Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Tale of Two Buses

The ad was wrong.

With an incorrect telephone number, and Volks separated from wagen, I only found it by fateful accident, dutifully scanning the dark corners of the internet on a cold winter day, searching for another project.
This Bus looks very familiar. In fact it is nearly a dead-ringer for my beloved 1969 Westfalia, "Mama Bus", 12 year companion to the depths of Oregon wilderness and beyond. The similarity is so striking that I must call the guy.

The elderly Hispanic woman who answers the phone seems politely none-to-pleased, as she explains in broken English that she has no Volkswagen Bus. Oh my.
After hours of fitful decoding, I somehow piece together the correct telephone number.
The Bus is still for sale! Not only that, the owner is friendly and helpful, what the heck?
And yet another call to my good friend John in Eugene, Oregon, who promises to drive out and take a look in the next couple of days. I am nervous to find out the scoop. A Bus Pilot himself, his advice will be invaluable. It is difficult finding early Volkswagens that haven't been converted to chicken coops, or smothered by a carpet of Oregon moss.

After a couple of days of nervous anticipation John gives me the lowdown. It does indeed sound like a good solid '69 Westfalia with very little rust, way out in the wet farmland. The owner is not a Bus guy and is eager for it to go.

A final call, the nice older gent on the crackling phone assures me the Bus will be waiting for me in the rain. “Cash only!” he warns. And the deal is settled. I promise to meet him in two days, by train.
You know, the last time I tried one of these crazy long-distance VW adventures, it ended in near fiasco. It was a long time ago, far from here - and a terrifying all day drive in a shaky 1964 Bus, my pale Grandfather alongside on the bench. "What the hell am I getting myself into?"

Tuesday afternoon, on the Coast Starlight I will be leaving the bleak streets of winter Portland.
With 2 enormous tool boxes in tow, Erin hauls me to Portland Union Station, stopping for cash along the way.

I feel like a gambler or secret agent the rest of the trip with my big white envelope. "Is it still there?!!!?" no it didn't fall out, relax. It's not fun traveling with a wad of dough let me tell you.

Portland Union Station is little changed in decades. The 1970s saw the coming of Amtrak, a government funded scheme to save the passenger train from certain death.
This ushered the fall of many grand railroad stations, lost to economy. It is refreshing to still feel the old bustle and anticipation of travel.

The guys at the baggage window look at me like I'm nuts when I ask about my tool boxes as carry-on.
"There are no explosives", I helpfully add.
Caring less, they tell me to tie an ID tag onto each so they don't get lost.
"Nope, no chemicals either."

With an hour to kill, I'm enjoying my time as a traveler, even if it's just a hundred mile trip into the gloom. I've always loved trains. It's been a long time since I "rode the cushions" as the hobos say.
Let's go!

Carrying my 1,000 lb. tool boxes alongside ten coach lengths, I am met by another dutiful but slightly bored conductor standing out on the platform.
"Can I get a window seat?"
Hrrm. He blankly hands me a ticket. Ok hopefully he speaks English.

Giddy in my seat I am really ready to roll south down that old Southern Pacific.
An hour rolls by. A fine gray rain dots the windows and landscape as the sunlight dims out.

Finally a message comes over the intercom: a medical emergency, and I suddenly feel less selfish.

But like a railroad lark we soon slip from our stained berth and curve south and over the once fetid Willamette River. We are finally on the way, and my hands begin to sweat with the madness of it all.  We roll on, down through the more industrial areas, avoiding the latte swill and endless boutiques that seem to define modern Portland, whitest city of the West. Times have changed, but not along the rails.

The rain picks up as the sun sets, black firs race by as we clatter down the single track.
It's depressing out there, as my palms continue to sweat.
"Don't open that door", I'm firmly scolded by a bored African American conductor reading a paper, as I try for a better view out the smudged back window.
"No, no my foot just bumped it! I wouldn't do that", I explain to her helpfully.

Silence, so I go back to my seat. Maybe it's the Dracula weather outside.

A coal night begins to fall, wet black oil as it falls from the sky and drapes the land like a blanket.
I see flocks of sheep grazing solitary grasslands, gray dots in the night roaming in the cold.

Thankfully, we do arrive in Eugene - and two hours late.
It is raining, but warmer here than Portland as I step off the train into the humid night.

John has agreed to meet me at the station and drive me out to the guy's farm so I can buy this Bus already, in the dark rain of course.  At this point I'm a slap happy idiot. "What the hell am I doing, John? Is this crazy?", I ask between mad laughing spells, sleepless and delirious.  "No, it's a good Bus", he assures me with a beaming Italian smile. It is good to see him, as I am reminded of Bus camps shared under dripping firs.

Somehow, in the country, the night is even more nightly. I can only focus on dim shapes in the surroundings, all else is blacked out by the rain. We pull up to a rural driveway, and I am startled to see original Mama Bus sitting there after my long weird journey. But of course it's not her at all, hulking wet and shy in the dark.

She is bent a bit in a corner, and missing some of the interior, but seems to be a lovely survivor. We exchange title for money in a dark garage, filled to the rafters with old cars and rusting parts. I am only dimly able to make out his face as the voice of his Granddaughter echoes conversation from somewhere in the dark, just a mystery.
"It all works", I'm reassured, as I test the vital windshield wipers and headlights. There are no instrument lights, but everything else seems to be working. It is difficult to shift but I get the hang of it.

Let's go!  We shake hands, he offers a friendly “good luck, kiddo!”  I hop in and roll into the rain, following John through tumbling dark farms and back to Eugene. He graciously offers me his couch for the night, and I am grateful to avoid any more adventure this day.

Before I know it, it is late, too late and I have a hell of another adventure in a few hours - to get home safe.
The bubbling telepathy of a turtle tank puts me in a delirium, the half-sleep of a crazy day.

By 8:30 the next morning, everyone is at work and I need to get the hell out of Eugene before I freak out. Let's get the show on the road.
She's a pretty Bus, but will she get me home? They tell you a lot in that first drive.
Nervous again, I fumble the cold key into the ignition. A slight pump of the pedal to click the choke, and the venerable old VW fires up like it's the old days.
With a full tank of gas, I eventually maze my way through morning Eugene traffic and hurtle onto Interstate 5 northbound.
The speedometer is wildly off, 75-80 MPH oh there is no way. But the engine is smooth and quiet, as I have the alarming experience of driving my old familiar Bus behind another wheel completely. I need a nap.
The Bus is rattly and loud due to missing bits but mechanically solid and smooth. Within 10 miles she shows me what she's made of and we begin to bond, man with loaf of machinery. A faithful Bus is a thing of beauty.

Somehow in a flash we are home, darting countless cars and racing a thick gray squall brewing on the horizon. Two hours!

As we pull into the driveway, the sky begins to rain heavy drops from a smudge of cloud. But we are home. My hands are numb and tingly with the cold, and still shake a little.

In spite of the rain, it is truly hilarious to see the two Buses together. They are almost identical.

It begins to dawn on me, these Buses were born only weeks apart, in a surely dismal Hanover February. In fact, their Westfalia builder's plates are only 126 vehicles apart. The M-code plates are virtually identical.

Both Buses were delivered to sunny Los Angeles, California in early 1969; they probably arrived on the same ship. Identical sisters but now eons apart.
Now that is pretty freaky, don't you think?  When strange things happen in an odd sequence and align with razor-blade chance, all you can do is throw your hands in the air with the wonder of it all.

And the funny thing? I didn't need any of those tools.

This article was originally written in 2014.  Since then, "Bus2" has been completely renovated and is now for sale.  I just don't need 2 identical Buses...

  It has been very gratifying seeing a neglected lump of machinery come back to life - due to the potential inherent in good design, even neglected good design...these old VWs were built to last.
  Their longevity is testament enough.  Long live the Volks!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

1969 VW Westfalia - Back to Life

It was 2 years of hard work, often full-time and beyond - to bring this Bus back to service.

In 2015, almost done but not quite, she made her first wilderness trip, featured in this article:

After almost another year of fabricating cushions and curtains, and fixing a lot of loose ends, "Bus2" or "Mama2" is now ready to travel where ever there is a road.
  I have repaired or replaced almost every system, and I would trust her anywhere.
Grease pencil and white stencil marks from the Hanover Germany factory
She is a rare, low-mileage and virtually rust free survivor from another age.  It really was a labor of love as I tried to recreate the spirit of an early Bay Window Westfalia, including authentic Baltic Birch paneling, triple-varnished with marine grade Spar Varnish.  
In 1969, this Bus was built to last.  
In honor of this original craftsmanship, I rebuilt her to last another 47 years. 
Thank you to all the VOLKS who have supported me over the years - you know who you are.

Long May You Run  

 1969 Westfalia brochure? Almost not quite.

For a change, I will let the photos do the talking.

 A bit of a dent in the nose and a small amount of rust are the only imperfections yet

Due to a change in life events, this Bus is now for sale.  Please contact Bob at PDX Volks Folks.
I am very sorry to see her go, life goes on...