Editor’s note: The following is an abbreviated version of a story from Myron Williams’ book, “Cornfield Chronicles: Featuring Snowball, Pony From Hell.” Williams was an editor with Iowa Farmer Today for 30 years. He retired in 2014.
Like any 16-year-old, I was thrilled when I got my drivers license.
Ah, freedom! Busting up the country gravel roads, kicking up a giant cloud of dust behind me, no more school bus rides.
Beware common folk, there’s a teenager on a mission zooming past.
I got my first car about a month or so after turning 16. It was a ’63 Plymouth Belvedere, a beige monster that featured an airplane-looking dashboard and push-button shift.
Dad looked it over, haggled with the salesman and got the price down to a respectable $300. Not too shabby for 1968 prices.
I drove the beast for only a few months until winter arrived. Of course, I got it stuck in a snowdrift near a neighbor’s place and got towed home by a not-too-happy Dad. The car went into hibernation for the next few months until spring arrived and the roads thawed.
My most embarrassing moment with this car was sliding into a ditch while driving to Sunday school (I’m not joking) on my own for the first time. I had just stopped at a T intersection and noticed the Bartling family right behind me.
With a wicked smile, I stomped on the gas, intending to impress the neighbors with my driving skill. The ill-fated demonstration didn’t last long. I promptly fishtailed on the loose gravel out of the turn, lost control and drove right into the ditch.
Myrlyn Sr. parked behind me, got out to make sure I was OK. Nothing was damaged except for my pride. All he said was, “Need a ride home?” I nodded and thanked him. My “whoops” happened only a mile from home.
No one in the four-member family said a word as they delivered me home. My Dad, though, had plenty to say as we drove the pickup down to pull the car out.
After that misadventure, I developed a healthy respect for the tricky gravel roads and never peeled out while turning into an intersection again.
I drove the car for about a year until repairs became more expensive and irritating. When the push-button transmission failed, that spelled the end for the ’63.
Not long after saying goodbye to that set of wheels, I went shopping for my next vehicle.
I found a white ’64 Chevy Impala that had been fixed up by a father of some friends of mine. It was in better shape and cleaner than my previous ride, so I plunked down $500 and again had four wheels at my disposal.
The Impala got me through high school and the first couple years of college. I picked up my date for the annual FFA Harvest Ball dance and prom in that white chariot.
My first life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment came while driving the heavy Chevy. I was driving home from school and decided to take a different route because the early spring gravel roads were a sloppy mess from the winter thaw.
I had fishtailed most of the way on the country roads in the morning until I gratefully got to the three-mile stretch of blacktop into town. So, my teenage brain decided going home by the south route made more sense. It didn’t.
Driving the south route meant I had to traverse a fairly steep incline on a “soupy” road. Not halfway up the incline, I started fishtailing again. For some reason I “gunned” it and found myself sliding toward a steep ditch.
I helplessly gripped the steering wheel in terror as the car slid sideways toward the edge of the embankment. Of course I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Those were for sissies at the time.
It didn’t help that my mishap was taking place within a stone’s throw of Cross’s Ford, where an ancestor had drowned after slipping off the bridge there. I always had a strange feeling about that place. Oh no! One of Levi Nelson’s great-grandsons was coming to join him!
The car mercifully came to rest at the lip of the ditch, pitched at about a 45-degree angle. The only thing that stopped it from toppling into the steep drop was the wall of mud that had plowed up during my slide.
I don’t know if it was nature, physics or Great Gramps who had a hand in stopping the car, but I was grateful. I shakily climbed out and reassessed my situation. I could either walk the short mile home on a road with mud ruts up to my knees or hike across a couple of neighbors’ pastures that adjoined our timber. I chose the scenic route.
Once again, Dad came to my rescue with one of our 1940-something Case tractors. He stopped lecturing me when he saw how precariously the car was perched at the edge of the ditch.
When my folks decided to buy a new car, they sold me their ’67 blue-green Plymouth Belvedere for a reasonable price. They traded in my Impala for their new vehicle. I doubt they got much credit for it, though.
You readers are probably picking up on a pattern here — two cars, two accidents. Of course my third car meant a third mishap. But I was much farther from home this time — 1½ miles.
I was coming home early in the morning during the start of the Great Blizzard in April of ’73. I did not realize how much it had been snowing or how hard the wind was blowing.
The first three miles on east-west blacktop road was slippery. I breathed a sigh of relief on the mile drive on the first north-south gravel road. It was snow packed but drivable.
Then I turned on the gravel east-west road, and it got rocky right away.
The Plymouth bravely broke through the snow drifts like it was going over speed bumps. But it kept hitting larger and larger drifts. The car finally bottomed out and jerked to a halt like it had hit a brick wall.
I got out of the car and was blinded almost immediately by the snow, which was pelting me sideways by a gusting wind. Home was more than a mile away so I started walking. I could have or should have stopped at the first farmstead but I still harbored the foolish notion I could walk home.
The next quarter mile was torture. I barely made it to another neighbor’s farmstead. Blinded by the snow and about as cold as I’ve ever been in my life, I tried to find their driveway but failed. I fell in the shallow ditch and trudged out.
When I got to their house, I could not see but found the back door to their porch and started pounding. I struck the door so hard its window shattered. The Warren family woke up at the racket and rescued me.
They took me inside and wrapped me in blankets. I was shaking badly from the cold and tried to mumble an apology about the window. They pooh-poohed about that and made sure their icicle of a young neighbor was fine.
Dad came to fetch me a day later, and we headed out to pull out yet another car I had gotten stuck.
My Dad was not always the most patient person, especially when working with him, but I don’t recall the lectures during his car rescues as being too severe.
In fact, he was surprisingly low-key. Perhaps, he was glad all he had to do was tow a car home and not scrape a son off a road.
To order a copy of Cornfield Chronicles, send a request to P.O. Box 8962, Cedar Rapids, IA 52408 or visit MLWilliamsbooks on Facebook.