The next day we went to town again. My mother said, "Come on, Elizabeth. You need the practice."

And down the road we went. When we were passing the neighbor's driveway, Muddy said, "Oh, I meant to tell you to turn in here."

I said, "Here we go." And turn I did.

Right into the big oak tree that grew just past the driveway. The front end of the car hit the tree with a big bang and we came to an abrupt halt, me still hanging on to the steering wheel, ready to cry and give up driving forever.

"That's the wishbone hanging down there," Muddy said, looking at the damage, and your dad can fix it, and she marched back up the road to our farm.

A very silent Daddy hitched up the team of horses and without a word or a look in my direction, pulled the car home. My father

always said he could fix anything with "bailing wire and binder twine" and whatever he did, the car was in running order by afternoon.

Muddy said, "Get in. You're driving back to town."

"I can't," I wailed. "I'll never drive again. I almost hit a car yesterday and I didn't get up the little hill and now I've run into Nothnagel's tree and knocked out the wishbone." I pulled out a handkerchief and wiped my eyes. "I'll never drive again."

"When you fall off a horse," my mother said, "you dust yourself off and you get right back on." She climbed into the passenger seat of the car. "Get behind that wheel and drive."

And drive I did. I drove to Kimball that hot summer day in 1932, and I've been driving ever since.

* * * * * * *

The Kimball Area Historical Society truly appreciates your friendship and support from renewing membership and becoming a new member to attending our special events, volunteering where needed, and your continued generous tax-deductible donations for the preservation of Kimball's historic City Hall. Our Historical Society is the project director and fundraiser for this project, and we thank you again for your past and future support to preserve this national landmark on Main Street.

Coming soon: The 2009 annual "Supper in the Park" is Friday, Aug. 7. All weekend the newest and oldest treasures for your enjoyment will be at our ninth annual Kimball historic exhibition in none other area than Kimball's historic and magnificent City Hall. We're now finishing up Phase 4 and beginning Phase 5. This is all part of the Kimball Days Festival, Aug. 7, 8 and 9.

And don't forget Saturday morning, Aug. 8, coffee and rolls/juice at Audrey's 30 So. Main St. Coffee Nook for you early-birds, open at 7 a.m. Join the celebration.

Watch for special September and October events: Great genealogy and the unforgettable Armistice Day Storm Program, before the holiday social event.

* * * * * * *

For more information on any of the above, contact the Kimball Area Historical Society, PO Box 100, Kimball MN 55353, (320) 398-5743 or 387-5250, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .