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SINGLE CAB SAFARI
Story by Lois Grace



OK, I'll call for a show of hands on this one: all of you who love rummaging around through junkyards, raise your hands. OK, great. Now, all you LADIES who love rummaging around through junkyards, raise your hands. Ladies? Any ladies out there who like doing this kind of thing? Hmmmm. I see I really am a member of an endangered species. In spite of this fact, I recently embarked on one of the most exciting forays of my adult life, into the wilds of the Bay Area, armed only with gloves and a toolbox, in search of that ever-elusive and long-lost site, the Single Cab Graveyard. What brought this story to mind was a hefty bundle of VW magazines sent to me recently by their editor. I was reading through them leisurely, noticing several articles detailing the "new" model VW's. Passats and Jettas, Tiguans and minivans, they were all in there. It never ceases to amaze me how we are all attracted to and jazzed by different things, different models and styles. For some, it's the newest Volkswagen has to offer, in anticipation of having the best design and technology available. For me, its' the Vintage Animal, as many of you who have read my other ramblings know.

To me, there simply isn't any better VW than a vintage VW. Opinion, of course, but these old guys just hold a special fascination for me. The gods recently confirmed this by guiding me and a friend to that aforementioned Single Cab Burial Ground. This friend, for purposes of clarity and the reader's understanding, is a body man, an artist, a fellow vintage VW nuts, who has a sort of special bond with them like I do. When the phone rang in his shop one afternoon a few months ago, and the anonymous caller gave Darin directions to this Eden, we decided it was too good, if true, to leave to chance encounter and made plans to see this place for ourselves.

The caller had given Darin directions (of a sort) and said there were rumored to be 8 single cab trucks nesting there. Apparently the man who owned them also owned a sign company and they had been part of his fleet of company trucks. This man wanted to dispose of the whole group and not be bothered with selling one or two. We immediately thought "EIGHT?? What're we gonna do with EIGHT?" but rapidly came to our senses. After all, if you've got one or two, what's another six or seven, right? We hastened to arrange schedules so we could go up and check this one out.

On a Saturday morning several weeks ago, Darin and I embarked on our quest. We arrived at the designated spot in Redwood City to find...an empty parking lot. Where were they? Had we taken a wrong turn? No, the direction were so sketchy there was no way we were going to find them now, knowing what we did. The only solution was to find someone else who could guide us further. At the edge of panic and despair, we stopped into the local VW parts emporium on that block to ask if anyone there had ever heard of these trucks. One guy behind the counter leaned over and said, Yeah, we know about 'em. Don't get your hopes up. They're pretty well trashed." Could it be the notorious Truck Tribe he was referring to? We got more precise directions and headed off once more. Looking for a dirty green house with eaves-high weeds in the yard, we scanned backyards and driveways and empty lots while driving down a narrow two-lane road. Suddenly I spotted the house. Crashing through several potholes and coming to rest in the dirt driveway I killed the ignition and we looked up to see IT: A blue single cab staring back at us!! We'd found them! This blue one and his pals were just sitting there, waiting for salvation.

We leaped out of the truck with our hearts aflutter and made our way down the dirt driveway on the side of the house, hoping all the while that all the pit bulls were safely chained up in the back. Surely a place like this would have guard dogs? Not seeing any sign of them, we began our inspection. This lone blue truck was on the right, with three more parked sideways to our left: a bus and two trucks. On in the narrow yard further were more, a literal treasure trove. They seemed to be EVERYWHERE. Behind the blue single cab was another, red, then a camper, and two more singles behind that. Further back we went. Across the back of the lot, parked shoulder to shoulder, were four more, and another to the left of these in the weeds. This was a very narrow lot, with little room to maneuver, so when they'd been parked they had been shoved together as close as possible to keep the drive clear. Cats jumped from rooftop to rooftop, and odds and ends lay scattered across them. Side mirrors were tangled together in a jumble of broken glass and rusted metal. Tires were sagging under the weight of badly rusted bodies and patchy sheet metal. One poor soul had had a fire in its bed, of all places, and was now sporting a blackened rust spot on its bald roof. Despite all these obvious problems, Darin and I stood and stared in awe. Yes, they were a sorry-looking lot, forgotten and unloved. Most were missing vital pieces of their anatomy, but no doubt about it: they all belonged to that long-extinct species, Volkswagen Singlus Cabinium. None were what anyone would have called a must-have, but for true aficionados like Darin and I, it was almost more than we could bear. We began squealing and running around and poking about with glee, shouting and screeching each time we made a new find. Darin noticed one truck still wearing a crank-hole apron, I found one round glass taillight lens. Cracked, but still on the truck. By now our enthusiasm and excitement were obvious. The sign business was apparently doing a brisk business that day, but someone had noticed our frenzy and called the owner to come over. He showed up about 10 minutes later, receipt book in hand. After a few moments getting acquainted, we began bombarding him with questions.

These trucks had indeed been part of his fleet of fifteen company trucks and they had been used daily till about 3 years ago when the last of them was abandoned in favor of a Japanese truck, which shall remain nameless. All the VW's had been converted to 12 volts and equipped with 1500cc engines. There had also been much creative body work done to these poor critters - in each and every one, a small window had been hacked behind the driver in the cab and a piece of Plexiglas riveted in. Most likely for better visibility...also, doors were wired to hinges, mirrors were wired to doors via hinges, and most were missing side and tail gates. I was just wondering where these gates had gotten off to (a fairly uncommon item at swap meets and hard to replace) when I heard a strangled shout from a far corner of the yard. Thinking that Darin had stumbled onto the chained up pit bulls and was about to be torn to pieces, I went off to rescue him and found him standing over a stack of gates that would make your head spin. Glassy-eyed, he told me there looked to be five complete sets there, all neatly stacked in a row. Apparently they had been removed from the fleet earlier and stored. As owners of elderly VW trucks, we were both ecstatic over this latest find, and celebrated with lunch.

Going back for another look, we found much: most of these trucks were 1961 or older, with one being a 1955 or 1956. A couple were about 1963 or 1964. There was also a huge stack of 5-lug wheels behind one truck. Stray parts littered the landscape: two rubber floor mats hung from an open door, front splash pan lay propped against a set of weights used by some long-gone body builder. About then the owner ambled on by, and wanted to talk business. Business?? How rude! We were in the middle of inspecting the loot, and he wants to talk MONEY? He asked how many we wanted, as he wanted to sell the whole lot. Darin, of course, was making mental notes to allow him to get away with all eight. The buses were staying, as they were not for sale, and one truck would remain behind also. We could have our pick of what was left. We went home that day without a single thing, but resolved to go back the next Saturday and pick up the first two.

We arrived there the next weekend with two pickups, assorted tools and enough enthusiasm to tow home the whole bunch in one felled swoop. Once we got started, however, our enthusiasm dimmed somewhat when we realized how difficult it would be to get these guys out of their nests, and turned around enough to hook up the tow bars. The first problem became flat tires. We needed to get enough good tires on them, and get them to hold air long enough to tow them the 35 miles home. Trouble was, most of the tires were in sorry shape - one rim even looked as if it had been attacked by a can opener! We managed to find four decent-looking (although bald tires for the first orphan and dragged him out into the yard to be turned around and hooked up. Turned around?? We realized the folly of this when we found we had 10 feet of truck, and only 6 feet of turnaround room. We did manage to get it turned, however, and hitched him to Darin's El Camino for the trip home. On the way next door to park this one, one of those "decent-looking" bald tires instantly deflated, meaning yet another tire change. With this one settled and ready to go, we went back and selected another one - the white on with the burned cranium. After changing tires on this one, we proceeded to push and shove this creature down the yard to where my pickup was waiting. Before starting to hook these guys up, we had rescued the giant stack of gates and very cleverly loaded them all into the back of my truck. Now, after hitching the white one up, we discovered that going in a straight line would be no problem. Turning in either direction would be, however, due to the fact that all those gates stuck out the end of my wimpy little 6-foot pickup bed, and bashed against the front of the white truck in tow. So, we unhooked the white truck, unloaded the gates into its bed, and we were on our way after a few photos of the whole setup and another quick tire change on Darin's victim.

We headed off down the bumpy road with our precious cargo following obediently behind. Not being anxious to tow these guys home on the freeway, we took a main road back the 35 miles to San Jose. Once under way, it was an interesting trip: the trucks thought it their duty to PUSH us, rather than wait to be pulled. They had a mind of their own. The strange looks we got from other in traffic were fun: my orphan had no doors, so those sitting to my left could see straight through to the car sitting in the lane on my right! One guy even rolled his window down and asked Darin why we wanted them. I mean, wasn't it obvious? Doesn't everyone want an old beat-up VW truck? Once back at Darin's shop, we unhooked them and settled them comfortably into a spot in front, where they awaited their fate.

It has now been several weeks since that trip to get the first two. Darin and another friend made another trip up to get two more. The blue '56 we brought home has been sold to another VW lover. Another red one may be saved, and restored. The white one I towed was not so lucky: it is now in VW heaven after having been parted out and crushed. I felt terrible about this in the beginning. Was it possible to be crazy about them the way we are and then throw them away like garbage? I soon realized it was happy to give its life so other VW trucks could live on - my own truck, Vernon, has been the grateful recipient of some of this largesse. He now has the sun visor he was missing and numerous other little oddball parts that were hard to find elsewhere. After all, if it weren't for finds like this, vehicles like mine would never get restored at all due to the shortage of parts. I can't help but wonder how many other forgotten backyards harbor treasure such as this, waiting to be discovered. If you hear of one, let me know. I might just show up with gloves and toolbox in hand. After all, I AM an old pro now at changing tires!

(Since this was written, Darin has moved his shop a couple of times and I haven't spoken to him for a couple years. Rumor has it that he is still in the VW repair business, probably still spending his free time searching for that ever-elusive VW graveyard. Me? Well, of course my eyes are always roving around old vacant lots and ancient junkyards, but I have never again stumbled into anything like the Single Cab Nest we found that day in Redwood City.)

VolksWoman

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