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Teens and driving: “Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.” — Author unknown

It was quite a trick at age 11 or 12, stretching with my left leg to reach the clutch, my right to find the accelerator, all the while attempting to engage the shifting level and see over the steering wheel.

No matter, the old grain truck practically drove itself and in fact would lumber along without any footfeed assist if it was in superlow gear. This was particularly useful in soft wheat fields during harvest season.

My job was to watch for Dad’s long arm waving, which meant the hopper on the combine was full and that I needed to drive the truck under the grain auger for unloading.

As I was recounting this to two of my grandkids, who turn 14 soon, I thought I detected some glazing of the eyes, but not entirely because I had prefaced my tale with the statement that South Dakota had modified the requirements for a learner’s permit.

Fourteen has been the magic number for years, but the Legislature last session added a new restriction or two and, in that, the grandkids were genuinely interested and were willing to put up with my journey into ancient history in order to get to the heart of the matter.

All farm kids learned to drive early, I intoned. It was of necessity. Though we always had a hired man – sometimes additional help during harvest – sitting in a grain truck was the bottom rung on the responsibility ladder. It was easy. All you had to do was pay attention to where the combine was and estimate when the hopper would be full.  It was not rocket science. The key, however, was staying alert, not getting too deeply immersed in Treasure Island or the Hardy Boys or worse, dozing off.

This was not as easy as it sounds. The temperature inside the truck’s cab was sweltering. And then there was the dust and chaff from the field. Looking back, I think these two conditions early on influenced me to seek another line of work once I was of age.

About those permit changes, Grandpa?

Oh yes. Well, no worries, I said. You can still apply for a learner’s permit at 14, but now it has two stages before it’s in full force.

I could see the relief in their eyes.

Fourteen!  It was still 14!

And the great thing for Grandpa was, I could relive that excitement. I know exactly how they felt.

Aug. 7, 2019