Monday, November 30, 2009
Our life has become rather dull and repetitive lately; consequently, I'm having a hard time coming up with a column that's about anything but our rather dull and repetitive life. Rick and I thought it might be time to run the log of the H.M.V. Oatus.
Long ago, when we were young and immortal, Rick and his friend Chris Howie were living in Marin County, California. This was about, no, it was exactly, 1970. Chris had grown up in Mill Valley, so he'd been there all his life, and Rick's folks had settled in Larkspur after Rick's dad retired from the Army in the early 60s. Rick and Chris got to know each other through music.
Both Rick and Chris had served in the military – Rick in the Navy, Chris in the Army – and both had been to Vietnam. Rick says now that they got out of the military, and “grubbed out,” growing their hair and trying to erase all traces of the military, and after about a year and a half, decided to leave Marin and head for Canada.
Chris bought a 1946 Dodge flatbed truck for $225. He and Rick then built a camper on the flatbed, out of plywood and salvaged materials, a classic hippie construction of the time.
They built in bunks, and a fold-down table, and a door between the truck cab and the camper that slid open and closed by operating a ship's wheel. Salvaged windows and odd pieces of glass let in the light.
The galley was a tiled shelf at the rear of the camper. A tiny wood stove sat on the shelf to provide heat and a cooking surface. Adjacent to the shelf was a set of stairs that lowered down to the ground by ropes and pulleys. When they had the house on the truck outfitted to their satisfaction, they packed up their gear, Rick's collie, Nigel, and his cat, Felix, and they headed north, intending to emigrate to Canada. Their friends and family saw them off with good wishes and, we realize now, many doubts.
Rick kept journals in his youth, and he kept one on their trip north. Over the years he has done some illustrations that go with the story. That log, and some of those illustrations, are what we wish to share with you here.
The War of Transition
(I asked Rick why he called it this, and he told me it is the story of their transition from childhood to adulthood and from California to the Northwest, and “there was a war on”)
~ An account of the last voyage of the H.M.V. (Hippie Motor Vehicle) OATUS, from Marin County, California, to King County, Washington, November ~ December, 1970.
Nov. 2, 1970 Tues.
Voting day, but Oatus and crew are underway for Seattle, steaming in company with my vintage 1960 Volkswagen, christened “The Family Dog.”*
We got off late but managed to reach Point Reyes Station by 14:00 hours where we refueled and learned of impending tire disaster! We altered our course towards Petaluma for repairs.
We lost one hour and $27.00 before getting underway again. The clouds are low and thick and very wet. Thus we crawled along soaking until we joined up with Highway 1. The Coast Range mountains above Fort Ross gave us a berth for the night, although it was a wet and windy one.
*The Family Dog was a VW Beetle that Rick's parents bought from the factory in Germany. It was called the Family Dog because when they brought it back to California it was issued the California license plate DOG 168.
Part 2: Epoxy, Our Friend
Nov. 3, 1970 Wed.
I got up at 09:00, fired up Charlie Corona (our ever-faithful wood stove) and carried a cup of coffee off into the woods to help me explore.
The clouds are not so low this morning and the heavy winds have tapered off somewhat but still it spits rain frequently. At 11:00 we set a Northern course and got underway.
Outside of Manchester, Oatus suffered an Engineering casualty. A quick checkover revealed a few possible culprits but correcting them didn't correct the problem. The gas gauge being non-operational, we sounded the tank with a piece of doweling and got nothing but dry rust on the end of the stick. That amounts to one tankful since Point Reyes Station, or about 70 miles!
After a trip into Manchester with the emergency gas can, we were off again but not for long. Oatus blew its head gasket and we found ourselves with no choice but to tie up at the side of the road about 7 miles south of Elk.
Oatus is missing two head bolts up by the radiator and we are now experiencing the results of such a situation. Chris liberally coated the area with epoxy and we sat back to wait it out.
Another storm blew in after dark and our firewood began running low so I drove off into the storm towards Elk to see what I could find. Upon returning, the winds got the upper hand and began tearing the tar paper off our unfinished roof. Chris went topside with a hammer and a mouthful of nails while I fought with the leaks below decks while trying to create something for dinner.
What a battle! I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Nov. 4, 1970 Thurs.
A fair morning – full of sun! Across the road is fenced pasture with a proper enough allotment of sheep to render the scene idyllic. The pasture slopes downward and away to the West for a thousand yards towards the cliffs that fall to the beach. Out to sea, angry black thunderheads are kept at bay by a strong offshore breeze. Aboard Oatus at 07:30, it's a wonderful vision to wake up to, framed by my bunk porthole.
Well, we spent an exceedingly wild and rainy night in a good deal of comfort. Even in Oatus's primitive stage of construction, things seemed reasonably dry and secured (after a few details were attended to).
Chris gave the blown head gasket another coat of epoxy and drove epoxied wooden plugs into the vacant bolt holes; then we changed the starboard front tire that mysteriously developed emphysema during the night.
Then we sat around biting our mental fingernails while waiting for the epoxy to set up.
At 14:00 Oatus sputtered successfully back to life and we were dubiously underway once again.
Oatus is a good old craft but his engineering is definitely secondhand so we decided to head for Fort Bragg for a few days while we hung engines.
~ But ~ oh boy ~ Felix the black cat put some changes on us when we stopped at Albion to refuel! Prior to pulling out, he disappeared and no amount of calling or whistling could produce him. Finally, the manager of the little store (whose tiny parking lot was filled to capacity by the combined bulk of Oatus and Family Dog) became urgently insistent that we leave.
A last circling of the area yielded no response and, as we moved out, our moods were perfectly matched with the cold, dark weather that seemed to appear rather suddenly.
Towards dusk we rolled wetly into the outskirts of Fort Bragg and pulled over to allow accumulated tailgaters to pass. Such a crowd had gathered that it was apparent we would have quite a wait. Finally, as we prepared to pull out, an elderly woman said from the side of the road, “Aww, I wanted to look at it.”
Unmistakably friendly vibes! A precious asset! We turned the truck around and pulled into the parking lot. Minutes later we were the guests of Everett and Berta Salmi, alias “Paw” and “Granny Hip.”
Berta runs an antique and bottle shop here and Everett and his long-time partner Unkie operate Ft. Bragg's A-1 Septic Tank Service. In the spring, everyone operates the Red Shanty chicken dinner restaurant; in the summer things must really be far out with all three gigs going at once and Granny Hip reading palms and horoscopes at the same time.
After coffee and apple cake and a tour of the truck Granny and Paw determined that we should park Oatus out back and get a good night's sleep and meanwhile try to run down a working engine. Nothing was located today but a fellow named Brian called and told us of a possibility he would be willing to check up on and invited us to park the truck at a place off in the forests, inland a bit. He gave us directions to find the place and we made plans to drop by tomorrow morning.
The day was perfectly complete when I went out to the truck and found Felix comfortably crashed out on Chris's bunk.