Thursday, April 25, 2019

Oh Ruby, Don’t Take the Volkswagen to Town, By Mickey Brackett - April 2019

I was 16 and had my North Carolina driver’s license. Sharon Queen, my neighbor wanted to go to a Kenny Rogers’ concert at Garden Webb College 25 miles away. Her parents would not let her go unless going with a group. Sharon being a year younger than me did not have her driver’s license yet. Her parents would allow some one with a driver’s license drive the group in their Volkswagen beetle to the concert. They suggesting asking me to be the driver. I had never driven the VW and had driven manual transmission vehicles very little. My parents had a car with an automatic transmission so I had no way to practice. I agreed to go plus two others joined the troop and with dreams of hearing great music four of us got into the VW and off we went.
            The VW beetle was an unusual car with an air-cooled engine, a downward sloping front hood and smaller in size than most of the wide track, eight-cylinder cars driven by the majority of Americans in the 1960’s. The VW was imported from Germany and had been made since the 1940’s. All the VW’s had a 4-cylinder engine and four speed manual transmission. Four people was the most the car would seat comfortably.
            Most would agree that the hardest part of driving a manual transmission car is taking off on an incline without rolling backward and without stalling the engine. Our first intersection was where the Sunshine/Golden Valley road intersects with highway 226 at Butler’s Store (name back in the 1960’s). We had to go towards Shelby North Carolina which required starting uphill from the stop sign. I had to let the clutch out slowly while pressing the accelerator slightly and hopefully start up hill smoothly without killing the engine.  The VW clutch was not my friend this day. I tried 4-5 times to do this procedure and each time the engine stalled which required turning the ignition to restart the engine. The other three passengers were female making my inability more embarrassing. Luckily there were no other vehicles behind our vehicle impatiently waiting for this unskilled driver to get out of their way. If I could just start off on level ground or downhill all would be easier. After a few more unsuccessful attempts at clutch and gas pedal synchronization I decided to let the car roll backwards into the Butler’s Store parking lot. I turned the vehicle downhill which would have taken us down Highway 226 toward Marion. But just as the vehicle starts rolling downhill, I turn uphill sharply toward Shelby, shift through the four gears, and we were finally making progress getting to the concert. I was still dreading any intersections along our route where I might have to go through this embarrassing procedure again. Somehow, we made it to Gardener Webb College, parked the vehicle, and heard Kinney Rogers and the First Edition sing many songs including “Oh Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”.

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