Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Driver's Education has been taught to teenagers for seventy-five years. The first driver’s ed class ever was taught in 1934 at State High in State College, Pa., by Amos Neyhart, an industrial engineering professor at nearby Penn State University.

While reading the Lawrence Journal World newspaper recently, there was an article about the program in Lawrence being fifty years old in this Kansas community.

"I was nervous,” says Stewart, who now is 88 years old. “My wife says it took me three years to get over my nerves and settle into it.”

Students no longer learn on standard transmissions. Stewart insisted on teaching the stick shift. “I was one of the old school,” he says. “I made sure they got both (standard and automatic).” He doesn’t think it’s a good idea to teach only automatic. “I still think it would be important because you have a little better understanding of what is happening with the car,” he explains. “You don’t get that with an automatic.”

His students didn’t always like it. He once had two girls almost in tears when he told them they’d be training on stick shift. “Oh, we’ll have fun,” he reassured them.

Sure enough, they did. They drove out clear south of town. The next time the girls had to go out, they requested the stick shift. Perhaps my children had him as a teacher.

When the paper said Driver's Ed in Lawrence, Kansas was fifty years old, I had to calculate just how long ago that was. Was it really that long ago? How can I remember the summer of 1960 and the lilac bush by the nun's house?

It seems as if Thief River Falls had two cars for this training. One was a blue 1960 Ford with an automatic transmission and the other a 1960 Chevrolet with a stick shift.

Mr. Edlund appeared to be in charge of the Ford and Mr. Adams had the Chevy with the chicken brakes.

Now, I hadn't driven much with a learning permit so I had no skills except a few hours on a tractor and riding lawn mower. What I expected out of my ordeal was the ability to drive without an accident and stay in my own lane. In other words, I expected to be a seasoned driver after just a few hours behind the wheel. If we had class room time, I do not remember it.

I did fine with Mr. Edlund. He was a soft spoken man and complimentary to turns well done. For example, he taught that every intersection as an imaginary man hole in the center and when making a left turn, one needs to 'find it' to make a proper turn.

Mr. Adams and the stick shift was a little different. I thought he told me to turn into the alley by the nun's house. What he meant was turn at the next intersection. We came to a halt under the lilac bush. I remember him trying to get the vehicle to stop using the brake he had on his side, commonly called the chicken brake.

Mr. Edlund taught us to start the turn into a parallel parking spot using an image of the end of the first car door. That is, when the car door matched up with the car in front of you, you made a tight turn to the right almost to the curb, when a tight turn to the left to get the car to place in the parking spot. Once in, you positioned your car in the center with wheels going forward. It is like a an "S". Oh, and remember to use your signal. Practice was held between two flags on a quiet street.

I would have liked to have Mr. Edlund as a teacher for a class during the winter months. He gave me visions to think about. I did have Mr. Adams for a science teacher and the only thing I remember is him slamming Gary against the lockers outside of the class room. He was more of a here-is-the-lesson-learn-it sort of teacher.

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