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Don’t baby it, aye!

April 7, 2015

I still have the business card and claim ticket for our green '64 VW van that broke down 20 km south of Edmonton.

I still have the business card and claim ticket for our green ’64 VW van that broke down 20 km south of Edmonton.


April 6, 2015
Today would have been my brother’s 72nd birthday.
In 1987 we packed up the family suddenly in June and headed to Alaska in our 1964 VW van to protect our teenagers from themselves.
We bought the van in 1980 when Larry Felton came to Missoula driving the station wagon he had inherited and was driving back to Sacramento. Larry helped us because we had to replace a gray 1965 VW van a chemistry student at the University of Montana sold me. (The student was subsequently arrested in California for attempting to shoot a police officer. Just reinforced my relief that the gray van that burned had bad karma.)
This all looks so strange when I type it out. Anyway, the green 64 van we bought in 1980 had been standing in a field up the Bitterroot with hay growing up through its slightly rusty floor and some bailing twine in the back. The ’64 took us on adventures in Northern Idaho to work on a lookout tower with a llama named Andy. Our kids slept in the van with rain dripping on their heads. In the cold in late spring.
This is the ’64 VW we eventually drove to Alaska. Well, part way there. To a place 20 km short of Edmonton, Alberta.
As you recall, our family ended up in a parking lot across the highway from the Nisku Inn. We had purchased a new engine from a dealer in Edmonton, but the engine hemorrhaged oil when we tried to return the rental car we used to rescue ourselves.
Once we did saw the heartbreaking mess of oil we towed the VW, new engine and all, back to the parking lot. Still early in the day, I phoned the dealer who advised me to check a pair of rubber seals at the oil cooler. So I again struggled with the tools, removed the engine, then dismantled the tin. I removed the oil cooler, checked the rubber seals, put the whole works back together and got the engine back in and ready to go before dark that same day. The kids spent another day swimming at the Nisku Inn.
I fired it up again, and as it idled, I made the compulsory check back under the rear. So good. Until came a fat stream of oil pouring down. Again.
I jumped up front and switched off the ignition. This time, after perhaps 15 seconds, I howled with rage and tears as I pounded my fists on the big round steering wheel. “Boo hoo! I quit!” I cried, looking at P., who looked at me like I was an imbicile, but said a comforting word.
The following morning, on the phone from the parking lot office, the dealer in Edmonton supposed I needed a different sort of oil pressure seals, so I drove into town and came back with some robust seals. And more oil. Once I had installed these and mantled and installed the engine, we returned the rental car and drove the van to the dealer to have the mechanics check my work.
The mechanic walked to the van, started the engine, pulled the throttle all the way open so it made a deafening roar. The tin around the cylinders blew outwards like an inflating balloon. “Looks good,” he said. “Don’t baby it, aye.”
The engine was stronger than ever as we sped north. A couple days later we arrived at Dawson Creek. At this point we were ready to start our long journey north to Alaska!

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