Buckling into the passenger's seat next to gangly 15-year-olds eager to cruise into adulthood by obtaining their drivers licenses may not fit most people's idea of a relaxing retirement, but for retired English teacher Larry Brincefield, drivers' education provides extra income and an opportunity to teach -- with a few adventures along the way.
Brincefield decided three years ago to turn his 30 years of experience as a part-time driver's education instructor for Bertha-Hewitt and Wadena-Deer Creek schools into the Wadena Driving school. He wanted a part-time job to supplement his retirement, although he said the school has turned into much more than a hobby. In addition to an income, the business has brought occasional heart-pounding experiences.
Brincefield said two of the most memorable experiences he had with student drivers occurred within minutes of each other on the Jefferson Street railroad tracks and U.S. Highway 10 and U.S. Highway 71 intersection. The driving lesson grew unexpectedly adventurous when a student driver hit the brakes right on the railroad tracks after she heard a train approaching.
"I had to encourage her very abruptly to move across the tracks," Brincefield said as he recalled the descent of the white and orange-striped guards and the roar of the train. "I counted one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand and the train went right behind us."
He said the student in the back seat turned "white as ghost" after the close call with the train only to create an adventure of her own 15 minutes later when she tried to make a left turn in front of an oncoming truck at the intersection.
"I had to slam on my brake because even at 25 miles per hour, we would have gotten hurt pretty bad," Brincefield said about the truck's approach. "I guess the thing that has saved my bacon the most are a quick left hand and a quick right foot."
Brincefield said he pulled over and talked to each student after the incidents to ask them why they made the driving decisions they did and to teach them what they did wrong.
"I don't get angry," he said about his teaching philosophy. "I don't yell at students."
In spite of some rare exceptions, Brincefield said drivers' education cars are very safe.
"Most of the time students and the instructor are safe when the instructor is focused on what is going on," he said.
In addition to teaching behind-the-wheel lessons for each student, Brincefield is state-certified to conduct classroom instruction. The state requires six hours of behind-the-wheel lessons with a qualified instructor and 30 hours of classroom instruction, although he said he provides 33 hours of lessons to ensure that each student logs in the complete number of hours even if they are late for some classes.
Brincefield said his students come from all over the area including Henning, Perham, Bertha and other communities and that most of his advertising comes by word-of-mouth. He said parents recommend him to other parents and that makes him feel good about his teaching.
He said Wadena is an ideal town for driving lessons because of the wide variety of driving experiences students can have including maneuvering one-way streets, choosing center turning lanes, cruising two major highways and encountering lots of traffic. Brincefield said he is open to scheduling lessons whenever his students are available, although he does not conduct driving lessons Sunday mornings.
The Wadena Driving School charges $285 for the complete classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction or $185 for six hours of behind-the-wheel lessons if the student already has a permit. The next class starts Aug. 2.