In the Driver’s Seat

The Driver’s seat has a magnetic pull on even the youngest boy, it seems. Maybe it is being connected to all of the control knobs, or the potential noise and power at your feet making a “big machine” operate. Maybe it is the exhilaration of speed or the adrenalin rush from being close to the edge of out of control. According to my Uncle Russ, it may be Liechty genetics. Whatever it is, you can just watch my grandson Chapman beam with pleasure on the tractor toy.

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He was one and a half when he figured out how to climb up and get behind the wheel of the real John Deere lawn tractor all by himself.

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The four year olds, Brayden and Hudson are no longer contented with going to Lowes to sit still on floor model tractors. They want to drive the John Deere with Grandpa, or the neighbor Don Florea’s electric four wheelers. Clay and Emma have graduated to a different level of speed and excitement, but are still drawn to the moving and driving. It won’t be long before the teenage compulsion to get their driver’s licenses sets in.

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It goes back along time in the family. Adrienne, Austin and Amanda were also drawn to the the John Deere.

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Austin couldn’t decide between classic automobiles and touring motorcycles. Here he is in Uncle Russ Liechty’s 1949 Midnight Blue Chrysler Windsor.

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Here he is with Amanda on Dave Yoder’s motorcycle.

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Audra was thinking more of the sports car variety for a driver’s seat.

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Then they graduated to bumper cars.

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Grandpa Ed Neufeld loved driving also, and did lots of road trips to Indy and Nashville to see the grandchildren. Below he had a lot of help driving the tractor from Austin and Aaron.

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His daughters Jan, Martha and Patty want to get behind the wheel I think mostly so they can control the music. Oddly enough, even back seat driving is popular in our family.

My dad is 88, and he still likes to take the familiar pilgrimage back to Fairview, Michigan, where he lived as a child. The pleasure of driving is one of the things older people are often most reluctant to give up. Here is Dad with his new Buick Verano.

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Growing up at an early age, I remember bugging him to let me sit in the front seat and steer the car. Then I wanted to drive by myself to the end of the drive. It seemed a shame that I had to push the lawn mower, but finally when I was twelve, I did get to race in the Soap Box Derby.

My dad took me to an introductory meeting where he bought a standard kit. It had four wheels, two axles, and a steering wheel, with some rules and instructions. I started with a 2 x 12 for the bottom, and used lathe strips which could be nailed and glued into the side form. Then I glued another 2 x 12 on the top. Then I had a lot of sanding before brushing on a coat of blue paint.

It did not compare so favorably to the elegant fiberglass and spray-painted cars built by the engineer and designer dads, but I might have won the “Build It Yourself” class if there was such a thing. My dad did jump back into the process to name it the “Molar 6” and show sponsorship. I raced twice and got beat two times, and then retired the racer to our home hill at 4333 (now 23905) Myers Avenue, Dunlap, Indiana.

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Around age 15, I bought a seriously used Go-Cart with a 5 Horsepower Briggs and Stratton four-cycle motor. Fortunately my neighbor, Jim Kuhn, was an expert fix-it man and he helped me with some basic welding and mechanics. It didn’t accelerate so well because of the gear ratio, but when the leaves were wet on the Concord Junior High parking lot in the fall, it was a high speed donut city.

About the same time, my sister Anne was learning to drive the car, and we started with the family blue VW bug. We both had our share of jerky starts and stalls, before mastering the German clutch.

Then, in college days I bought a used 1967 Datsun 2000 Roadster for $1300 which was the precursor of the Nissan 240Z. It was silver and had a convertible top. When the weather was good, and on the days it ran well, I felt pretty cool. The night I tried to change the water pump was not so fun though, as the small engine compartment always seemed to have other parts in the way of what ever bolt or nut I needed to get to. If you can imagine the following car, with rust and no roll bar, you have it.

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Then there was the ’49 Chevy Pickup I bought (used again) for $425 from a friend of Grandpa Frank Neufeld when we were in Inman, Kansas for Thanksgiving in 1983. It had the original blue paint, with much fade and a few dents, but what an attitude. I had to leave it at Wien’s Garage to have some repairs done, but the following spring, Jan and I went back to drive the truck home. This is also not the true original truck, but the degree of wear and tear is very accurate.

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That was another adventure, on par with the scooter trip. Play in the steering system, with old tires made for curvy tracking, especially on the rutted county roads of Kansas. Vacuum windshield wipers did not do much good for the rain either. I didn’t have the money or time to fix it up right those days, and sold it a few years later. I wish I had known what a regret it is now.

This summer at a Liechty family reunion in Archbold, Ohio, provided another driving experience. My cousin, Steve Wise, was showing us some of the Corvettes in his collection, and pointed out a black four-door sedan sitting out in front with the hood up. He said it was “running quietly’ and could be taken for a spin.

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I got in the electric-drive Tesla coupe behind Joe and Dan Liechty, and after a few miles headed out in the country, I asked if I could drive her on the way home. The Tesla was reported to go 0-60 mph, faster than a Corvette. Also, since it has a low center of gravity with the batteries under the floor, it was supposed to handle like a Porsche. Being a man of science, I am not one to idly accept assertion without the evidence from testing.

We quickly found out that the speedometer needle did indeed pass 60 mph right around 3.2 seconds, and in way less than a country mile, it crossed 100 mph. It stops really fast also. I feel comfortable reporting that the factory claims are accurate. Thanks for the ride, Steve. I hope to trade you for one in the boat someday.

The driver’s seat in the modern car has to be comfortable for a wide variety of people, which is why there are an infinite number of settings. Building a wooden boat does not lend itself to such easy adjusting, so I am just making it to fit a generic adult man, and especially me. The actual mounting of the steering wheel and control lever is not so hard, but finding the perfect place is the challenge.

Below are shown several of the photos of mocking up the positions of the seat, wheel and throttle. Thanks goes to Brad Collins for loaning me a boat wheel, and shift levers to play with.

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The routine is to clamp or screw the wheel, shift and seat in place, look at it for balance and lines, and then get in. Yesterday, I climbed up three steps on the ladder, swung my left leg over the side and hurdled the right to get in the boat at least two dozen times. It is an inspiring place. Closing your eyes can take you to a warm sunny day on Portage Lake or out through the channel to see the sunset.

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Not every idea creates something great, but all great things start with an idea.

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