Growing Up Pilgrim: Learning to Drive

Believe it or not, when I was learning to drive there was no Driver Ed available at my high school. My Dad showed me the basics of using a stick shift and a clutch (there was no automatic back in the Dark Ages) and on our way back from Cape Cod one weekend, he told me I could get behind the wheel of our Buick station wagon.

I remember cruising down the two lane highway, wind blowing my hair (no A/C in the cars then either), and the tremulous voice of my Mom in the back seat, “Don’t you think she’s going a little fast, John?”

“Noelle,” replied Dad, “can you slow down a little? You’re going 80.”

our buick station 3agonI had to take that heavy Buick when I went to take my driver’s test. I remember coming out of the old Plymouth Court House with my examiner and getting behind the wheel. After starting the car, I put my foot firmly on the brake, released the parking brake and shifted into first. Then I stepped on the gas and gunned it. The examiner’s eyebrows went to the roof, but I just smiled as I slowly pulled away from the curb. I knew you had to rev it if the car wasn’t going to roll back into the car behind it.

20141123_112757_2_cropI had visions of having an old but serviceable car to drive to school, so imagine my surprise when I was presented with a Model B phaeton my Dad had seen in the garage of the house next to the Plymouth Yacht Club. The old woman who owned it had put 30 miles on the car and then stored it in her garage for 30 years. The only thing not surviving those years was the upholstery. Well…

It took some learning to get the Ford started – it had a crank but it was just easier to jump start it on our driveway, which was a quarter of a mile straight down. As I recall, I put the key in the ignition and turned it, pushed the spark advance lever on the left hand side of the steering wheel all the way to the top, moved the throttle lever on the right hand side of the steering wheel to its center position, and released the brake. As soon as the engine “caught,” the spark lever was moved back to its original position. The throttle lever was moved back more slowly, to get the engine purring – well, chugging.

The problem arose when I parked at the high school: there were no hills. I had to rely on fellow students to push me to get the car rolling. One day, I was late leaving and there was no one around…except for the small and round Miss Albertini, one of my teachers. I still can see her panting and pushing my car down the street in a dress and high heels!

Model B Ford PhaetonOf course, I drove the car to Plimoth Plantation when I was working there as a tour guide. Since there were no places to change into my Pilgrim dress, I had to wear it while driving the Model A. Wish I had a picture of that, but all the pictures were taken by the tourists when I parked in the lot at the Plantation.

My father sold the car to pay my tuition for my sophomore year in college. I still miss that car, and it’s my goal to have another Model B one day. I’d thought maybe my books would sell well enough that I could buy one, but I suspect that’s a pipe dream.

PS We named my car “The Untouchable,” an homage to Elliot Ness.





21 thoughts on “Growing Up Pilgrim: Learning to Drive”

  1. What a lovely car, you lucky woman! Even with the hassle. The first family car had a crank – thus would be 1959 – and mum who’d learnt to drive during the war and was used to trucks and armoured vehicles moving them around the country had no problem but dad could never manage it. He was embarrassed if we were out and she had to use it.

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