One of the most helpful lessons of my entire life was the time I came home from the one-room Highland school, about six miles north of La Center. I told Dad how angry I was at Jimmy because he would not play the game I wanted to play.
Dad sat me down and made up a series of stories about Jimmy and me. “What if you and Jimmy were to … ? Suppose Jimmy wanted to … ? Wouldn’t it be nice if … ?” Years later it dawned on me that what Dad was doing was showing me how the Golden Rule works: “Treat people the way you would like them to treat you.”
Dad was very adept mechanically, and he could see that I was mechanically inclined also. I asked and he explained how a car engine, clutch, transmission and electrical system worked; how you could lift a lot of weight with a rope and several pulleys; and on and on.
One Christmas, I got a used electric toy train set. Of course, Dad explained how transformers reduced the voltage from 110 to about 6 volts for safety’s sake. The next year, I got a small Erector set. The first thing I made from it was a Ferris wheel, but there was no power source to turn it as there was in the more expensive sets. Wait a minute, there was a Model T Ford “ooga” horn out in the barn. Dad had explained how it had a little electric motor that made the sound. The train transformer was 6 volts and the Ford battery was also 6 volts — maybe it would power my Erector set. I asked Dad if I could have that horn, take it apart and see if it would work for my Ferris wheel. He said, “Sure, it’s worth a try.” It worked! My Erector set was now top of the line.
Our car in the early 1930s was a 1926 Oldsmobile touring four-door with removable cloth top and side curtains on the doors. The next car was a 1928 Nash, totally enclosed with roll-up windows. Wow, was it nice.
Dad then removed the back seat from the Olds and built a pickup truck box to replace it. Now it was so much easier and faster to go out in the woods to haul in the firewood, haul the cans of milk up to the main road, and many other things, than it was to have to harness the team of horses to do it.
The Christmas before Dad built the truck, my present was a pedal car. After Dad converted the Olds to a truck, I got an idea. I could have my own truck! I asked Dad if he would let me have a wooden prune box, some nuts and bolts and washers, and let me use the brace and bit to drill the holes to mount the box on the back of my pedal car. He said sure. So the next day, while he was out plowing the field with the horses, I got a box, found the bolts and nuts, found a drill bit just the right size, and went to work. I got the holes drilled in the box OK, but I couldn’t get holes drilled in the metal part of the car.
When Dad came in from the field, I asked him why. He explained the difference between a wooden drill bit and a metal bit. I had destroyed the wood bit, but he never punished me for it. I think he probably blamed himself for not explaining the difference before. He may have been kind of proud of me for building my own truck because he took a picture of me hauling a load of hay for him. As time went on, I just kept learning more and more from him.
The Olds pickup finally gave up the ghost, and Dad bought a 1926 Ford Model TT flatbed truck. It had the Ford two-speed transmission, but also had an auxiliary transmission: over, under and direct forward and reverse. He explained how all that worked, so when I was 9 years old, he had me driving the truck for him on the farm.
I have done a lot of truck driving since then: the United Bulb Co. bulb farm at Woodland when I was 15; school bus my senior year at La Center school and one year after graduation; log truck; and 30 years for the old Zellerbach paper company. I have a million-mile safe driving award from the National Safety Council.
Dad died in July 1939 from a stroke. I was 101/2 years old. I didn’t cry at his death or the funeral. I just made a pledge to myself to use all he had taught me, to buy my own clothes and Christmas and birthday presents for Mom and Sis, and help in any way I could. That Golden Rule lesson is still his best lesson to me.
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