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Section 1Memorabilia: Little Homelands The world of parents, grandparents... Family and personal memories...

Family Heirloom from Poland – Remembrance – Document “Green Driving License”

Zgłaszający Eksponat:
Maciej Bernhardt
podziel się z innymi:

Hello everyone to GA.PA,

The recent changes to obtaining a driving license have caused quite a lively reaction from the media as well as drivers and candidates for drivers.

I obtained my driving license in the spring of 1939 (i.e. 67 years ago) and all my further professional and later scientific activities were related to the automotive industry. So maybe it’s worth remembering how it used to be in the past.

The beginnings

From my childhood, I was interested in cars. I recognized most of the brands, I knew (through the display glass) probably all car dealerships in Warsaw.
In primary school, I exchanged with my friends the books of Karol Maj that had been collected for several years for advertising brochures of car companies. Unfortunately, no one from the immediate family or friends was the owner of the car. So I had contact with cars very rarely and only as a taxi passenger.

I spent the summer of 1937 in Kosovo (today Ukraine). I made friends with two boys there; the older was my age; his brother is 2 years younger. In the middle of the summer holidays, their father – attorney Gintowtt-Dziewałtowski – a “freshly baked” driver arrived in a brand new Polish Fiat 508. My interest in the car, the technical data of which I knew by heart, resulted in an invitation for a trip with his sons Fiacik in the vicinity.

During the stop, the attorney remembered that he should check the oil level in the engine. He picked up the hood, pulled out the measuring cup and said, “Oh, I still have enough oil.” I shyly noticed that the measuring cup had to be wiped out after taking it out, inserted into its hole in the oil pan and taken out again. After taking it out, it turned out that the oil level is already slightly below the minimum. My intervention saved the engine from seizure, and I was recognized as an “outstanding specialist” in the car.

When asked where did I get so much news about cars from, I smoothly replied that from my uncle, who has the old Tatra River and I help him with its service, sometimes he even allows me to drive it a bit. It was an obvious lie. “Well, maybe you want to compare the Tatra with the Polish Fiat,” I heard.

Of course I wanted to, although at the same time I was terrified of what would come of this improvisation. Theoretically, I knew perfectly well what to do and how to do it, but I had no practice. It should be added here that there was practically no car traffic in this area, and I did not see a policeman on the road for the whole vacation. On the other hand, horses, scared at the sight of the car, posed a significant danger.

I got behind the wheel, started the engine, engaged the first gear, started off with just a slight jerk and drove a few kilometers on a poor gravel road with a killer speed of 30-40 km / h.

I was proud to receive praise for my chauffeur skills. And when the boys got out I heard: “for the first time behind the wheel, you were doing quite well.” I was stunned, I didn’t know what to answer.

“I have been an attorney for many years and I can easily recognize such a lie, but don’t worry, I watched how you drove and how interested you are in the automotive industry; I think if you were your age and if I were you, I would have done the same; don’t be afraid of the boys, I won’t say anything.

In the following days I was on a few similar trips and each time I heard the proposal: “maybe you want to lead, I will be happy to rest for a while”.

Driving course

In the fall of 1938, I was a student of the 4th grade [1]) of the Tadeusz Czacki in Warsaw. Fourth and high school students were informed that there are paid interschool driving courses organized in Warsaw and that students who are 16 or over before the final driving test can participate in them. The courses are largely funded by the Ministry of Military Affairs. (I don’t remember how much this course normally cost, but it was quite a lot).

Classes for us were conducted by instructors of one of the driving courses known in Warsaw. Unfortunately, I do not remember which, although I have kept in my mind the advertisements of the courses: Eng. Tuszyński and eng. Pryliński.

All candidates had to have their parents’ permission and a positive opinion from the Military Training teacher; they also underwent quite thorough medical and psychological examinations.

The “lectures” on the construction, operation and maintenance of the car began at the end of October and took place in the afternoons at the Zamojski secondary school on Smolna Street. The instructors conducted them very well in terms of teaching (I can assess it today as a long-time teacher), they had good posters and exhibits. We had “practical classes” twice at the service station: where, among others, we changed the wheel, changed the bulbs and checked the headlight settings. We were even taught … how to safely hold the crank when starting the engine (many of the cars in use at that time were still started with the crank, or the crank was equipped with the car “just in case”).

We were also taught the rules of the road, which were much simpler than the present ones, and elementary safety rules: when refueling, immobilizing a car on a slope, and about the risk of poisoning by exhaust fumes of an engine operating in a closed or badly ventilated room, etc.

At the request (command?) Of the Ministry of Education, (I do not remember or exactly quote the name), the scope of our practical training was extended in relation to the scope for amateur drivers, even though we had to obtain a “normal” amateur driving license after passing the final exam, the so-called “Green” (light green cardboard). It allowed for non-profit driving of passenger cars (and possibly motorcycles – a separate exam) and vans or vans with a capacity of probably up to 1 ton (I do not remember exactly).

We had two cars for driving lessons: a small Ford Eifel (German) and an old big Buick convertible with an 8-cylinder in-line engine, an unsynchronized gearbox and wheels with thick wooden spokes. Initial rides were always done in a small Ford. None of these cars had power brakes or steering.

The first (or the first two) rides took place on a large, empty square, somewhere in Praga, in the railway area – next to it there were railway tracks, probably not used anymore, because I had never seen a single wagon there.

First lesson: learn all indicators, switches, etc., learn the resistance of the pedals, start the engine, turn on the lights, indicators, horn etc. Then: “start off, drive slowly in first gear and slowly turn the steering wheel to the right and left at your discretion. to see how the car reacts to this. Stop after a while and do the same again. And so many times, until the car starts smoothly and the command to avoid one puddle on the right and the other – on the left will be performed flawlessly. Later the same thing, but also driving backwards. And again many times in the large empty square: only forward gear and reverse gear.

The next drives again on the same square and in the neighboring streets (almost no traffic), changing gears as well as gradual and sudden braking; later up and down shifting. In Buick you had to master shifting all gears with a double clutch operation. Ford Eifel also had an unsynchronized first gear and when downshifting also required double disengagement of the clutch and proper operation of the “accelerator” pedal. Without this, engaging the gear was practically impossible, and the gears rattled so that “ears hurt” – as our instructor used to say.

Finally, driving on the streets of Warsaw, day and evening, in normal traffic, including streets with tram rails (very slippery!) And at tight intersections. At the end of the study: a snail on Karowa Street (entry and exit with a stop on a slope) and steep streets: Nowy Zjazd (to the Kierbedź Bridge), Bednarska, Tamka, Agricola. Finally, a trip to Wilanów or outside the city, mostly on the Krakow road.

I do not remember exactly how many hours the practical driving lessons were; there were a lot of them, probably no less than 25.

Most of the participants took their driving test in a small Ford. I was assigned to Buick. I applied at the end of February or in the first days of March, in the late afternoon, as the last one on that day. All the lanterns were burning, the rain was drizzling. I got on Smolna Street, next to the Zamojski grammar school. We walked around the narrow downtown streets; later drive backwards to a blind and dark alley somewhere near Skorupki Street.

Buick did not have a rear reversing lamp. Backing up, you had to lightly press the brake pedal so that the brake lights glowed and you could see anything. Finally, we enter Aleje Jerozolimskie and head towards the Poniatowski Bridge. “Please stop in front of the New World. Thank you, the exam passed very well.

I received my driving license at the end of April 1939. I was extremely proud of him: I was the only one in my class to have such a document!

I have never used it. Until the outbreak of the war, I did not have a chance. Later – that’s a completely different story.

Driving instructor

In 1948 I already had a professional driving license and for several months I worked as a driving instructor in the driving school Eng. Pryliński, known in Warsaw before the war. At that time, I was a student of the Warsaw University of Technology and I earned a living from tutoring in mathematics, physics and chemistry for high school students. There was no shortage of tutoring enthusiasts, but most of the students had a lot of backlog and shortages, and it was quite exhausting. I do not remember when I found out that Ing Pryliński was looking for driving instructors. I expected it to be more fun and less absorbing than tutoring high school students.

It seemed to me that this activity would be relatively light, varied and enjoyable. I was a great optimist. After a few weeks, I found that I was wrong after all. You have to keep your attention tight all the time, because you never know what the steering eagle will do in a moment. The vast majority of the course participants were both sexes of the so-called private initiative, who had no previous experience with technical devices, on the other hand, had the anti-talent to direct anything but their own self-interest. Moving off without jerking or stalling the engine was an impossible task for many, even after a few rides. Remembering the gear layout (I was teaching on a three-speed Dekawka) was also a serious problem for some, while coordinating the movements of both legs and arms and also watching what is happening on the road – this is an absolutely impossible task. I never thought before that so many people could have an absolute anti-talent for driving.

I stuck to this job because it gave me some freedom. I could arrange my next rides in such a way that I would have time, for example, to come to the University of Technology to do something or do some shopping for my home. I was earning relatively well. But I came home completely exhausted.

One day, when I had three students in the car, smoke began to come out from under the hood. I stopped the car, told the students to get out, opened the hood. To my horror, I realized that the insulation on the wiring harness under the fuel tank was burning (as a result of a short circuit). Fortunately, there was a tool container under the hood at DKW. I grabbed the key or the screwdriver, tore the cable from the battery and with the cap – I had nothing else at hand – I put out the flame.

The boss did not really believe in my report, because after removing the short circuit, I reached the base on my own. It was only after he had examined the fire marks under the fuel tank in the presence of several other instructors that he changed his mind. He pulled out his wallet and placed some ridiculously small sum on the hood “as a reward for saving the car from fire.” I took a slightly larger sum out of my pocket, put it next to it and said: “I don’t have more, but if you don’t have enough money to do a decent review of the old Dekawka, I will lend you a loan with pleasure.” There was a moment of silence. However, the boss found himself unconventionally. He put his eyeglasses on his nose, looked at the banknotes lying on the mask and said: “My eyesight has deteriorated terribly, without my glasses I can’t see anything anymore. I’m sorry, sir, I was wrong; Thank you very much for the loan, but this time it’s not necessary ”and he pulled a fairly decent sum from his wallet. We went to the restaurant for dinner later. We ate it in a pleasant mood. Of course, the boss was paying.

It is impossible to describe all the “amazing” behavior of the students, but some are worth quoting. The student who is already driving well gets behind the wheel. I finished the conversation, through the side window ajar, with the student who had just finished the ride. Side, quiet street. No vehicle in sight, no pedestrian. “Please go ahead.” At this point, my current interlocutor also asks me something. I turn my head, “My” student shifts the reverse gear instead of the first, starts and he packs himself on a pile of debris behind the car, in such a way that all the wheels hang in the air (most of the side streets have not yet been completely cleared of rubble). Taking the car off the floor only was not easy at all. By the “occasion” the mechanical brakes were disregarded (always very poorly working); their lines stretched beneath the floor.

Another time, a lady of Balzac age, taking extra lessons because she is still not ready for the exam, asks if she can go to her home, because she is in a very hurry. She was the last student of the day, so I agree, it doesn’t bother me. We’re going somewhere to the distant Mokotów. On the spot, I get an invitation to go home. I refuse politely, because I still have to put the car in the garage. “Do you care about this job? You will do better with me in all respects. I invite you very much. ” I did not use. She took the next additional lessons from another instructor. Soon he quit his job at the driving school.

Working as a driving instructor tired me more and more. I was fed up with her and it became more and more difficult to combine work and study. The third year of studies was just beginning. I could not attend lectures, but attendance at classes and laboratories was obligatory. I quit my “light” job as a driving instructor and went back to tutoring.

In 1955, I obtained a driving license for all civilian cars and motorcycles. I needed it in my professional career. I am sorry for long deliberations,

Maciej Bernhardt

[1]) the organization of general education schools at that time was: 6 classes of general school, 4 classes of middle school and 2 high school

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