How We Got the Bus
If you’d have asked me what I would be driving for fun 20 years ago, I’d have hoped for a Corvette. So how did I end up with a ’77 VW camper? The formula would be “Hawaiian trip + eBay = VW bus ownership.”
In 2012 our family travelled with good friends to Hawaii (The Big Island) for a camping adventure. We rented late ’80’s Westfalias and toured the island for eight nights of camping fun. The first night I realized why they used 25 year old VW’s with a quarter-million miles on them. As we wound our way down the steep, curvy, narrow road to the campsite, I realized even a small motorhome would not have been able to traverse the side-roads of a volcanic island. When we pulled into a gas station on the north side of the island on the third day, the smile, shaka, and “aloha” of the station attendant was a welcome much warmer welcome than the biggest paid resort smile. We stayed a few nights at Hawaiian resorts and fell very catered to, but the authentic greeting of a local along the road seemed much more sincere. In the same vein, the sincere joy of people waving at us around Pittsburgh is so much better than the one-fingered-waves we sometimes get in other vehicles 😉
So after our great fun in Hawaii, I started watching eBay to get an idea on what it would cost to get our own Westy. I like Craigslist, but you’re just not going to find a decent VW bus around Pittsburgh. There is too much road salt in the winter for a late 70’s bus to survive here. After watching and researching, my heart was set on a late 70’s version. I wanted manual-transmission, air-cooled simplicity with enough power to be safe. I also liked the rounded look of the “bay” models (70’s) as opposed to the squareness of the “wedgies” (80’s). My wife gave me the OK as I bid in the low teens on a Westy in Jersey. Within the last couple of minutes, it jumped to nearly $20k so I baled. A month later when I bid just over $6k on one in Florida, I expected to be quickly outbid. It was not in as good shape as the first one, but it was running and pretty decent. Before I knew it, I had won the auction. As our Hawaii-camping friends happen to come to the door just 5 minutes later, we laughed trying to figure out how we were going to get this thing 1200 miles northward to Pittsburgh.
So after several phone conversations with the owner, we determined that I’d fly one-way to Florida, staying with my aunt and uncle before driving north over three days. The transaction itself was a bit tricky as we did not really know each other and the internet has all kinds of stopped-check and rip-off horror stories. Paypal ended up being a great method to safely transfer the balance due (eBay had taken the $500 deposit already). I was lucky enough to have my two daughters to help on the trip. It rained most of our visit in Florida, which was a bummer when you leave Pittsburgh in the middle of winter. They were great sports though, even learning how hard it is to pop-start an old bus in a flat Georgia hotel parking lot. Our relatives and friends in Florida were great as well. Quarters were tight at times and there were a few repairs that a dry garage and some spare lamp cord made possible. But overall, we all had a blast! After nearly 3 days in Florida and the often cold three-day drive back, our adventure ended successfully in our Pittsburgh driveway! So far so good 😉