Every Woman Should Learn to Drive
By Hulda Franklin
Edited by Reg Quist
It is quite amazing how many women living in our towns and farms cannot drive a car. This is perhaps truer of those over fifty and sixty. They sit alone at home after family and husband are gone just wishing someone would offer a ride to church, store or social doings.
When we got our 1929 Chev, I learned to drive. My brother, George, who was my mentor, wasn’t the type to patiently sit beside me and put up with my slow driving when he was in a hurry. Like all farmers, he always had plenty to do. So, like a great many other things, I learned by experience.
On my first attempt at driving I took the car out to the pasture to give it a good wash beside a grass slough. I drove in low gear all the way out, but after a bit of gear grinding, I finally got into second and drove bravely home. By this time, I was so sure of myself that I invited my mother to come with me for a drive.
I chose the west road. The east road had mud holes. A hill, a sharp curve and a culvert shouldn’t bother an experienced driver like me! And it didn’t, until I found myself sitting lopsided, with the right wheel over said culvert.
I got out, hardly daring to move lest the car might topple over into the ditch. Mother just sat tight and didn’t say a word. She was a city girl before marrying our homesteader dad, and never attempted to drive a team of horses, let alone a car. She had always had the uppermost faith in her husband and children along those lines. George and I found it very convenient to keep her blissfully ignorant of driving and riding hazards.
I was in luck. A couple of neighbor boys came along. They wrenched a heavy brace pole out of a nearby fence and with some lifting and maneuvering got that wheel back on top of the culvert. They also built up my rather flattened ego by assuring me that that was an extremely bad curve to negotiate.
Mile after mile I gained confidence. When we went to town, George had to sit beside me, for even at those early times, one had to have a license to drive a car. He seldom said a word about my driving. He had a way, though, of rolling down the window and spitting a mite through his teeth when things bothered him.
The boys had practiced spitting at school and George must have been the champ for distance. Whenever I did something of which he did not approve, down went the window. Only once did he get really exasperated. We had gone home by way of Gwynne on the graveled and wash-boarded highway. Watching the scenery, I came dangerously near hopping into the ditch. George let out a yell and grabbed the wheel.
“Look here, this thing is no horse with eyes to see. You have to keep your eyes on the road.”
At last I had what I thought was three hundred miles to my credit and I applied for a license. I found, on reading the form, that I must certify to a thousand miles of driving or I’d have to satisfy a local RCMP officer that I could handle the vehicle.
Naturally, George had to accompany me on that venture. At the courthouse in Wetaskiwin, we found a rather friendly officer who was willing to come with me for a tryout. George sat in the back seat hoping, I dare say, that I wouldn’t make too many blunders. I took the wheel as the officer sat beside me and directed the tour.
All went well until we caught up to a farmer with a load of hay.
“Now,” said the constable, “you speed up and pass that fellow.”
Down went the window behind me and my heart went up to my throat. That road looked awfully narrow, but I tooted the horn and flew by him at a good speed.
We turned the next corner and headed west. At the end of this road was a sharp rise that came just before we joined the Edmonton trail. I had the car in high and didn’t use my brains to speed up or shift to second. We had made it nearly to the top when the thing went ‘put, put, put’ and died. Down went the window behind me and the constable made a dive across me for the hand brake, which I had burned out during my learning process.
We rolled merrily back down the hill, the policeman holding the steering wheel. Then he turned to George.
“When we get to town see that you get that emergency brake fixed.”
I imagine George was so disgusted by that time that he didn’t even spit out the window.
I wasn’t too flustered by all this. I started the car, put it in low, made the rise and drove to town. Here the officer took over and told me to correct his mistakes. I was really a first-rate back seat driver. When he went through Wetaskiwin’s only traffic light I yelled and stepped on an imaginary brake.
That must have done the trick for when we got to his office, he gave his OK to my license application, adding that with some more practice I’d make a good driver. He said too that everyone had to drive enough to train their reflex action. I found that to be very true.
That Chev became a very good and obedient friend, but it did play a few tricks on me. Perhaps the most humiliating one was the day the horn “beeped” whenever the steering wheel was turned a certain way and kept it up until it felt like stopping. On the way to town that day it seemed to “beep” just when I wished it would “shut up”. I took a seldom used road hoping I wouldn’t encounter too many on the way.
But here I passed a farmyard where about six men were shingling a roof. Didn’t the thing start to salute them – perfect strangers. Forgetting the shingling, they got to their feet, waved their hats and yelled “Hello”. That must have encouraged the Chevy for she just kept on “beeping”. Believe me, I pulled into the first service station when I got to town and had them trace for the short that was doing the mischief.
Yes, learning to drive and getting a license was a bit of an experience but it stood me well during all those years on the farm when driving vehicles of many descriptions was sure a necessity. And slipping off a culvert, on my first attempt was the closest I ever came to rolling a car or truck.
Editors note: Hulda and George Franklin lost their father in 1927, when they were still in their teens. He is absent from Hulda’s memoirs. The two teenagers, together with their mother, kept the farm going. After George married, they divided the land between them. Hulda, who never married, continued farming her portion and, in her later life, cared for her bedridden mother.