How I became a Driver Examiner

Octagon Newsletter … March 2002

By Jack Baker

Riding my bicycle home from school in New Westminster was my first experience as a driver. It was great fun to stand on the coaster brakes on the steep downhill runs, the rear axle used to get hot and smoke. My first accident occurred while crossing the old wooden swing span Queensborough Bridge. Olga Perico was perched on the cross bar and I was peddling along in a dream till we hit a series of wet planks, the horror of seeing Olga bouncing down the road has never left me, besides she had a hell of a bad temper.

A few years later, in my teens, I was befriended by, Don Cowan, boys work director of the New Westminster YMCA. Don was the proud owner of a Morris Eight Roadster. This little car suffered a series of head gasket failures that left it rather more frail than average. I was helping Don build a house at the time and we carried the building material he scrounged in the Morris. I recall one of our many attempts to climb the 12th St. hill in New Westminster. We had a huge roll of stucco wire coiled in the storage area behind the seats. After three tries, we gave up going up in low gear, reverse was no more successful ... it was the little car that couldn’t. We made it at last by reversing up the hill with me running along beside.

I first became a driver when Don went away for a couple of weeks and left the car in my care. "Go ahead and drive it if you want", he said.

After some messing around, I was able to get the Morris in motion on our gravel street. There was only enough power to move in low on gravel but on pavement it would move in second and at times third was possible. I developed a routine of going around the block, three blocks gravel followed by the speedy paved block on Ewen Avenue.

After a week of this I decided there was no more to learn so I pleaded with my mother to the point where she signed for me to get a license. I passed the written examination in an old clapboard building on Carnarven Street in New Westminster; it had once been a funeral parlor and a sign advertising coffins remained faintly visible. Hmm.

I advised the examiner guy that I was ready for the road test; He seemed surprised that I had no vehicle. The Morris would never have made it up the hill. I was surprised myself, surely they would have supplied a car for the test. In the end the examiner called Royal City Taxi for me and I rented a brand new 1947 Seven Passenger Dodge taxi for my road test.

Now I noted as soon, as I got in, that it had little in common with a Morris 8. I was not even sure if the motor was running. I held my breath and was able to back slowly out of the angle parking position, the examiner was giving me some unheard instructions, these guys are a real pain when you are trying to drive.

Followed by the enormous back seat and the two jump seats we proceeded along Carnarven and across 6th, then turned right on 4th; it was, of course, raining. 4th Street at that time was paved with red brick and they had yet to invent slippery when wet or steep down grade signs. We were off, yahooo; one block down the hill is Columbia Street protected by a stop sign. Approaching this sign I looked left up Columbia and note that there are cars coming. Thinking with the speed of light, it occurs to me that if I stop I will slide into the traffic but if I hurry I will get ahead of them. A 1947 Dodge is a fast car in the right hands; I made it onto Columbia without stopping and was well ahead of the other cars … whoopeeeee.

Unfortunately, I spun out, went backwards across Columbia and hit the sidewalk, avoiding the cave-in leading to a long drop to front street. All in all, a pretty skillful bit of driving. Sadly the ashen faced examiner did not agree. When he could speak, he said "If I gave you a license you would be dead before the day is out".

Oddly he and Olga Perico had hollered the same thing: "Jack Baker, Why did you have to go so crazy fast".

It was the influence of the Morris Eight of course.

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