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Story by Lois Grace

Last year, I did the unthinkable. I took courage firmly in hand, and drove Vernon 240 miles to the Vintage VW Veteranentreffen meet in Solvang, CA. I have learned two things from this experience: one is that early Transporters were not built for long distance Fun, and now that we've HAD Fun, we don't ever have to have Fun again. Since this was probably to be the one-and-only-long distance trip Vernon, Rob and I would make, I kept a sort of diary, a log of the trip, almost mile by mile. What follows is the transcript of that log, as best as I can remember.

Friday, September 28th

8:10AM We leave San Jose, headed south, with another couple following us in their '63 Double Cab. The double cab is just out of the shop after a lengthy restoration, so it is even wetter behind the ears than Vernon for this trip. We end up in San Martin, 30 miles south, at our club president's house to pick up 4 boxes of t-shirts, 2 awnings, and a bundle of signs for the car show. Thank goodness SOMEBODY has a truck to haul all this. Wimps. They're driving CONVERTIBLES.

8:40AM We leave Rick's house and are on the freeway in less than a minute or so. My hands haven't stopped sweating since 8:10. My tummy is in knots. Why am I so afraid? I've worried for weeks about breaking down on the side of the road, and having to hitch for help, leaving Vernon behind.

10:00AM Salinas, CA, and Vernon is having a ball. It's still overcast and very chilly outside. John and Monica have the heater going, but mine isn't hooked up so Rob is putting on his sweatshirt. I have just a t-shirt on, but I'm not cold at all. I have my TERROR to keep me warm. Rob freezes, and I fret some more, even thought Vernon is running great and seems very glad to be back again on the highway. It's his longest trip- in over 20 years.

10:30AM Soledad, CA, and the California State Prison. This is one of the places where they send the Really Bad Guys. I zoom on by at a mind-blowing 50MPH, not wanting the dreaded breakdown HERE of all places.

11:00AM King City, CA. We figure San Ardo is about halfway and its not far from here. We spend the next half hour or so dodging giant green chilies in the road. They fell off a truck in front of us. Good thing I got that bra for Vern's nose, or we'd have to scrape salsa off his face when we arrive. No sun yet.

11:30AM San Ardo, CA! Halfway and I have survived. As hard as I tried to ruin this trip for myself, I find I'm even having fun. Vern doesn't need gas yet, but John does so we drive down into San Ardo, a small place a mile of so off the freeway. It's the kind of place that looks like time just stood still - a small cafe, two gas stations and about 15 dogs hanging around. The sun is out, finally, and it's hot now. I wish for the fog again. We pull into one of the gas stations, and I jump out intending to use the little girl's room. Whoops. You need a QUARTER to get in. Vandalism, the writing on t he door explain, while I wonder exactly how much vandalism could possible happen in this sleepy place? While I'm inside, the trucks attract a San Ardo crowd: two mechanics who amble out of the cafe to take a look. While I hold the bathroom door for Monica, John talks to them about our babies. They are amazed that we are driving them so far - SO AM I. They admire the trucks, John talks some more, and Rob uses the bathroom. It has cost us each 8 1/3 cents to go potty. We pull out of San Ardo, headed for Paso Robles and FOOD. Not that I can eat anything.

12:05PM I'm minding my own business, being passed right and left by others, when I look in the rear view mirror and see an amazing sight: a pale yellow single cab is coming up fast, followed by a white convertible bug, a black sedan and a red Ghia sedan. The club has found us, and we are about to be passed. Hardly surprising, since they are moving at about 65MPH to our 50MPH. They don't have reduction gears, the big sissies. As they come up next to us, someone shouts something about meeting us in Paso Robles for lunch so we nod and then get back to the business of DRIVING. A while ago, when I said that driving an old Transporter was like piloting your backyard tool shed around a corner, I wasn't kidding. Every bump and seam in t he road pushed my spine another inch into my brain. My shoulders ache, and my hands are still clammy, although now they are black from the steering wheel. AH,Fahrvergnugen!

12:20PM PANIC STOP #1: Strange noise! I'm just at the point where I'm beginning to relax about this Transporting business and all of a sudden; I hear a strange metallic clanging noise. Scraping. Rattling. UNNERVING. Rob look sup from his book, wondering what is going on. He barely hears it, but it is deafening to me. I look outside to the left, at my rear view mirror, and am horrified to see what appears to be an oily, black streak on my white rear bumper. All sorts of unmentionable thing are racing through my mind, and I'm POSITIVE the worst has happened. Cracked case? Burned valve? Push rod coming out? WHAT? I madly signal John to follow me off a the next ramp and we pull into a Chevron station.? I jump out and run to the back to see.......................nothing. No black streak. Hmmmmm. I open the engine compartment to find.....................nothing. The engine smells warm and faintly gassy, like engines should. The oil level is normal. The temp seems normal. There isn't even a hint of blow-by on the lid. Hmmm again. While I'm scratching my head and feeling the other three looking at me in bewilderment, John asks, ?Hey, did you guys hear that odd noise on the road back there? YIPPEEE! He heard it too! He thought the noise was HIM. I thought it was ME. Vernon's wondering what all the fuss is about and thinks were all WAY too silly. We get back on the freeway and head once again towards Paso Robles. To my amazement, I'm hungry.

12:45PM We pull into Paso Robles, CA, and its seriously hot here. YUCK. This isn't a big place, but we have to search for the club, to meet them for lunch. We find the group parked off one of the first exits at a hub of fast-food places. We ate, and I took off to gas up. Everyone is standing about, chatting and wondering if anyone ELSE heard the odd noise back there on the freeway? So, it wasn't just US. No, apparently 6 VWs pulled in an immediately popped the deck lids to find out what was going on. A few added oil, checked air pressure and generally fussed. By 1:15, John, Monica, Rob and I were once again hitting the freeway.

2:10PM San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly, and TRAFFIC. We thread our way carefully through the maze and proceed to points south. I begin to wish for the Saab's orthopedic ally-designed seats and I long for the stereo. Rob is busy reading but how he can keep his place I can't imagine. His elbows are on his knees with the book perched above. His head is snapping up and down in time to he ignition keys, which are keeping a sharp rhythmic TAP TAP TAP against the parcel tray. The book is bouncing around like it's on elastic. Just glancing at him gives me a headache.

2:20PM Pismo Beach. Our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean! Its cooler now and a beautiful day. The dunes stretch on for miles and a NorCal single cab feels pretty darned gnarly.......................

3:35PM SOLVANG, and we arrive in fine form, the Transporters, that is. Their human occupants are suffering the dreaded Transporter Slump, and will walk strangely for the next few hours. My head is throbbing, and I feel terribly OLD, suddenly. Stress will do that, I've heard. Vernon is in fine form, albeit a bit slower than the rest of our vintage VWs making the trip. Do any of you have any IDEA how long it takes to travel 240 miles at 50MPH?? In short, FOREVER. I've heard of glaciers that moved at a faster pace....................however, it isn't how fast you get there, it's that you GET there at all. Anyway, he hasn't used a single drop of oil and I will have only a minimum of cleaning to do to get him show-ready for tomorrows meet. Rob checks us into our room and I go in, turn on the air conditioning, and collapse on the bed with my head hanging off the wrong way. Gotta do something to get those kinks out!

After a few hours, I begin to feel elated. We made it! No breakdowns! Vern behaved beautifully for the entire trip and was so proud to be there. The hotel had roped off parking with a security guard for us, and a rather large and varied group of vintage VWs and their families soon joined our trucks. That night, there was a reception at the hotel for car show sign-in and general welcoming. We all discussed the day to come and went to our rooms that night eagerly awaiting the morning.

Saturday, September 29th

The show was a huge success, from what I could tell. Over 70 cars in the show, a large swap area and plenty of spectators. It was another warm, sunny day and after getting there and cleaning Vernon, Rob and I relaxed and talk to everyone. I even managed to eat something even though I hadn't completely forgotten that I would have to turn around and drive back home the next day. Everyone had a ball, and we got back to the hotel about 3:00 to clean up for the awards banquet that night. At 7:00 the banquet got under way and after dinner, the awards were presented and the raffle prizes announced. We got back to our room about 11:00 and packed what we could for the trip home. The rest would have to wait till morning.

Sunday, September 30th

8:00AM Breakfast, and then we're gone for home.

10:45AM The dreaded Cuesta Grade, north of San Luis Obispo. 1400 feet straight up (seemed like), and it stretches on fro 3 miles. Funny, we came down this on Friday and it looked a lot different. Anyway, about 25 feet up the hill, Vern bogs down and I'm in the third gear and at 30MPH. Ahead of me are loaded semis doing 5MPH. People are passing us doing 70MPH. Dilemma: how to pass the semis and stay at an even 30MPH up the hill, without being run over by the folks doing 70?? This is where Strategic Transporting comes in handy - John must have read the same book on this technique that I did, because he sees a hole in the traffic in the left lane, and darts over, making room for me ahead of him. People slow behind him, cursing those damn fool VW buses, and we actually PASS a semi! We get the thumbs-up sign from the truck driver as we go around and another high point of the trip is etched into my mind. Vern actually PASSED someone! We grind on up the rest of the hill and I'm feeling pretty smug since Vern is running so well.

10:55AM Panic Stop #2. Just over the hill, John begins flashing his lights and making frantic pullover gestures with his hand. I roll off to the side of the road, with truly VILE thoughts again. What now? The only thing I could think of was that the grade had been too much, something had snapped. Rob's thought was FIRE and he leaps out of the truck with the Halon extinguisher in hand. John is smiling, Monica is laughing outright at our antics. Very shortly we find out that on the way up the grade, as I was passing the semi, the cargo door on the right side had popped open. John and Monica didn't want us to lose anything that we had stored underneath and were just telling us to pull over so we could latch it again. Here we were, freaking out, and it was only an unlatched cargo door! Well, since it was open, I grabbed the Pepto (my stomach was REALLY going by this time) and we were soon on our way again.

11:00AM State Hospital, which I think they used to call MENTAL hospital. Rob suggests dropping me off there for a while to help straighten me out, and I consider staying, until we both realize they probably wouldn't let me LEAVE, once they realized the severity of my problems! Better to keep going, which we do.

11:30AM King City and lunch. GALLONS of iced tea, since it's hot and we need the caffeine. John is so bored with my freeway speed that he has taken to driving with his elbows, leaning over the wheel. He's got a bigger engine and more horsepower than I do - I'm amazed he can steer doing this, it takes all my concentration to keep Vernon in a straight line. Vern always did want to do things HIS way.

2:00PM Salinas. We stop for gas one last time and I seem to be the only one still alive and kicking. Monica is exhausted, Rob is bored and John looks like he needs a nap, even thought he just woke up. I'm just getting started!

3:30PM HOME. My wobbly legs hop out in to the driveway and I scan Vernon, searching for some indication of the long trip he's just completed. The only thing I manage to find is a small greasy spot on his dash where I've patted and petted him for three days. I do this periodically - I'll pat his dash while I drive. Well, I must have done it so much during this trip that I'm amazed I didn't wear right through the paint. But no, it's only my sweaty handprints left there. I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe oil all over the engine, maybe bugs on his face or God forbid - a ROCK chip in his paint somewhere. But he'd come through unscathed. And me? I'll never be the same. My tummy couldn't stand another trip like this - Vern himself was FINE but I'll need a straitjacket for the next one. WE ended up getting 29MPG, and didn't add a single drop of oil.

I had a great time and I'm not a bit sorry we did this. I have a new respect for Vern's durability and even more than THAT, a new respect for anyone who'd drive an old Transporter farther than around the block. The only group I can think of who'd be willing to attempt this would be chiropractic students. At any rate, it was a lot of fun and maybe next year well take him to...................NAH. I must be crazy.


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