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Story written by one of the children of the first owner


Dad never did anything halfway. As the son of immigrant parents, he worked hard, served his country, and raised three great kids. At the heart of everything he did was a longing for adventure, a passionate engagement with life, and best of all a great story. “If your life isn’t reading like a good book, start writing a different one.”

It was 1959. Mom and Dad were newlyweds, and he’d just passed the bar exam in Boston. Secretly however, Dad longed for an adventure. In mid-1958 he placed an order for a Volkswagen Type II Kombi – the only new vehicle he would ever buy.

He’d read about the durable and efficient Beetle and Bus and was excited to be a part of something new. He chose the Kombi for its voluminous interior and began sketching ideas to convert his new vehicle into a camper suitable for sleeping, dining, and long-range driving. He mapped out every part of his vision but the destination.

Weeks later, Eisenhower signed H.R. 7999 into law, making Alaska the 49th state in the Union. And that settled it. The destination was chosen, maps were drawn, and provisions arranged. Dad and his new bride would embark to Anchorage, Alaska.

Dad spent weeks finishing the Bus, working nights, cutting marine-grade plywood by hand, fabricating folding cushions for bench seats, and building a hinged fold-away table for dining. When folded flat, the dining area slept two adults. A large blanket storage compartment and two side closets at the rear held suits and dresses. In the rear on the passenger side, Dad built a hinged wooden box with a rubber seal and compression clasp. The box was lined with galvanized steel and drafted cool air through a perforated bottom covering a bin for block ice, which drained its melted water into a plastic flask. Water drained from the low-cost icebox could be used for washing dishes or boiled for tea and coffee. With plenty of storage, an overhead travel rack for larger goods, and a brand-new set of Continental tires, the Bus was ready.

Mom and Dad left Boston in with two spares, spare fuel tanks, extra water, and two large suitcases wrapped in a tarp and strapped to the top. The 6,000+ mile trip took nearly two months including over a thousand miles on the then-gravel Alcan Highway, where 30 mph was a prudent speed. Mind you, this was 1959 – long before convenience stations, cell phones, or GPS.

Just as Dad had envisioned, their adventure delivered a lifetime of family lore – questionable bridge crossings, wading through 8” of water for miles at the behest of an insistent compass needle, bouncing in the tundra pretending to be on the moon. Retold from his excited voice, these stories were quite different from Mom’s perspective, particularly since she’d only recently left her home in the arid African desert at the time. She found snow and ice to be a very different world.

Shortly after arrival in Anchorage, Mom announced she was pregnant with my older sister. But they stayed, and I would arrive two years later. Our family would remain in Alaska until the summer before the Big Quake, when we departed to sunny Southern California.

By the late 1960s dad was working in a law firm. With the hippie movement in full swing, the VW Bus had become an anti-establishment icon. His law firm advised that he purchase a vehicle more “suitable to his status.” So he left that firm and set up his own law office, true to his nature. He proudly piloted his Alaska-proven Bus in suit and tie through Bel Air, West LA, and Beverly Hills.At age 11 dad taught me to drive the Bus. “Life is not automatic. It’s manual. You want control – take it. Don’t let it take you.” Tall in the seat and mercifully underpowered, I could operate the Bus easily without dad moaning too much when I missed a shift or ground a gear. “Let’s go get some donuts,” he’d say after a driving lesson. “You get plain. You’ve glazed the clutch enough for a dozen donuts.”One morning in the late 1970s Dad awakened to find the Bus had been stolen. He didn’t miss a beat. We drove to the Santa Monica police station and filed a report. They assured us it was already on the way to Mexico. Dad would have none of that. He dropped me at school and spent the rest of the day combing the streets of Venice, certain he would find a hippie driving it. Sure enough, he found it. He ran to a payphone, called the police, and waited. As the thief exited the building and walked to the Bus, dad intervened, blocking the door. A heated exchange ensued. As Dad told the story, moments later he felt his legs get weak as the officer approached, gun drawn, yelling to get down on the ground. He hit the pavement alongside the thief. It took a moment for the police to determine who was the real owner. When he brought the Bus home, Mom said it smelled like a smokey horse barn. We aired it out for days. Sunroof fully open, baking soda sprinkled on surfaces. Dad refused to press charges on one condition; he invited the thief to the house and insisted he help clean the Bus.

In 1985 dad passed away. My sister and brother and I had all enjoyed many memorable days camping with the VW, and we’d all learned to drive on it, but it had lost its most significant part. Without Dad, the family Bus no longer had the right driver. My younger brother became the caretaker. As much as he enjoyed it, after six years, he didn’t have a place for it in his life. We rebuilt the engine and took it to the Pomona swap meet. It sold in a matter of days.

Then, in 2012, I posted an inquiry on The Samba. Like BaT, the Samba community did not let me down.

Within a few days people were reflecting on the rarity of our Bus, and tapping their memory banks for its whereabouts. Eventually it was revealed that it had been sold to a fellow in the Netherlands in the 1990s.