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Three on the Tree

I recently decided that I needed to learn to drive a standard. This startling decision was made after I realized that renting a car with an automatic transmission in Italy was at least twice the price of renting a car with a standard transmission.

However, I didn't want to be hasty. I also realized that it ain't easy to learn to drive a stick, and that I wouldn't be ready to drive one in the hills of Umbria by September, when I'll be renting a car for the first time (in Italy, this is.)

So, I've paid up in advance for my small, automatic Nissan Micra, at the princely price of $100 per day for 3 days, and I'll live with that choice. For this year. But who knows -- by next year, perhaps I'll be more adroit with a standard.

That's because I am learning to drive a standard, and I've been learning on my friend Purple Ed. You can see his picture above!

Purple Ed is a delightful, 1953 Chevrolet light delivery truck that had been restored years ago by my older brother, Robert. Before I went to Alberta last month to visit my family, I mentioned to Robert that I had a hankering to learn to drive a standard. He offered to teach me, either on a small tractor that he had recently restored, or on Purple Ed. I chose Ed, even though his clutch is a bit wonky.

It has long been Robert's hobby to restore vintage vehicles -- for years, it was cars from the very earliest days of the horseless carriage. Then, it was old trucks (such as Purple Ed) and more recently, my brother has been into vintage tractors. Most, he restores and sells. But Purple Ed has been in the family for years. He was named Purple Ed after his predecessor, Old Ed, who was a beautiful buff-coloured 1951 Chevrolet light delivery truck.

Old Ed was named by Robert and Dad, in honour of the fellow they bought the truck from in the '70s. Robert liked the model so much, that he discovered and restored Purple Ed (who was named by my mother, the only person who believes Ed's burgundy hue is purple.) Dad sold Old Ed several years ago, just before Dad died, so I think Rob keeps Purple Ed for sentimental reasons.

I quite like learning to drive a stick on Purple Ed, although he's a bit of a challenge. For one thing, his starter is actually a pedal on the floor towards the off-side of the driver, rather than starting with a turn of the ignition key. So there's quite a collection of pedals to deal with underfoot in Purple Ed: the clutch, the brake, the gas and the starter.

But the crowning glory, Purple Ed is equipped with the gear shift on the steering column, "three on the tree" as my brothers (plural) call it. Try finding reverse and first gear in that arrangement! (And it guess it means it's not really a stick.)

Anyway, Robert is extraordinarily patient, an excellent teacher who told me repeatedly how well I was doing as we circled town, me grinding Ed's gears, stalling out frequently and swearing mildly. Ed's clutch isn't quite all it should be, so it took a lot of the blame.

Riding around in Purple Ed reminds me a lot of Old Ed, which my Dad used to drive for short errands. I loved going for rides in Old Ed and remember the musty smell of the leather bench seat, the cranks used to roll down the windows, and the little side mirrors we pushed out for extra air. Purple Ed, though he's two years earlier, has the same features and brings back great memories.

At least for now. If I crash him into a ditch the next time I'm visiting my family, I might not be so pleased with Purple Ed.

Comments (9)


Ed is very handsome.

I had to learn to drive on a stick shift, as that's all my family owned. Which is why I got my driver's license a year after all my friends.


Sandra, what a marvellous trip down memory lane! I love this story. Funny about your mom and the colour. Brava to you for taking on the challenge of learning to drive a standard with such an unusual setup!

I learned on a Hyundai Pony, which was the first new car I ever owned. It was such a dirt cheap price, I couldn't resist, even though I had to take someone else with me to drive it home from the dealership (thanks Mom!) But it wasn't as hard to master as I thought it might be. Now I actually prefer a standard (except on a couple of the really steep streets in Halifax.)

Mindy Smith:

I love Purple Ed!

"the little side mirrors we pushed out for extra air". Oh my God, I haven't thought of those in decades!!! I remember those too. What a fun memory; it brought a smile to my face.

Enjoyed reading about Ed! (Frankly, I think it's worth the $100/day for the automatic especially when you're not a stick shift whiz.....YET)!!!

I enjoy your blog,

I think I have a crush on Purple ED!

Great story. I can't remember how I learned to drive a stick. I think it was years after I had my driver's license. It has been years now though and I am sure I would need a couple of review lessons. Once you learn to drive on Ed, you will be able to drive any car.


Thanks everyone, I think Ed would be very surprised at such admiration! But he is fun.....

I think I must be the last woman in the world to learn to drive a standard! But, better late than never.

Jill, that must have been tough, getting your licence later than your friends. Getting my licence (at 16 in Alberta) was definitely the highlight of my life (to that point, anyway!)

Anne, I'm surprised how many people say they prefer standards, but I'm beginning to understand why. As my hairdresser Kate put it, a person is more engaged driving a standard; in an automatic, you really just sit there and steer! I really admire you for driving a stick on all the hills of Halifax!

Thanks, Mindy, for reading my blog. Hanging with Ed really is a trip down memory lane.

Susan, I think if I ever become proficient with Ed, I'd be set for driving anything!

Purple Ed! I love that! What a wonderful name for a very charming vehicle.

I have yet to learn to drive a manual car. Everyone in my family always had automatics so I've just never had access to a stick shift. It's probably a good idea to learn someday.

I really admire your bravery in renting a car in Italy AND learning to drive a new transmission!

Purple Ed is absolutely handsome and what a lovely story! I admire you for taking the task to learn to drive stick shift with the gear shift on the steering column. Brava!
I learned to drive a stick when I bought my first car - a 1975 VW Bug. My second car was a blue Fiat, also standard.


Thanks, Annie and Maria -- it should be an adventure. I just pray that AutoEurope does, in fact, deliver to Foligno the automatic I've rented. Mind you, if AE doesn't, this could be my big chance to practice shifting gears (and burning out the rental car's clutch!)

Maria, I'm envious of you -- I've always wanted to own either a VW Bug OR a Fiat....far more fun than my sturdy Toyota....


Gorgeous Ed!
Standards aren't that hard to drive, once you master the herky-jerky clutch to gas ratio...have fun!
Ciao ciao,

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