Slow Burn: VW Bus Lovers Are Passionately Loyal to Their Rides

Susie Owens, with her husband Barry, shares some unique disaster stories. Photo by Matt Rose

Susie Owens, with her husband Barry, shares some unique disaster stories. Photo by Matt Rose

“You miss having a bus so bad you do crazy things,” Tom Cates says. Indeed. His beloved Volkswagen bus is currently parked not in his garage but in his own living room — like a guest or a cherished pet.

“I started working on it when it was cold outside,” Cates explains.

If having a bus in your living room sounds extreme, welcome to The Full Moon Bus Club, where an unbridled passion for VW buses is part of the culture and highly contagious.

But this is no easy love affair. As club member Carl Nyberg puts it, “There’s a saying: ‘Volkswagen — turning ordinary people into mechanics.'” Nyberg owns a ’66 bus and travels with a copy of John Muir’s book How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. First published in 1969, this hands-on repair manual was adopted by Volkswagen enthusiasts as an irreplaceable guide when the inevitable mechanical mishaps occur. And they always do.

“The bus teaches you patience,” says Scott Stetson. “It takes an hour to get it up to 60 miles per hour.” So far, Stetson has been getting away with twice-yearly maintenance on his ’73-model bus, but he’s not taking any chances. “We all have Triple-A with at least a 200-mile tow,” Stetson reveals. “At the High Country Bus Festival, one got towed into the campground and fixed there.”

Unlike in the buses’ heyday, however, today’s aficionados usually aren’t living a carefree hippie lifestyle. The Full Moon Bus Club numbers doctors, veterinarians, and professors among its members. Stetson is the general manager of the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Ter and Scott Spinner were introduced to the club from the woman they purchased their Volkswagen bus from in 2008. “You have to be prepared for anything,” Ter says. “You’re not going anywhere quickly.”

Kris Kjellquist owns a ’77 model. “I can’t imagine owning a bus pre-Internet,” he says. “It’s not all fun and games. The minute you finally get a beer, you’ve got gas all over your hands.”

“We had a disaster our first time out,” Barry Owens admits. Owens and his wife Susie have been members of the club for three years. “It took six hours to get home instead of three,” Susie recalls. But mechanical issues weren’t the only adversity. “Susie had a new Nikon camera in her lap. When she stood up, it went in the river,” Barry says. “Her first instinct was to jump in after it. Unfortunately, she had her iPhone in her pocket.”

[image-4] But the bus-club experience was in their veins. Despite the difficulties, these two were hooked. The Owenses now own eight Volkswagens. Susie clarifies: “They don’t all run.”

But once their buses are road-sound, many members go all out with complete renovations, including brilliant paintjobs and interior retrofitting with era-appropriate accessories.

Whatever It Takes

Three friends founded the Full Moon Bus Club in 1999 in Charleston, SC: Snoopy Waite, Pauly “Screw Loose” Yakopovich, and Derek “Wrong Way” Waycaster. They were on a camping trip when the idea arose to find like-minded folks to camp out and fix Volkswagens together.

But the sense of community among members goes beyond camping and swapping technical tips. “People refer to this as their alternative family of choice,” Stetson says.

“Bus people look out for each other,” says Yakopovich. “They do whatever it takes to keep buses on the road.” Sadly, Yakopovich hasn’t owned a running bus for three years now. The itch to get one was becoming unbearable, and he began scanning ads on TheSamba.com, a popular website to locate Volkswagen buses for sale. His wife Sierra was not encouraging. “She was like, ‘You’d better give this bus [idea] up — we’re having our third child and we don’t have the money for it,'” Yakopovich recalls.

But he had the crazy notion he wanted his former bus back, so he called the tax office and was surprised to find the title was still in his name, even though he sold it years ago. “Then I see a picture of this bus for sale in Vermont,” Yakopovich says, “and parked right next to it is my old bus.” The signature paint job was a dead giveaway. After he posted his dilemma on the club’s Facebook page, three members came to the rescue: one bought a trailer and loaded up the bus, and two others helped transport it from Vermont to Asheville. “I’d never met these guys before in my life,” Yakopovich says.

His old bus arrived in early August, missing the front end as well as the engine and transmission. But for Yakopovich, that’s just part of the fun. He and Waycaster were both trained in the art of VW maintenance by the late Hershal Woosley, a flight engineer who served in WWII. Woosley learned his trade in Hannover, Germany, at one of the original Volkswagen plants.

After retiring from the Air Force, he opened Woosley’s Garage in Charleston, where Yakopovich and Waycaster both worked. “I was the last person he trained [before his death],” Yakopovich notes. As for the near-miracle that brought his bus back to him — “with the bus club,” he says, “anything’s possible.”

Fullmoonbusclub.com

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