Most people start learning to drive at thirteen or fourteen behind the wheel of Dad's old beater car. I learned on a 1952 Farmall Super C.
We lived on a small farm in Idaho and I was about eight. Farm kids tend to grow up fast—the faster you learn new skills, the more helpful you can be with chores. Hence, the sooner you can drive a tractor, the sooner you can tow grain wagons and start plowing and discing.
For the uninitiated, a Super C is an upgrade to the earlier Farmall C, not a large machine by any means, but enough to get a lot of work done. When someone calls a car "agricultural," it implies a certain crude, utilitarian and overbuilt nature, and that's the Super C: a four-cylinder gasser with about 25 hp, narrowly spaced front wheels, hand throttle, independent brakes at each rear wheel, no power steering, and four forward gears. Top gear was designed for the road, and reached a blistering speed of 10 mph.
Driving a vintage tractor is not entirely unlike driving a vintage car. Depress the clutch to start, select the gear you want to use, set the throttle, and release the clutch slowly for a smooth engagement. There's no swapping gears, you pick one gear and slip the clutch to get going. It's even easier than driving a manually-equipped car, really.
The trick comes in managing to not flip the tractor.
See, tractors have incredibly low gearing, so meager torque and power is turned into tremendous output at the wheels at the expense of speed. Pop the clutch and the front wheels lift off the ground. Pop it hard with the throttle high and the tractor can go over.
Dad did a great job teaching me how to work the controls, and I'd been watching him do it for a long time at this point anyway. When it came my time to practice, we went out to an empty road and got to work. I was a natural at getting it into gear and releasing the clutch correctly. A little work was needed on setting the throttle to avoid bogging the engine down, but that came after an hour of trial and error.
Pretty soon I was driving it around in the open yard like a pro. Then I got cocky.
I was enjoying the thrill of nearly all ten miles per hour as I drove towards the fence line. The plan was to turn at the fence, drive around the barn and keep going. At those eye-watering speeds my brain misfired and I forgot how to brake properly.
So here's young Ben, standing on the brakes with the tractor not slowing down. I couldn't steer, couldn't kill the throttle, couldn't turn off the ignition, and was frozen in panic.
Which is when I ran into the cherry tree.
Square on, too. I ran right into it with the weight rack up front, bent the smoke stack, and broke a branch off the tree. Dad was a little mad that I'd been reckless, but happy that I hadn't hurt myself. A little TLC and the stack was straight again.
It was the best possible way to learn the importance of pushing in the clutch when coming to a complete stop.