Our VW adventure Easter /Spring vacation 1971
by SB Mike (Post Island SBs)
Best of the ‘Gest
Everyone has a horror story like this in their past.
In the Fall of 1971 we had just had four spectacular days of driving and hiking along Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive on into the Blue Ridge Parkway and turned southeasterly heading for North Carolina’s Outer Banks. About 5PM on this Saturday of a surprisingly quiet Columbus Day Weekend, we pulled into the Greensboro Municipal Campground and encountered all manner and vintage of VW bus campers. The friendly camp host, Denny, greeted us and directed us to the last available campsite. As we registered, he explained that this was the annual rally here for Everybus.com – “VW bus –o-philes” from America and Canada.
There were perhaps 75 in all, a few rainbow painted, with peace signs emblazoned. There were all kinds of extensions for cooking and sleeping. There was a Dead Head HQ flying high, the teddy bear flag, and a most beat bus with the license plate “NOTHIGH” …? No thigh? More likely to assure the local authorities – “Not High”. There were two live bands with lit up Hula Hoopers twirling in time. We surveyed the scene and spoke to one dread- locked free spirit who told us he had done 10,000 miles this past summer and many cross country forays.
Just across the way was a duplicate of the 1963 model we once owned. A skidding accident terminated our first car, a 1960 Dodge with a push button transmission nick-named “Fudgey.” It should have been named “Smelly,” since our friend Jim spilled a half gallon of milk in the back seat the first night we went for a ride. That car, and its bald tires took us, and five friends, to Quebec City in 1970 where we shared rooms in an Old City guest house, after getting stopped in a speed trap and paying a cash fine on the spot to Officer “Andre Fartsucker” to avoid having our car impounded. We had just enough money for gas, but we laughed all the way home, and still have the memories.
We got a line on a VW bus that appealed to us for its hippie allure and $800 price tag from a fair- seeming seller. We planned an adventure over the ’71 spring college break by going to visit Cyndy’s Central Jr. High School friend, Bev Roper, who lived near Daytona Florida. We removed the middle seat for Joe’s play-pen there and three other friends sat in the rear seat. Meanwhile, other friends convoyed in Irene’s VW bug.
After work on Friday, we packed up to the gills, got subs to go at Spukie’s, and took off around 11:30 PM. We headed south on I-95, switching drivers through the night, with pit stops only for gas and food and Vivarin caffeine pills. Finally we dragged into Bev’s place Sunday around 4 PM. After a short rest we drove to the Beach and plunged in for a swim. The locals on the beach, wrapped in winter clothes, thought we were crazy. Nope, just young and dumb.
The next Friday came all too quickly and after fond farewells , we headed North, traveling solo as the Bug crew left earlier. Progress was steady until Dunn, North Carolina. Without warning the bus started to lose power. I pulled over, but looking at the engine gave no clue. We were not able to re-start, even by popping the clutch.
We ready to walk to find a phone to call AAA when a tow truck swooped by, its hook literally dragging on the pavement. “Hey bub”, the driver drawled from his window, “Y’all need some help?” Feeling wary, but at his mercy, let him look at the engine.” Finally, he pronounced “Well, it’s either gonna be $40 or $400, but I need to tow it back to my garage and check it out.”
While I was thinking “We’ll take the $40 fix,” Cyndy, Joe, Bob and I crammed into the cab with our savior, Dwayne, while Jim and Gerry hid on the bus floor, bad news if stopped by the police. Not surprisingly Dwayne’s assessment was the $400 fix … seems we had “blown out the engine out,” meaning we needed a new one which he could get from a nearby salvage/junkyard and install over the next two days. Accepted payment, of course, was cash only. We did not have that kind of money.
I called home and my folks agreed to wire the money. It was a long and fascinating weekend. We checked in to Dunn’s seedy motel: 5 adults (3 guys in one bed, one married couple in the other and one 8 month old in his playpen. With exhausted our limited funds at Dunn’s single restaurant and amused ourselves with walks down the road to watch the pigs do their thing, and watched TV. It was a long two days.
On Monday Dwayne told us the job was done. After paying him and saying our fond farewells to Dunn, NC. We headed north, and made it no more than 100 miles down the road when the bus started to buck and stall. All we could do was call AAA, which we did 3 times in the next 24 hours! After numerous tows, we wound up, late at night. in a junk yard adjacent to a VW repair shop in Baltimore. We had a very uncomfortable night’s “sleep” in various crash and cram positions in the van. In the AM genuine German mechanics shook their heads in disgust and determined that much more repair would be needed in Boston , They patched us up, gave us lots of containers of oil and a warning “ do not turn this off until you get home; it may not start again!”
So we headed off into the rising gale April snowstorm. We crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge in the middle of the night with the wind blowing so hard it seemed we could be swept off into the abyss. At a top speed of 40 mph we made it at dawn to Providence where we paused (engine running) to exchange our remaining funds for 3 orders of toast and 2 large orange juices. 2 hours later we were home. Our brief and costly adventure as VW hippies was over!
Epilogue: On 11/16/10, 39 years after our spring break fiasco, we passed by Dwayne’s roadside rip-off in Dunn, NC cruising at 70 mph in our spaceship-like, Mercedes-powered RV. The little motel and restaurant were still there, but Dwayne’s was now the “Risque Café- where we dare to bare.” We did not stop. Just down the road we passed a guy who had was chopping the head off a deer with an ax. I am not making this up. It seemed like the fitting end to this nightmare.