We have a love affair with convenience. We want automatic everything so it’s faster and easier to do. I certainly prize my washing machine over a washtub and scrubbing board, but the more we take our elves out of the creation process or tackling the actual work, the less we appreciate the experience of doing something well.
The stick shift has become a proxy object for that loss. When manual transmissions were the norm, drivers had to touch and manipulate the shifter in tandem with the clutch; doing so constantly while operating a vehicle.
I learned to drive on a tractor that had a clutch pedal to the left side of the seat, the gear shifter came up between my legs, the throttle was a lever on the steering column, and the brake pedals were to the right side below the seat. They were split with an individual left and right pedal so you could brake each tire separately. Now throw in the fact that tractors didn’t have power steering until John Deere offered that option starting in 1954 ( we only had older tractors) and you have a one-of-a kind coordination challenge.
Driving required the synchronization of pedals, shifter, directional steering that resembled pulling down a sumo wrestler, and then working the clutch in tandem with the throttle so you didn’t stall out. A gear shifter provides a symbol of the human body working in unison with the engineered world. Mine didn’t always work so well, but I still got the tractor to the field!
Pouring ourselves into our actions and products is what “homemade”, craftsmanship, working trades, farm raised, and good local politics are all about. At Evermore Farm, we “do” the work of raising our animals in the most humane system possible while caring for the land. Selling our products directly to folks who will serve it to their families, totally runs “all the gears” in this model of local food production.
I certainly have appreciated having automatic transmission vehicles with my knee troubles. But I admit to missing those times of running through all the gears, shifting smoothly, and letting the breeze from the open driver’s side window blow across my face on a summer evening drive. Gone but not forgotten.