Thursday, June 11, 2009
I REMEMBER..."Big Red" - My Volkswagon Bus
...my Volkswagon Bus - "Big Red." I loved that van. It was an all-purpose vehicle. I hauled plywood, tools, people, furniture, and went camping in it. It was my first NEW vehicle, and I drove it to Mazatlan, Mexico, the first week I owned it. I had the first 1,000 mile check-up at a Volkswagon factory in Mexico. Stayed in a little hut on the beach south of Mazatlan for quite awhile. Fished every day; had a great time.
Back in Chico, California (99 miles north of Sacramento - I graduated CSUC in 1969), I had various jobs from running the Italian Cottage Restaurant, working at Kramore Inn, etc. Most of the time I had my own business as a carpenter and a leather worker. Leather worker stories (Lone Eagle Leather) later. While I was a carpenter, I worked on a great three-story Victorian (built for a college student by her parents - nice), helped build the Redwood Forest retail store in a downtown mall, remodeled Ron's S.F. Flowers flower shop, Sundance Records record store, Bird in Hand Gallery, a couple of homes, a big 6,000 square foot mansion and caretakers quarters/barn in Woodside, CA (lovingly referred to as the home to Horses & Porches) and worked on my 40-foot houseboat in Walnut Grove, California (yet another story). I hauled my table saws and tools and lumber in Big Red. Never had a problem.
Side bar: I once bought a quarter ton of walnut slab scraps from a gun stock manufacturer in Chico. I hauled that pile of walnut from house to house, storage to storage for years, thinking I would someday make valuable things out of it (clocks, I think, was the original idea). All of that was accomplished with Big Red. After close to five years of hauling that wood around, I eventually used it as firewood in my fireplace...ha.
Went camping often to the north coast of California in the Ft. Bragg area many times and slept in Big Red when it was foggy and cold. Caught many a good fish--but never a cold. Picture of successful fishing trip attached.
Before I was a carpenter, I had many fun and successful years as a leather worker in Chico. I used Big Red to go to San Francisco and Berkeley for leather supplies and Haight Ashbury trips (used as a very loose term here). More stories to come later about those days, if I can remember them. (My sister, Sharon, says that if you can remember the 60's, you weren't really there.) Anyway, I bought a radial arm saw to manufacture belt racks from redwood to help convince retail store owners to carry my line of leather belts and so got hooked on carpentry. Leather evolved into wood. Big Red was perfect for both ventures.
All things have a beginning and an end. Good times and bad. The one thing you can always count on is that whether times are good or bad, they will eventually end. The beginning of Big Red's life I took him to Mexico for quite an adventure and throughout the leather and woodworking years, I never had a problem.
I was commuting between Chico and Walnut Grove (on Snodgrass Slough in the Sacramento River Delta) on a regular basis. I co-owned a house in Chico with friend Bob Crowe. I learned the hard way about the downside of living in and remodeling a house simultaneously. We had every room torn up and half finished for a very long time. Sheetrock dust and sawdust was in everything. By the time we eventually finished it, we had turned it into a rental and eventually sold it to break even on the investment.
On weekends, I would travel to Walnut Grove to work on the houseboat (was thinking I would become a houseboat builder and write a book about it--and travel to Amsterdam to check out the world famous houseboat community there...never did...but it was a temporarily good dream). I traveled back to Chico one fateful weekend and (thank God) unloaded all my tools at the house and set off through the middle of downtown Chico, headed to the lumberyard. The cool thing about Volkswagen buses is that they had a notoriously good Porsche engine block and except for an occasional minor flaw, ran forever and a day with no problems. The minor flaw was that the fuel line would occasionally become detached while in motion and spew fuel all over the hot engine block, causing a weird little "POOF" explosion, just loud enough to get your attention...followed by a lot of fire and an exceedingly large amount of smoke in, say, two seconds. Fortunately for me, I was traveling down Main Street, Chico, at about ten miles an hour, when it was Big Red's final moment. I slammed on the brakes, jumped out, and ran from store to store on Main Street, looking for a fire extinguisher. By the time I found one, poor old Red was engulfed totally in flames. Even the tires were on fire. Someone had called the fire department, and when the firetruck eventually pulled up, it was too late for Red. As they arrived, a rather memorable last hurray for Red happened. There was an electrical short and Big Red started up and started lurching down the street, full of smoke and flames everywhere. The firemen thought someone was still inside, trying to drive away. They were dragging the hose and running alongside, spraying it with foam and water. One fireman ran up and whacked the driver side window with an axe to see if someone was driving. As the fresh air hit the now broken window area, a small firestorm replaced the smoke and finished off old Red right there on the spot. Melted to the ground in the middle of Main Street. Note: I did not need the pictures someone took to convince the insurance company that it was to be declared a total loss. Rest in Peace, Big Red.