Beginning: Two young people driving
down the Interstate in a rusty Volkswagen
Golf, car piled high with camping gear
and suitcases. A license plate from
a different country and "Vegas
or bust" written on the back window.
It sounds like something out of a comedy
movie but, for us, it was our first
road trip and we were on cloud nine.
Fast forward to the moment that our
car refused to leave second gear and
began screaming down the I-80 in Omaha.
"What the hell are we going to
do now?!" yelled my exasperated
then-boyfriend. "I don't know,
but you need to get off this highway
before the car explodes!" I shouted
back. We were sweating in the heat of
the late summer afternoon, windows rolled
down to counteract the nonexistent A/C.
Panic was overtaking us, as we quickly
realized that we had no "Plan B."
We had placed far too much trust in
our aging 500,000 km Golf and now it
was time to test our virgin road trip
problem solving skills. "Get off
here! Just get off." I jabbed my
finger towards the next exit ramp. Zach,
already in the right lane at this point,
veered the car off the ramp. As we crested
the bend, luck found us beside a Volkswagen
dealership! It was about 4:45 pm on
a Friday (the shop set to close at 5:00
PM) when we came sputtering up the service
drive door. I will never forget the
look on the service advisor's face as
he sized up our crappy car, out of country
plates and the two sweaty, distraught
occupants. Thankfully, we were soon
on our way in a rental car. Although
we weren't in Vegas yet, we had encountered
a little bit of luck.
finished the trip without incident.
Our Eastward journey home saw us revel
in the beauty of the Bonneville Salt
Flats for the very first time. We maxed
out the little Ford Focus with joyful
abandon. As car enthusiasts, we had
fallen in love for life: road tripping
was about to become "our thing."
There was, however, a downside: our
backs were sore from living out of a
tent for two weeks. We were growing
tired of changing the ice in our cooler
twice a day. There was no room for anything
in the car: even the door pockets were
packed with supplies. It was somewhere
in the middle of Iowa, on our final
stretch home that Zach looked at me
and said "you know what we need
to do? We need to sell the Bel Air and
buy a Volkswagen Bus." It was in
that moment that everything changed.
hunt for a Bus: It
took less than a month to find a new
home for our 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
Although we both liked the car, we had
never been in love with it. Finding
our Bus, however, was a very different
matter. Selection was limited and anything
in good condition was priced around
$10,000: a price that wouldn't leave
us any extra funds for upgrades or repairs.
After several months of hunting, Zach
finally located a little blue Bus on
The Samba, a popular website for vintage
Volkswagens. Not your typical Bay Window
Bus, this one had started life as a
panel van before being converted to
a camper by a west coast company called
Dorper. The top popped straight up,
instead of on the typical Westfalia
slant and it had no rear side windows
in the bed area (a bonus for sleeping!)
After some online discussion with the
seller, we decided to order a Pre Purchase
Inspection on it and see if it was what
we were looking for. The prospect of
purchasing a Bus sight unseen was daunting.
Not only were we worried about fraud,
we knew that there would be unanswered
questions and possibly surprises no
matter how careful we were. The shop
we hired out in BC came back with a
positive report on the bus, declaring
it "not a rusty Bus." After
a few hours of deliberation, we decided
to take the leap. We sent a deposit,
booked the shipment by train and crossed
our fingers. For better or worse, we
had become Bus owners.
inauspicious arrival: As many of
you know, Buses are normally given a
name. Ours had been dubbed Shamus by
his previous owners, who had said "shame
on us for buying another bus" and
then laughingly embraced the nickname.
Shamus had been very loved and taken
care of but, unfortunately, had been
sold to an interim owner who decided
that Bus life was not for him. Having
sat for several months (which buses
do not like to do,) the cork valve cover
gasket had dried out and been sucked
in. Zach arrived to the train depot
to find our new acquisition rapidly
leaking oil everywhere, the engine bay
such a mess that there was no immediate
locating the source of the leak. Needless
to say, the trip home from Toronto was
filled with frequent oil top ups and
frustration. It wasn't the introduction
to Bus ownership that we had been hoping
for; however, things soon took a turn
for the better.
many adventures ahead: Our goal
was to create a reliable road tripping
machine; however, when you have never
owned or worked on a vintage air cooled
vehicle, they can seem very intimidating.
Although we had initially planned to
rebuild the engine ourselves, we ended
up sending it out. We didn't yet understand
this strange "pancake engine"
that was lying on our garage floor (hard
to believe how much that would change
in just a couple of years!) Other upgrades
included suspension, tires, shifter
assembly and linkage, electrical, exhaust,
starter and interior. The Bus had come
equipped with a solar panel on the roof
but it wasn't working. After investigating
the issue and repairing the wiring,
we were able to run our refrigerator
and lights without connecting to an
extension cord. Zach proceeded to upgrade
the system further, adding a second
battery, power inverter and built in
electrical/USB power outlets. All of
this time in the garage increased our
confidence and understanding of this
strange old Bus.
In July of 2018, all of the hard work
was put to the ultimate test as we left
our home in Windham Centre, Ontario
to head to Canmore, Alberta. Aside from
making a minor adjustment to the throttle
linkage in Northern Ontario and a distributor
adjustment in Canmore (where we also
changed the oil) the entire trip was
without incident. We covered over 7,000
km in less than two weeks and were bowled
over by the amount of love we received
from other drivers while making the
trek. It turns out that everyone really
does love a Bus! The honks, waves and
peace signs were endless. Arriving home
was a surreal feeling. We couldn't believe
that we'd done it! Our spare tire was
untouched, our tool and spare parts
kit had only been used for the most
minor of things and our rear window
sported several new travel stickers.
We declared the trip a success.
of 2019 would see us test the Bus's
mettle yet again. This time, we headed
back to Bonneville International Speedway
in West Wendover, Utah. New for this
trip were oil filled shock absorbers,
which greatly reduced the Bus's propensity
to "spontaneously change lanes"
in the wind. Improved handling made
for a less fatiguing driver experience.
There were a few times in Wyoming when
the bus struggled with the high altitude
and mountainous hills. Aside from greatly
decreased fuel mileage though, we were
no worse for wear. Second gear, four
way flashers on and sticking to the
right lane made it entirely doable.
After several days of camping with our
"salt family," it was off
to Little Big Horn and Mount Rushmore
before once again turning north. When
we arrived home, we had surpassed 8,000
km in less than two weeks.
travel plans currently on hold due to
Covid-19, we can only dream of our next
Bus adventure. Florida is on the list,
along with California and Alaska. Wherever
we go, we can carry with us the valuable
knowledge that we've accrued in the
first five years of Bus ownership. Doing
things right the first time, maintaining
them thoroughly and investing in quality
parts will make a difference when creating
a vehicle for long distance travel.
Patience and a sense of humour will
go a long way as well! Finally, having
the courage to venture out into the
unknown and the confidence to handle
any problems that could arise is the
hardest but most important part. I forgot
to mention that all of these adventures
have been made without a radio. It's
the one thing that we haven't gotten
around to replacing and it's been broken
since we bought the Bus. Sometimes,
all you need is the sun on your face,
the wind at your back and the song of
the open road.
Touch one of the images and "Save
Image". Go to "Photos"
and select the picture. Tap the box
with the up arrow at the right top corner.
Tap "Use as Wallpaper" pinch
to size and "Set Both"
Right Click an image and select as "Set
as background" on your PC!