This Old Bus

micro-busA fierce wind blew in from the Dakotas on the day before Thanksgiving. When it left, it took the last leaf of summer.

Along my walk, the wind scoured clean a grove of oaks, revealing a split windshield peering mournfully over the bed of a decaying hay-wagon.

There is was, the vehicle of my dreams, a 1964 VW micro-bus.

I’ve been looking for a project like this. Not that I don’t have projects. I have all kinds of kinds of things to do – but those things found me, not me them. What I’ve been wanting is a project of my very own, not one assigned by wife or weather. Something that might take years.

I slipped through the buck-thorn to check it out. No sign of rust and the upholstery was in great shape. When I eased into the driver’s seat to shift the gears, I felt play only in the linkage, not the transmission. Goodness knows after owning enough of these old cars, you acquire a touch you never lose.

I spent half my youth working on VW’s. The other half I spent sleeping. I courted girls, hung-out with my friends and attended college, all from beneath the hood or the undercarriage of a Volkswagen. The reason I was blessed with so many cars is because I couldn’t afford a reliable one. Whenever a VW died in a driveway, the owner would call me to haul it away. Whenever a car died on me, I plucked out it’s good parts and transplanted them into the next vehicle. You have to wonder what the cars thought as they saw me coming. I was the grim-reaper of VW’s, the last station before the bone yard.

But I did my best for them. Believe me, you know nothing about commitment until you have spent a Minnesota winter laying in the snow under a car. I almost married a girl who said it is what attracted her.  Later she left me for a guy with a new Ford truck because his pickup started.  She needed transportation more than she needed a guy who understood commitment.

It is things like that which make me realize I never enjoyed myself back then. I was always either frost-bit, knuckle scrapped, bandaged or broke from working on those cars. Yet half a century later, here I am again, looking for a car that needs work. This time around though, I have a heated shed, a matching set of tools, enough money to afford parts and all the time in the world. I will love every second of it.

It makes me nervous though.

Time takes it’s toll on old cars, just like it takes it’s toll on old men. Deep in any old car, subtle things go wrong. Things you just can’t see. Cables stretch. Rings soften. Wires corrode. Bolts freeze. Mounting brackets twist. Frames warp imperceptibly. Nothing fits like it should.

Before I do this thing, I need to know exactly what it is I am doing. Why am I making new what is old?

Is it one of those rare chances to go back in life and make good on a not so good experience,  to fix what you wish you could have fixed then, or is it that by fixing the imperceptible flaws of an old thing, you give it and yourself another chance?


Note: if you are interesting in writing and critiquing humor essays, visit Humor Monday on the Writing Essential blog

Author: Almost Iowa

23 thoughts on “This Old Bus”

  1. Our family of seven looked like a bunch of clowns piling out of of 1964 VW beetle. My dad and My brother were both over 6’4″ tall. I always felt bad for the rest of the family who couldn’t squeeze in.

  2. Loved reading this, Greg. Our family moved often. I wish I could find the picture of our VW Bug loaded top to side and inside with us two kids, mom and dad and all of our possessions. We looked like a modern day Grapes of Wrath.

    1. You should have seen some of the ugly things I used to drive. I had a micro-bus that was so rusted out, I could only drive it in the summer. It was great on hot days thought.

  3. I am married to an automotive machinist, a rare breed these days. Grease permanently stains his nails. He works hard. He’s good at what he does; the best really given the demand for his work.

    Where am I going with this? He would so love to own an old car, maybe a 64 Chevy like the one he drove as a teen. But, no money in the budget for a “toy.”

    So, I say if you have the money and repairing an old VW would give you delight, then take on the project. Resurrect those memories. Create new ones.

    1. I am a little intimidated by the thought of restoring a VW. You know how it is in the country. Brand loyalty is supreme. I’ve almost had to break up fights between Ford and Chevy truck owners. You have to wonder how they would react to a VW.

      Another consideration is story. Old cars just don’t appear in woodlots, someone had to put them there. Each old car has a story and you have to ask the people who have lived here all their lives what it is – before you take it’s history as your own.

      1. Excellent point about the stories. I always wonder about the stories, too, when I see those abandoned cars and pick-ups and tractors settled on the edges of farm sites, often grown into groves. Perhaps you will write the next chapter of this VW.

  4. I remember pushing an Old Beetle down Cathedral Hill on a cold winter day to get it started, and when it fired up, AHH, BLISS!!!

    1. I remember that too. The starter went out on the 66′ beetle I got from Barb. I had to park it on Cathedral Hill and the River Rd hill at the U of M. I roll-started that thing for all of January through much of Feb. You had to help me on a cold day when the transmission lub got so thick it wouldn’t roll without a push.

      By the way…. thanks.

  5. Thanks for the memories! As a teen, I had a Beetle with a baha kit. Held that thing together with panty hose at one point (it’s a girl-fix).

    1. A baha kit? Oh, the memories flood back. The beetle was so easy to modify, it virtually begged to be modified. In that sense it was like the Model T, the car that invented the after-market.

  6. Greg, I sit half a world away and get swept up in your writing. It takes me back to listening to your stories. Miss ya, bro. John

  7. Rather than just comment upon a really wonderful read I’d like to say the writing style, gentle and flowing as it is, is sublime. A swift ‘Bravo’ is called for methinks.

  8. I think it is a combination of both of those things, really, and I think it is so worthwhile for the reason you described early in the post: a task not assigned by wife or weather. You’ll do it for you. By the way, for what it’s worth, my late German grandfather was a design engineer on the VW, a matter of great pride for him.

    1. It’s wonderful that you mentioned your grandfather. I probably knew him well. Not that I ever met the man but when you work with the designs of others, you develop a kinship with them. You come to understand their thinking and anticipate their intent. It is a familiarity critical to working on complex systems. Something that you can almost feel.

        1. It works the other way around too. As a system architect, I’ve heard many people comment that whoever designed their system was a complete moron… being a moron is something I take great pride in.

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