By Bob Blake
My wife recently issued a mandate – “Clean out and dispose of the contents of your filing cabinet!” I must admit it had become filled with – no, “chocked with” – papers, pictures, and assorted automobile trivia. After a few minutes of dedicated effort, my work turned to…well… in my mother’s term…”rambling!”
Among the “treasures” I discovered a knot of small papers bound with a brittle blue rubber band. It took me a moment to realize this fistful of documents was a collection of North Carolina driver’s licenses from my wife’s late Aunt Sarah.
Sarah Herman Rhodes knew of my keen interest in old cars and our conversations often drifted to her early driving experiences. She told me “somewhere” she had every one of her driver’s licenses and, just before her death, she pressed them in my hand.
Born in 1911 on a large farm in Newton, N.C., she was one of seven children of J.L. and Essie Herman. Her older brother John bought a car during the 1920s and taught her the essentials of driving. Her memory was cloudy as to the make and model but thought “it was some kind of Ford… with pedals and gears that grated and jerked as I learned to drive!” She chuckled when she told me about her father’s one and only driving experience – “He ran the old car in a ditch and vowed he would stick to mules and never operate such a contraption again!”
Her driving career began in her late teens, and was 24 years old when the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Uniform Driver’s License Act. This became effective February 28, 1935 and was the state’s first official sanction for drivers. It defined a motor vehicle as “any rubber-tired vehicle propelled or drawn by any power other than muscular” and excluded aircraft, road rollers, street sprinklers, ambulances, baggage trucks and tractors.
Senator Carroll Weathers of Wake County sponsored the bill in response to the more than 1,000 deaths on the state roads over the previous 30 years. Improved roads – though many still dirt – led to more cars and trucks. Across America vehicle registration soared from eight to twenty-two million between 1920-30!
The early effort to license drivers was a step forward, though Aunt Sarah recalled she “simply went to the courthouse and filled out some papers – no test!” A formal road test and examination came a few years later.
Last night my wife did a few clicks on the computer to certify her health and vision were OK and, with her good driving record (and a credit card!), North Carolina magically renewed her license for five years!
Sarah smiled – no exam!