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Taking driver’s education in high school using a stick-shift Falcon

By Edward Forbes / The Bulletin

IMy freshman year in high school was the beginning of a fun time and experience at Luling High School. The driver education course offered in school was a prime example.

Classroom credit offered in a course that was a desire of a lifetime’s fulfillment. The youth of today don’t seem to attach as much importance to driving a car as we did in the days of yore.

I had been driving since I was around 9 years old, but I had never driven on a road with other cars. My experience was driving in the fields that we owned in Alvin.

We were city dwellers in Luling and driving in town was not an option from sixth grade on. Then driver education and licensure became an all-consuming ambition. We had to pass the written test before we would be issued a learners permit and begin training behind the wheel.

Mr. Dahlberg must have been a man of courage as he was our instructor in the famous Ford Falcon. We had a standard transmission in those days and probably a well-worn brake pedal on the dual control side.

I only remember a couple of our journeys in drivers education. We set out on a pretty day, and Leon Fasse was in our group. Leon’s dad was the town police chief and he had only come to live with his dad recently so we didn’t know him very well.

Leon had obviously been driving around some town a lot. He was given the controls and told to drive to Seguin. The Luling to Seguin route was on Highway 90 and crossed the San Marcos River on a metal engineered highway bridge.

There were metal girders to the right of us, metal girders to the left of us and metal girders over us. I had driven a good bit as a youngster, but it was in open pastures and the most I had to do was follow the ruts left by other vehicles.

Leon took off slightly above the speed limit in our little Ford Falcon, left elbow out the window, one hand on wheel occasionally groping for a nonexistent cigarette. We were slightly nervous, but it was unfounded as we discovered he was a very competent driver. I provided the thrills during a subsequent lesson.

We had been motoring around Luling with no problem, and I was feeling comfortable behind the wheel. The instructor then informed me that we were going to execute the DL turn.

We were driving south (on S. Walnut I think) on a very narrow street. On our right, there was a deep gulley. Luckily for us the street had curbs. The DL turn is a version of the U Turn for streets so narrow that even a small car like the Falcon couldn’t make it.

He explained that you back up to side of road, then shift into forward and finish the turn. He kept up a running commentary, and when I was backed up to the curb, he halted me and gave a lecture about looking for traffic before beginning the maneuver.

He succeeded in making me nervous, and I forgot what gear we were in (manual transmission young folks) and started accelerating. The rear wheels started climbing the curb and Tommie Burris in the back seat started yelling “He’s going to kill us all.”

This did nothing to help with my nerves, but I did stop. I shifted into first and finished the DL turn with Tommie announcing all the way that I had tried to kill us all.

Tommie also contributed to another memory. We were up on the second floor, looking out the window when poor Debora Dunham got behind the wheel. She was learning the manual transmission dance at the same time she was learning to drive. Tommie said “That has to be Debora driving - she looks like a bunny rabbit hopping down the street.”

I successfully completed drivers education and took the driving portion in our family car, which I had never driven since we took drivers ed in a small Ford Falcon.

The Plymouth was a four-door six cylinder behemoth. It was, comparatively speaking, like driving a tank. My only mistake in the driving test was bumping the rear pole during parallel parking. I told the patrolman that it was my first time to drive the car and he gave me an 86.

I was a licensed driver.