Driving skills blossom early on the ranch
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, September 4th 2013
One of the best drivers I ever taught was a 16-year-old ranch hand named Donald. He was the only son and the youngest of six children. His mother and five sisters had taken driving lessons from me previous to his signing up for instruction.
On his first lesson, he explained that he had listened intently to all the suppertime conversation recounting his sisters’ driving experiences and was well-prepared to avoid any mishaps to which they had succumbed in their past instruction.
As he was pulling out of the ranch, I commented on how much equipment was on site. There was a grader, front-end loader, skidder, dump truck, D8 cat, logging truck and all sorts of utility vehicles. I asked him who drove all those vehicles and he replied: “My dad, some of my sisters and I drive them all.” It is commonplace that all kids on ranches and farms learn to drive the equipment as soon as they can reach the pedals, and possibly before such time. If there is ever a serious accident, they may very well be the only person able to go for emergency help. In fact, Donald’s job, since he was a pre-teen, was to wash and maintain all the equipment prior to actually being allowed to drive the units. When he was allowed to drive the equipment, his dad spent countless hours orienting him to all aspects of the job at hand. He was, in fact, a more accomplished driver of equipment than I was. What could I possibly teach him?
There was fresh snow on the ground, so I figured I would see if this student could handle a surprise skid. I pulled the emergency brake without warning, and lo and behold he countered my induced skid with an equally surprising expertise. Donald never missed a beat, and continued merrily down the protracted driveway from the ranch. We drove into town, and he showed me how he could do any parking manoeuvre with relative ease. It was obvious he would have no problem passing an elementary road test.
I asked him what his career goals were, and he replied that he wanted to be a professional driver and possibly a paramedic. That was all I needed to hear. We began to practise the Class 4 professional driver’s course. He was ecstatic about having to forgo all the unnecessary, mundane and tedious review of the most basic of driving instruction. In the ensuing instructional drives, we visited the top 10 fatal crash sites in the area and did some advanced high-speed evasive actions on the highway. It only took a few more lessons to do all of the required material for the professional licence qualification. It would be a few years until Donald would be able to qualify for such a designation, but the practice was worth it.
When the instruction was complete, I visited with his dad, Leo. He asked, with a smile, how the young man had done in his driving course. I replied that it was a pleasure to teach him the advanced requirements for the professional driver’s designation. Leo told me that he had trained all his daughters to operate the equipment, but only after they had got their licence. Donald was different. He learned to drive every piece of equipment on the property, so as to position it in the wash bay. That was his job, since he was a pre-teen. In order to drive it, he had to clean and maintain it.
When I gave Leo the bill for driving lessons, he smiled again. Let’s just say that the bill reflected how much Donald had taught me about heavy-equipment operation. Does “no charge” ring a bell?
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a registered B.C. teacher.