For those of you in the towing industry, do you remember your first experience driving a tow truck?  I do.  I was 15, and I was with my brother-in-law, one of two drivers (the other was my older brother Mike) at McMinnville Towing, the company my parents owned.  We were at the parts store, and he said, "You drive back to the lot."  It was an old Ford 1-ton 4-speed, and it wasn't just the first time driving a tow truck, it was the first time driving a stick shift.  It wasn't pretty.  After backing out of the space, I was having a hard time going forward without killing the engine.  The tow sling was edging farther out into the street every time I rolled slightly backward and tried to depress the  accelerator pedal in conjunction with releasing the clutch.  I have to hand it to my brother-in-law, though.  He calmly turned on the rotator lights so no one would run into us, and he had me keep trying till I got it.

One of the benefits of being in a tow truck and not a car.

The first vehicle I owned was a 1949 Willys Jeep with a Chevy 283 in it, painted camo.  My 8-year-old just the other day asked me what happened to it, because I've told him about it a few times.  "I traded it for a '69 LeMans," I told him.

"What's that."

"A car with a nose longer than the Honda I'm driving now."

"You shoulda kept the jeep," he said.

Duh.  Like I don't know that now.  I crashed the LeMans into a tree a year after I got it.  The Willys couldn't go 95 mph, so I doubt it would have met the same end.

My parents sold the tow company before I was old enough to drive legally for them, so my first real driving experience was when I was 20, for a company named Estby Towing in Beaverton, Oregon, where my brother-in-law was now managing.  His brother Leonard was my trainer. Leonard and I had known each other for years, so learning from him was easy.  I was assigned to a Chevy 1-ton with a 454 and a Vulcan Cradle Snatcher.  Wow, what fun! Like dollying a car every time you hook up.  And try keeping those extension chains
away from the side of a Suburban.  We would tie shop rags around the clevis hook at the top of the extension chain so that it was a scuff rather than a scratch.

Leonard did a good job of training me, I have to admit.  In the 20 years I was behind the wheel  accidents and damage claims were few and far between, and it's my experience that getting off to a good start is crucial.  And we had fun.  One day we stopped for lunch at Burger King, and we ate in the truck.  There were no cupholders, so while eating I was in the habit of resting a drink on the bottom of the steering wheel so that it leaned against the horn button.  I had parked with the wheels turned slightly, so this time I had to give the steering wheel a laborious partial-turn to lock it into place before my “cupholder” was in place.  We ate our food and shot the breeze, and when it came time to leave, I forgot that I had given the steering wheel the turn to lock it, so when I turned the key over, the steering wheel sprung back to its resting position, launching the three-quarters full cup of soda into a 540-degree spin before it landed upside-down on my lap.  I can still hear the sound of Leonard laughing.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

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