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THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2007
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Retired Alabama State Trooper Hubert L. Hester. Hester served as a driver license examiner before retiring in 1972.
Daily photos by John Godbey
Retired Alabama State Trooper Hubert L. Hester. Hester served as a driver license examiner before retiring in 1972.

In the
passenger’s seat

Retired trooper recalls days as area’s license examiner

A woman behind the wheel in Athens could have crushed him.

A man meandering down a Moulton street could have burned him.

A woman dodging traffic in Decatur offered a better option. She walked with him, when she ran out of gas.

Hubert L. Hester dealt with all sorts of behaviors while he was a driver license examiner, mostly with the old Alabama Highway Patrol, which became the Alabama State Troopers shortly before his retirement in October 1972.

Hester celebrates his 88th birthday June 9. He took roads not always paved with promise. The Guntersville native got a bumpy start from the get-go.

He doesn’t remember his father, and he lost his mother when he was 7 or 8. A sister in East Gadsden raised him. He left Gadsden High School in 1938 to join the Army and re-enlisted in November 1941, serving with Merrill’s Marauders in Burma and India.

After his service ended in July 1945, he returned to East Gadsden and applied for the patrol. He worked at Goodyear a short time with his sister before the patrol called him.

“I did some military police work in the Army, and I was in pretty good shape,” Hester said. “Some coming back from the war were shot up, and I had been lucky. They hired me because they couldn’t get somebody better. They didn’t have too much to pick from.”

After a stint in the regular patrol, he asked for a transfer to the driver license division.

“I was on my own, giving tests in Decatur, Hartselle, Athens, Moulton and, for a while, in Russellville. I even worked half a day on Saturdays,” he said.

Heavy vehicles

He recalls most vehicles were straight shift and heavy, with no power steering or power brakes.

“There were no conveniences whatsoever in those days,” he said. “You had to give hand signals. It’s a lot easier now to get a driver license.”

He said the woman he tested in Athens who could have delivered a crushing blow drove a new two-door Mercury.

“I had her park about halfway up a hill and told her to take off without letting the car roll back or racing the motor,” he said. “I wasn’t watching her closely enough. She put it in reverse and gunned it. She started screaming, but I was too scared to scream. I was trying to get my foot on the brake but we got all tangled up. She turned us over, on her side.”

Hester said as he worked to push open his door, she yelled, “Don’t leave me! The car was smoking but didn’t catch fire. I told her to let me get out so I could help her.”

Hubert Hester’s first badge. He joined the Alabama State Troopers after serving in the Army during World War II. He served as a regular patrolman before requesting a transfer to the license division.
Hubert Hester’s first badge. He joined the Alabama State Troopers after serving in the Army during World War II. He served as a regular patrolman before requesting a transfer to the license division.
But there was no such luck in Moulton, when a man’s car backfired and caught the motor on fire.

“We got out and let it burn,” Hester said. “There wasn’t anything else we could do. And that woman in Decatur? Well, we were doing all right with the test until she ran out of gas. We got out and walked back.”

Probably half of the area’s residents over 50 got their
driver license from Hester.

“At Austin High School, they called me ‘Hester the tester.’ I might as well have laughed,” he said, “because they called me a lot worse at other places. They said I was extremely hard. I gave a strict but fair test.”

Hester said most people would borrow a good car to take their test, and “that was the worst thing to do because they’re not used to it. And you’d be surprised at people who don’t know how to turn their lights on or their dimmer switch. During a time before you had to have a permit, some would admit that they had never driven in the city. But I still had to give them a chance.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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