Ordeals Behind the Wheel: Drivers Ed staff, students recall trials

Driver’s education is something almost everyone goes through in the teenage years. The class may seem intimidating, with long hours and so many opportunities to mess up, but it helps to keep the challenge in perspective because there are others who have had even worse experiences.

Sabrina Leistikow’s and Kirsten Graves’ scary experience happened last year on the same driving session. “It was our fourth driving session and we were diving to Waverly. Suddenly it started hailing really bad. We were planning on driving to Parkersburg, but then we had to stop because the windshield wipers couldn’t wipe the hail fast enough off the windshield. Our driving instructor told us to pull into the Waverley Hospital and sit there and wait, and then he saw on his phone that there was a tornado warning in the area, so he said, ‘Shut off the lights and let’s go into the hospital.’ I was really scared, almost in tears scared,” Leistikow said.

Leistikow’s driving partner, Graves, was feeling the same way.

“I was freaking out inside the hospital because I forgot to turn the lights off in the car. Sabrina and I were scared, but we were also happy we got stuck at the hospital together,” she said.

CFHS graduate Tim Olsen of Cedar Falls took driver’s ed almost 20 years ago. When Olsen was faced with a tough question from his driver’s ed teacher, Mr. Engel. “When Mr. Engel teaching it in 1998, he asked me a question, ‘What do you do if someone is driving too close?’ I responded, ‘Hit the gas.’ He said, ‘No … really.’ I responded, ‘Hit the brakes, let him run into you, collect the insurance money and buy a new nicer car.’ He sent me to the hall,” Olsen said.

Stephanie Dawson is a former driver’s education student from another state who now lives in Cedar Falls experienced perhaps the most physically uncomfortable situation. “I didn’t grow up in Cedar Falls. I’m from South Dakota. We can get our license at 14. I was in a full body cast following scoliosis surgery. I learned to reverse and parallel park using only my mirrors because I couldn’t turn my head. That’s still how I park, and it really freaks people out the first time they see me do it. I am a great parallel parker, though,” Dawson said.

Sometimes the funny and scary stories happen to the driver’s ed teachers, too. Jay Goulden, teacher at Holmes Junior High and owner of Goulden Rule Driving School, has many years of stories to share over the 35 years he has been a driver’s education teacher. He shared his three favorites.

“I was teaching at Cedar Falls High School, and we had just gotten new driver’s ed cars. One of the teachers told me he was outside in the parking lot to take the students and go drive, so he described the car to me, and we went outside, got in the car, all three of us, myself and two students. We started to go through the adjustments and procedures, looking at the controls and right in the middle of that, the real owner of the car came out and was wondering what we were doing in their car,” Goulden said.

Goulden’s students also had dangerous encounters with nature on the road. “It was 2003. It was the first year we bought a new car for Goulden Rule Driving School. This one isn’t funny, but it’s more true and scary. We have a route that we take students over by the path by Beaver Hills, so it was the brand new driving car and another car that we rented. So what we do is play leapfrog with the cars, one car passes, and then the other car passes. On the second pass a deer came from our left and ran right in between the car that was passing. That deer was so close. I swear I could count the fur around its eyes. We didn’t end up hurting the deer somehow, but we pulled the cars over and told the students, this is what you do when there is a deer in the way. ‘Don’t veer for deer,’” Goulden said.

Goulden also said that he was the reason behind one of his most embarrassing stories. “This was five years ago. I had a student that continually sped. I told her that if she would continue to speed, she would be flunked. So I talked to a friend of mine that was a police officer, and we came up with a idea that the police officer is going to pull her over when we are driving underneath the bridge on South Main Street, and she is going to read the riot act to the driver and show her what it would be like. It worked like a charm. We were driving and the police pulled us over, so she could get the idea of what it would be like. She shook like a leaf; she was very nervous. It was a really good idea at first, but what I didn’t realize is that here is a driver’s ed car pulled over on South Main Street with the police lights going and everyone watching and wondering, ‘Gee I wonder what the Goulden Rule Driving School did to have that happen,’ and I realized that this was not good publicity, so we drive off and pull over at Kwik Star gas station to get gas and switch drivers ,and I got a phone call. The person on the phone said: ‘I took a picture of your car that got pulled over, and this will look great on the Waterloo Courier.’ I got mad and told him that we were teaching someone a lesson, so in the end it caused no problems,” Goulden said.

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