Saturday, March 21, 2009

Landon the VW Vandweller

I recently received this true story from a fellow Volkswagen-dweller, and I will admit that I was a little hesitant at first when I started reading it, because I do get emails sometimes from some pretty strange people :) By the time I got to the end of his story, though, I was pleasantly surprised - what an excellent read, with the best part being that it is both true and fun.

I want to share his story with all of you on my page as a reminder that there are so many more people out there (other than me), who are living in their vehicle by choice, and loving it wholeheartedly. I do hope you enjoy Landon's story as much as I did.

Landon's VW Vandwelling Story
Hello! My name is Landon, and I would like to share my story with you, so here it goes...

It all started when I was 15 years old. My father bought a house in North Carolina with a huge basement full of junk. It was so full, in fact, that we could not get down the stairs from inside the house! When we opened the garage door, some stuff fell out, but we could not see in because it was packed floor to ceiling. So we took on the task of emptying the basement. Halfway through we found this…

It was a 1971 flat window convertible super beetle! I fell in love. He did also (wouldn’t let me have it), and he began restoring the new found treasure. After about a year the car was pristine. Beautiful. I wanted it!

After begging him for the car for a long time, he continued to say no, but he bought me my own 1971 convertible super beetle! We had matching VW bugs and I had a blast with that as my first car. I drove that thing everywhere. Mountains, coast, Florida, Virginia, around town, 4-wheeling. (I like to call it that but it's really just taking a bug where you think it cannot go and it surprises the heck out of you, but then you knock off the muffler on some rocks…) Anyway, this is what mine looked like.

Since that was my first car, I broke down a lot and had to have many mufflers replaced. I drove that car for 5 years until I got fed up with being cold in the winter. Not to mention that I had to replace the engine once, and then on the way back from Florida, I blew up that replacement motor…
That was when I decided to retire the convertible and get a hard top.
This time it was a 1974 standard beetle, which is (personally speaking) way better than a super I would discover later. Well, I kept breaking down in that car too! Clutch cable broke, accelerator cable broke, speedometer cable broke, flat tire, coil went bad, hit a beaver, wiper motor seized, yes I said a beaver, spark plugs fouled out, replaced a muffler again... Even one time oil was coming out so bad that I thought I cracked the case, but it turned out that the hose that went from the oil filler to the oil bath got pinched and was not letting the case pressure vent properly.
Then I did crack the case, and you are not going to believe I did this, but I took it to the car wash on a hot day to ‘wash’ the dirt off the engine with the pressure wand. Well, that is not a good idea and I do not recommend ever doing that. Hot engine, cold pressurized water, bad idea.
So there I was, with two broken VWs, and love for them that would not go away. That was when I found my daily driver that I have now. It was a 1972 standard beetle that was nothing but a shell. No seats, windows, running boards, fenders, hoods, lights, brakes, wheels, engine, tranny…. nothing but a good body and floor pans. I sold my convertible and ’74 and bought a new engine and tranny, but it still needed a lot of work.
That ’72 was what started a new way of life for me. I was still in high school but was living on my own in an apartment and walking to school and work. I couldn’t afford to pay my rent and fix my car too. So I chose the bug and moved out of my apartment and into a storage unit. When I say into a storage unit, I mean that I put all my stuff in boxes and used that to be the ‘box springs’ for my mattress… get it? LOL. I had my chest of drawers with my clothes next to my 'bed', a T.V., and a microwave. Just like home. I would still walk to work and school, and I even graduated while I was living in that storage unit. But that didn’t last long. I lived there for at least 6 months before the owners found out I was staying there and kicked me out. By that time the bug was finished so it didn’t matter anyway. I just got rid of all that crap in the unit and moved into my bug.
It’s kind of funny how that worked out so let me explain. That was about the time that I had been ‘touring’ around with the String Cheese Incident, a band from Colorado. Sometimes people were like “sure, you can stay on the floor of our hotel,” but when I got there, the floor was all taken up by the other dirty hipsters, forcing me to sleep in the bug. That didn’t work too well, so I started thinking.
I said to myself, “self, luck favors the prepared,” and I had already learned that you cannot depend on anyone in this world to take care of yourself but yourself, so I made the bug as comfortable as I could. I removed the rear seats and the passenger seat. Taking the rear bottom seat, I sat it on a piece of thick plywood and drew around the base. When I cut it out, it was a perfect fit. Then I built a box with a hinged lid that was the same height as the rear flat wood. Before I knew it, I could lay down flat with my arms above my head in the passenger compartment and sleep very comfortably. I made curtains with magnets in them, built a box in the rear luggage compartment to keep my clothes in, and even had a PlayStation 2 in the glove box with a flat screen. I called it the Bed Bug.

While everyone was sleeping in their van for campouts, I slept in my bug… (a.k.a. sometimes called the keg bug…)

Anyway, I broke down again! This time it was a sign from god herself. I broke down traveling through Virginia in a little town called Wytheville, a block away from a shop called "The Bug Shop." The owner was a 76 year old man that had been at the same shop for over 40 years. You may have heard of him, my hero, mentor, guru, the… Don Eastwood. Well, no one was at the shop when I broke down so I got in bed and started playing my PlayStation in my pajamas. Of course a sheriff came knocking on my window, and when I opened my door, he was a little confused at what he saw. What I didn’t know was that Don was also the Fire Chief of Wytheville, and all the police there knew him. Since I was in a bug, he just left me alone when I told him that I was waiting for the shop to open for repairs.
Now I had never met Don at that time and didn’t know what to expect when the shop opened in the morning. So I did a lot of thinking that night. I was tired of driving these bugs and constantly breaking down without knowing how to fix them. A plan emerged and I went to sleep.
The next morning I was awakened by the movement of Don shaking my car to wake me up. He had knocked and knocked, but I slept so well in that car that I didn’t wake up. I opened the door and he didn’t quite get what he saw either. I got out of bed and pitched my idea to him in my pajamas.
I said “I have been driving nothing but bugs my whole life and I keep breaking down. If I am going to continue to drive these cars, I have got to know how to fix them. I need a new engine, and I don’t have any money, so can I work for you and have you teach me what to do, and with the money I make, I will buy the parts it requires to rebuild my engine from you, and I will sleep in this parking lot for as long as it takes for me to build my own engine.” Well it worked and he agreed.
For months my new name was ‘whatcha do to it?’ because no matter what it was I was working on, it had started when it came in there, but after I had gotten ahold of it, it wouldn’t start anymore. They would all say, “well, what did you do to it?” As time passed, Don would give me a stack of heads and show me this is step 1 through 28. There are 4 valves to do those 28 steps to: here is a stack of 50 heads, get to it. For a month straight I would do nothing but rebuild heads. He would not let me use air tools so I learned to do everything by hand. When I was finished he told me that I would get $35 dollars a head for rebuilding them. Then we picked out a set of heads I had rebuilt and I bought them from him with the money I had made. Same thing with the case, crank, cam, etc. When I was finished, I had built my own motor!
It was time for me to go back to my hometown. I had spent 6 months learning how to build an engine. I built and replaced my motor, learned a plethora of other knowledge about fixing bugs and was on my way. On the way home, that engine went 14 miles and threw a rod! Broke the case! Destroyed the crank! Bent the valves! Broke the cam! AHHHHH! I cried on the side of the road.
Well, the Don towed me back to his shop with his vanagon and told me to tear it down to see what happened to it. This was about 11pm. I stayed up all night tearing that motor down, just to find there was not one useable part left on that motor except the studs, nuts and bolts. When he came in the next morning at 8am he told me to start building another one. (I love him!) A month later I had built another motor and I am proud to say that was 2001 and I am still driving that engine today…

Since then, I have built many motors with a zero failure rate. Thanx to the Don, I have started my own business, the mobile air-cooled rescue service, and bought a 1968 Westphalia pop-top camper (The Mother ship) to replace the bed bug:

Bed Bug (The Escape Pod)… with new paint:

(My first car)… with new paint:
I love the fact that now I can repair my vehicles myself, further eliminating another traveling expense. Plus there are the benefits of no rent and the freedom to do what I want, go where I want, whenever I want. I wouldn’t move out of my bus if someone gave me a house (I might park my bus there and live in the bus at the house, but I love my bus).
It takes a special kind of person to own and drive a VW. They have personalities, and if you listen close enough, they can even tell you what is wrong with them. There is no other car that compares to a VW, so be good to it and it will be better to you. I have the proof. I have never in my life been happier than when I am in my van.

Thanx for reading my story and remember these 2 things…

Luck favors the prepared. I keep a box in all my VWs that has everything, but an engine and a transmission, that I might need to fix my cars. Belt, points, coil, wires, nuts and bolts, even an extra carb! Plus the necessary tools it takes to be able to fix it. And secondly, if you ain’t rubbin, you ain’t v-dubbin!

Keep the V-Dub Alive!

Landon, North Carolina
Also on



Unknown said...

Great story, thanks! My comment has been sent to the Journal - VW2


Very cool, thanks Angus!

Gwen said...

"Luck favors the prepared." Well, I love that. I enjoyed this story very much. It brought back memories of my own first car (which was really a hand-me-down from my older sister), a 1971 Bug. I loved that car. Before it became mine, my Dad did a very professional-looking DIY paint job in a beautiful metallic silver-blue. It had red interior. I mean, every surface in that interior was RED.

Regarding that neighbor, good grief. Why can't people just mind their own business?

Thanks for sharing the story about Landon.

Randy said...

Enjoyed the story---it very closely parallels mine. (google to see my solution: the stealth trailer)

a major breakthrough for me was to move out west where the scenery and camping are terrific.


Ginger - how fun! I would have loved the red interior~

Randy - found it:, right? Thanks for sharing the link, I love the trailor, it looks so cozy!

Anonymous said...

Every now and then, especially at the sight of a rectangular box with wheels on it, I come across the idea ... but you are the man, of freedom and adventure, like your VW too. Cheers.

Unknown said...

I just found your blog today. You live a very beautiful life! I hope to join you on the road this July when I move into my '72 Airstream after a looong 2 year wait.

Thanks for sharing Landon's story. Just awesome. I posted to the Journal as well.

Unknown said...

This is one amongst the informative blogs that you shared with us.