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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Shepherd's Heart: Missin' the feelin'

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Say what you will about the rush of big V-8s, but sometimes, when I sit and think about days gone by, I miss the "chukachukachukachuka" sound and feel of a good old Volkswagen.

I used to love to drive my old VW van everywhere I went. I tried once to enter the world of VW through the purchase of a sporty little Dasher, but I couldn't keep the thing out of the repair shop so I traded it to another VW fan for an old sloped-front split-window VW conversion van. After a day or two, the owner of the van drove the Dasher into my front yard and demanded I give him back the keys to his van. I ended up selling the Dasher -- cheap -- and buying another van.

What a great move! I loved the old thing.

It had plenty of room, plenty of pep, and was pretty good on gas mileage.

It did not, however, possess near enough heat for those cold Kansas City winters. I even bought one of those add-on heater thing-a-majigs that sat on the dash and ran by means of the 12-volt cigarette lighter connection. Notice, this was long before cars came with additional plug-in areas for appliances such as cell phones and I-Pods. It didn't work either.

Getting the kids in and out of the van was easy. The big sliding door on the passenger side made the interior very accessible. The deck over the rear-engine compartment provided ample space for groceries and diaper bags.

When we started preparing for our big move to the Pacific Northwest in the spring of 1989, we purchased a big blue school bus and converted it into part RV and part moving van. But what, we wondered; would we do with the VW van?

Simple. A friend of mine welded a tow bar what-cha-ma-callit onto the front of the van and we hooked it to the bus and down the road we went. Until the bus broke down somewhere near Sana Fe, that is.

So, you may ask, what do two couples with a combined total of 5 kids do when the bus breaks down and their nowhere near their destination?

Again, the answer is a simple one.

We packed everything we could onto the top of the VW van, strapped kids and baby seats into the van wherever and however we could, unhooked the van form the bus, and headed toward the Cascade Mountain Range. How we made it, I'll never know. The old van did well, though, breathing its last breath not long after reaching our goal near the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

A year or so later we purchased what VW was calling a Vanagon -- part van and part wagon. It wasn't nearly the vehicle we had traveled west in. It didn't last very long and turned out to be the last VW in the Stewart family.

Still, on some occasions, I can feel the "rumble" and hear the "chukachukachukachuka" of that old German engine pushing us across the plains, over the Rockies, and eventually down the Columbia River gorge. I can still feel the freedom that many felt when they climbed into their first VW Van, be it a camper special or a window-laden microbus.

And I miss it.

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Back in the Dark Ages, I was driving down the Coronado Freeway at 2 a.m. in Albuquerque in my boyfriend's 1958 VW Bug when the engine started to cough and sputter. Not a problem, I said to myself, thinking it was just that I needed to kick over the floor lever that opened up the extra two-gallon gas tank that substituted for a gas gauge. Too late, I realized I'd already done that 60 or so miles ago. In the land before cell phones, all I could do was sit on the side of the road and hope the police or highway patrol would get there before some unsavory character did.

Long story short, someone did arrive, a young man about my age (19) who was home on leave from the Navy. He offered to drive me to a gas station, which, in that innocent day, I accepted. We filled the gas tank, then I followed him home to meet his parents, who turned out to be very nice people who enjoyed staying up late and meeting new friends. Never saw them again.

These days, I consider myself lucky not to have ended up as an episode of Law & Order and I wouldn't do it today. Back then, it was just another VW adventure.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Wed, Aug 19, 2009, at 6:12 PM

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BOB G. STEWART, Columnist
The Shepherd's Heart