Learning to Drive a Stick Shift

Reader Contribution by Mary Carton
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Growing up Dad had a big old white Chevy truck that he used to haul cattle with. It also had a dump bed that he would haul silage from the field and dump in a pit behind the hay barn. The side boards would also come off for hauling hay. It was a five-speed straight shift, with a reverse and neutral settings. Plus, it had another little knob on the side of the stick shift with a cable running down through the floor board, that I never learned what it was for.

I seem to remember Dad using it to gear down on hills, but my memory is foggy on that one. We would ride over to Corinth, Mississippi to the cotton gin there to pick up a truck load of cotton seed hulls and cotton seed meal to feed the cows as they were being milked. We had a tie stall system then, sixteen on each side of the barn, with their heads locked in. A trough ran down in front of them for feeding.

We would walk in front to drag buckets of hulls from the feed room on each side, add a scoop of meal. Then we would go get a bucket of molasses from a 50-gallon metal barrel that was out in full sun and pour over the hulls and meal piled in front of each cow.

Before we left for Corinth, Dad use to say before every trip to take an extra pair of underwear with us. The road back then was two lanes, and full of hills. Dad used to pass on curves and hills all the way over and back.

When we got home our knuckles were white from holding on tight. After we got home we would unload half of the cotton seeds by shovel into one feed room on one side of the milk barn, and the other half into the feed room on the other side. After Dad’s knees got bad from all of the squatting up and down, he decided to go to a parlor type milking barn.

Six cows would come in on each side while he and my uncle where down in a pit where they could easily wash and put the milkers on and off. It meant going to a corn-based feed that fed by auger to each cow. So, no more shoveling of cotton seed hulls and no more white-knuckled trips to Corinth.

One day Dad decided to teach me how to drive the old truck so I could help in the hay field. He takes the stick and goes through the gears. “This is Lo, Lo,” while he puts it in first. He pushes it to 2 and says, “This is Lo.” Third gear was first, fourth gear second, and fifth gear third, while I’m telling him it says three, four and five on the stick.

First, he tells me to push on the clutch a put into first. I put it into first. “NO, NO, that’s Lo, Lo.”

“It says one,” I told him. That’s Lo, Lo. I put it in second.

“No, that’s Lo.” I put it in third and ease off of the clutch. We start off and after a while, he says put it in second, so I did. “NO, NO, that’s Lo again.”

“Well you said second.” I put it in fourth, and he was happy. Finally, after a while of this, I ask him to just get out and let me practice.

Years later, I decided to put a garage door opener on the door at the house I used to own in Muscle Shoals. I used two step ladders to get it installed by myself. Next time I visited my parents on the farm, I told Dad about putting up the opener. He asked why I didn’t call him. I mentioned the truck driving lesson. Also, he usually didn’t read manuals.

On the home front, we had snow in early February followed by temperatures in the seventies. I ran around Tuscumbia for about three hours until I decided to step on a loose piece of concrete by the depot and sprained my ankle. I’m still in a brace. Daffodils and star magnolias are blooming. Winter wheat is starting to green up and grow. Bluebirds are building nests in a few of my boxes. Farmers need to get corn into the ground but haven’t been able to plow their fields.

We have been getting lots and lots of rain. I had over seven inches in the last week, and around three inches are expected this weekend. TVA has opened most of the spillways of nearby Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River in Muscle Shoals. The pelicans and gulls have been eating well. A waterfall was running off of the bluff at the Rattlesnake Saloon west of Tuscumbia. I’m surprise the Hooligans haven’t grown a fungus, as they are out in the rain a lot instead of going in their garage.

I was the photographer for the Jake Landers Bluegrass Festival again last month. Blue Highway and Iron Horse played. Jake was sick and was not able to attend this year. He died a few days after the festival. He made arrangements for the festival to continue.

We also lost Rick Hall, the founder of Fame Recording. The studio was world renowned in the sixties along with Muscle Shoals Sound studios and others as the hit recording capital of the world.

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