Friday, April 23, 2021

Tales from the road with our ‘Bugs’

| December 13, 2020 12:00 AM

Years ago in Ohio when my boyfriend was teaching me how to drive his VW Super Beetle — a stick shift — I forgot to switch to a lower gear and the car started doing that bucking thing that’s so embarrassing. Just as it was about to stall out, I depressed the clutch, saving the car from stalling.

My boyfriend said right then he knew I was going to make a good manual transmission driver. So began a long relationship with both VW Bugs and my boyfriend … since I married him.

While most VW Bugs of the day had a 1.6 liter engine, his ’74 classic orange (nicknamed “Lady”) had a 1.8-liter engine, which is why it was called a “Super Beetle.”

Before we were married, we’d worked together for a season in Yellowstone Park. That October, after our season in the park when we drove back to Ohio in Jim’s VW the starter went out early into the trip. We had to push start it each and every time we shut the engine to get it to start again, which, if you don’t already know, involves one person behind the wheel and one behind the car pushing until the clutch can be abruptly released, or “popped.” We were pretty much in a cross-country clown car.

For our honeymoon, we drove the VW from Ohio to British Columbia — a 6,500- mile round trip. In Washington state, we were stopped on the way by a highway patrol. The officer found me sleeping on top of a high pile of belongings in the back seat and informed us he “didn’t know how the highway patrol feels about speeders where we came from (Ohio plates) but we definitely don’t like ‘em in Washington.” Then he kindly let us off with a warning, probably because we told him we were on our honeymoon.

Those first years we were married we’d head to our parents’ homes for the holidays — about a 450-mile round trip — in Jim’s VW. One winter the heater failed and we had to drive home with blankets over our laps, stopping midway at a diner to warm up.

We later bought a second, older VW Bug from our next door neighbors. Much of its fenders were held together by Bondo. I commuted to work in that one and if it was raining I had to roll my pants up so they didn’t get wet from the road wash coming up from the rusted out floorboard. Other than that, it drove fine.

I once was stuck in a Northwest Ohio blizzard in the Superbug. I was trying to make it home from work to the small town where we lived about 30 miles away and plowed right into a snowdrift in the middle of the country road. First, I honked the horn periodically until I realized it was louder inside the car than outside the car, then considered breaking into a nearby house, then counted the seconds between being able to see the next telephone pole just in case I had to abandon the car and start walking. Finally, some teenagers in a pickup found me and towed me home before dark, the trunk (in the front) stuffed with snow.

We finally did sell both our Bugs (Lady’s odometer read 150,000 miles) and switched to a Datsun 510 wagon before we moved to Montana. But those Bugs were always faithful friends … and mostly reliable.

Community and Entertainment editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or