The Washington Times-Herald

December 10, 2011

Reliving those driving lessons

By Gregg Sims
Washington Times-Herald

WASHINGTON — While many of you have been lamenting driving 45 or less through the ongoing construction work on U.S. 50 for I-69, those moments have often taken me back to the days of learning to drive.

Tall embankments of dirt that left U.S. 50 feeling more like the bottom of an uncovered tunnel, took me back to the days of driving on temporary roads made for the convenience of strip mines in Pike County.

Those embankments even had some darker looking shale along their sides. It was almost enough to make me feel as though the highway cranes were actually large mining shovels with buckets big enough to scoop entire city blocks of dirt with each bucket.

My father taught me early that if you knew the general direction you were traveling, you could find you way back to where you wanted to go no matter what type of road you were traveling.

He often made those points while driving on county roads in a 1961 Ford Falcon turned into a truck that eventually became the Ranchero line. I’m not certain if that vehicle, which we used at the family’s hardware store, was an actual Ranchero, but it certainly was a Ford Falcon all the way down to its vacuum wiper blades.

We would travel out to the country, and after a certain time, I became the navigator in training. It was my job to pay attention to where we had been, where we were attempting to go, and generally speaking, how to get there.

Part of those trips would be through gravel roads constructed by the strip mines. That was fairly easy because there weren’t that many choices. All the same, it was good training.

Those roads also provided my first driving experiences. It was really racy for a 14-, or so, year-old to be driving the old six-cylinder with three on the column down those roads.

Sunday afternoons were my day to shine. Certainly the days were much brighter after I learned that the vehicle went forward when you applied enough gas while letting out the clutch with a certain amount of smoothness and togetherness in a time frame that wasn’t rushed, yet wasn’t all that slow all the same.

There was a certain feeling of being alone with those huge banks of dirts surrounding the path. The second lesson was that you never really expected to see anyone else, but at the same time, you had to expect to see another car, or truck, as you drove around each blind corner.

I took my driving test in that car/truck. It was raining, and yes it was hard enough to always keep those vacuum wipers a step behind. But I passed, even the parallel parking in a truck.

As time passed, those roads became a location for potentially impressing my female classmates and younger with my world-class driving ability. I had a friend with a 1940s Ford, and we would supposedly race through the spoil banks with passengers aboard.

We never got that close, and in case you are wondering, I met my wife in college several years later. So much for the big impressions made.

The construction continues on, and with an overpass beginning to stretch from south to north, U.S. 50 is slowly beginning to lose those feelings.

Still, with each trip through embankments, I can’t help but remember days filled with learning to drive and the patience of a father.

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Gregg Sims has never been a professional driver or racer, despite spending a few nights just north of Winslow potentially exceeding posted speed limits. In fact, most who know him wonder how he got a license to drive in the first place. Write him at gsims@washtimesherald.com