LESSON ONE: VW buses are not the most reliable vehicles (granted our bus sat in a field for the last three or so years, but the fact that buses are unreliable is confirmed by the next lesson).
LESSON TWO: Everyone has a story about a time their bus or a friend's bus broke down. As you may be assuming from reading lesson one, we now have a story about a time our bus broke down.
I had taken the day off to work on our house and was excited to run some errands in the bus. However, the bus (as it sat at 8 A.M) was not running. I suspected the carburetors were badly out of sync and headed outside to remedy this. If you own a bus, you know that syncing dual carbs is not an easy task. It requires a special tool and a lot of patience. We don't own this special tool, so I relied on patience (kind of) and ratwell.com. After an hour or so of adjusting mixture screws and throwing temper tantrums, I finally got the bus to idle and it was time for a test drive.
I started small by making an attempt around the block and it went surprisingly well. I pulled up in front of the house and the idle had smoothed and the backfiring was at an all-time low. Its ready for the next test, I thought, so the dogs piled in and I turned the bus towards my dad's house. At each stoplight, the bus purred (and sputtered a bit but it didn't die!). Wait till the old man sees this, I gloated to myself. My confidence in my mechanical skills was riding high. Then it happened.
At the last stoplight before my dad's house the bus was sounding better than ever. The light turned green I eased off the clutch and we were on our way. I shifted into second, third, and finally fourth! This was a milestone as the bus hadn't previously been able to go fast enough to make fourth gear a viable option. I think the mental fist pumps I was going distracted me from realizing that motor had died sometime after shifting into forth gear.
It wasn't until the road leveled out and I stepped down on the gas that I realized I had no power. I quickly analyzed the situation and decided that a left turn into the McDonald's parking lot was a good idea. (A left turn on a busy street in a vehicle that wasn't running!? I'm amazed how these thoughts pass into consciousness, are processed by 28 years of acquired logic and reasoning skills, and are finally given the cognitive stamp of approval.) I had to hit the brakes to time the small opening in the oncoming traffic, and with the little momentum left in the bus I made a left turn then died shortly after clearing traffic. With the traffic backing up behind me, I began to panic.
After a several minutes of key-turning, gas-peddle-mashing fury, I realized that I couldn't hear the fuel pump turn on. SHIT, I yelled! In a fit of rage, I pumped the gas peddle as hard and fast as I could determined to force enough gas pass the pump and into the carbs to get the bus started and running long enough to reach the parking lot. Satisfied that I had done enough pumping, I cranked the key and the engine roared to life. I put the gas peddle on the floor, side-stepped the clutch and the bus lurched forward throwing the dogs to the rear of the bus and giving us just enough momentum to get safely to the parking lot. The worst was over. Eventually, I coerced my embarrassed step-brother to tow the bus to dad's house where we found that years of poor wiring choices had left the fuel pump without power. It was a pretty easy fix.
If you have read this far and you own a bus, I'm sure you have a slight grin on your face as you know that breaking down in a bus is a rite of passage. It's something you get used to and eventually plan for when taking trips in a bus. We have been officially initiated into bus ownership and I feel pretty good about that. Our bus has transitioned from the eyesore in front of our house to a part of the family and I'm not sure exactly why yet. What I do know is that many other bus owners feel the same way. I will leave you with a quote I found that best sums up why we will be bus owners for life.
"Sure, they broke down, ran badly and slowly, but while in a state of disrepair, what other vehicle solicited the milk of human kindness as the did the lowly bus as stranger after stranger stopped to kibitz on what was wrong with it and what the proper prescription for its healing should be? Many a new friend was made alongside the road or at the parts store or junk yard because of the VW Bus."