Pine Nuts: Proud owner of the world’s first driverless car |

Pine Nuts: Proud owner of the world’s first driverless car

McAvoy Layne
Pine Nuts

I had a friend on the Island of Kauai who was a crop duster, a perilous profession, and in his case, a profession that would eventually take his life. I miss him.

While he was still with us in this earthly realm, and still full of vim and vinegar, Tom used to put his substantial sense of humor on full display if he happened to spot me driving my open Jeep along a stretch of Kuhio Highway with no other cars in sight. Without hesitation he would circle his ancient biplane around in front of me, fly directly toward me, land in a collision course on the road in front of me, then pull up at the last second, laughing all the way, knowing I would have to pull off at the next available restroom.

After he had pulled this stunt a second time I decided to fight fire with fire. I purchased a beautiful German made electric drill and drilled a hole in the firewall of my ’43 Jeep large enough so I could see out the front while crouched down beneath the steering wheel. Then I bided my time.

About a week after drilling that hole, here comes Tom, same old flight pattern, a long swooping turn in my direction, and a neat landing on the roadway in front of me. That’s when I ducked down beneath the steering wheel to press the gas pedal with one hand while steering with the other. Needless to say I was younger and more flexible back in the ’60s.

Well, as Tom approached, he noticed there was nobody at the wheel of the Jeep, then, as he pulled up and passed overhead, he noticed further still that there was nobody in the driver’s seat. As I had hoped, this really spooked him.

Tom landed on the 18th fairway at a nearby golf course for a straight shot at the 19th hole. And that’s where I found him, standing at the bar.

And do you know, good ol’ Tom bought me a drink and admitted I had given him reason to wonder at what he had just seen as he pulled his biplane up toward the heavens. He told me he nearly sprained his neck trying to glance back at that driverless Jeep, and that he would be going to confession on Sunday to ask forgiveness for terrorizing me with his crop duster. He was such a good friend.

Well, that was 1969, so I guess you can put me down in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the first person to own a driverless car.

I wish Tom were here to vouch for me, but he’s dusting crops up in heaven today, and probably pulling a few pranks on some unsuspecting angels when he’s feeling his oats. I can just hear one of them now …

“Did you see that idiot?! He seeded my cloud and I dropped like a stone for 50 feet before I could gather my feathers and stop my fall! And my harp, well, my harp is forever gone. I wish I could get my hands on that crop duster, ‘Tom,’ I think his name is …”

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