Katu passed away today, 19 years old. He helped me through some of the most difficult years of my life, then moved in with my mom and helped her with some of her most difficult years. Thank you for everything, little buddy. You were the best cat ever.
For the second year in a row, I attended Texas Busfest, although sadly without Melina as she was under the weather. Which was too bad, because the weather during the campout was, in fact, perfect. Temperatures were mild, skies were mostly clear, and nights were cool. It was a bit windy on Friday night, but that’s why you always bring a jacket.
It was good to see some familiar faces from the VW, and in particular Texas Vanagon communities. Word is that in total there were 85 VW vans, including a record 32 Vanagons in attendance. It wasn’t as big as last year overall, but still very well attended.
Olly ran great, and with his freshly painted bumpers, he looked pretty sharp as well. I used Rustoleum Bumper and Trim Paint, which is darker than the stock charcoal gray, but it has a satin trim that looks good. We’ll see how long it lasts. A number of other Vanagons had their lower rockers painted with Rustoleum Bed Liner Paint, and I think I’m going to go that route. I need to clean up some of the lower body seams, and then that should provide a pretty durable finish. Also on my mind are new seats. Sludge had some installed, and they are quite comfy. And leather! Shooftie has a write up, and if I can get the brackets made, it should be an economical option. I’m not crazy about black, but I could live with it for more comfortable seats.
I picked up some of Abel’s bug screens, and they’re quite nice. Very compact, and I think they’ll do a good job of keeping critters out when the front windows are open. Also, although designed to be placed on the outside of the van, they’ll work on the inside as well, to deter theft. Now if I can get a three panel canvas for the pop top, and some darker curtains, we’ll be traveling in cool comfortable style.
Maybe you’d like to see some pictures?
I’m not one for making last-minute travel plans. Mostly it’s the cost that puts me off. I’m also not a fan of the stress that comes when everything is booked and you’re left with the feeling of, “Well, now what do we do?” And anyway, spontaneity is over-rated and unbecoming once one reaches a certain age.
That being said, it’s important to recognize opportunity when it presents itself, even if it’s not necessarily easy or convenient. For example: a high-school friend mentions that he’s got an extra ticket to a sold-out concert this weekend. It’s a chance easily dismissed, especially if attending the show means flying to another city. It will be expensive and time consuming. It’ll be loud and hot and smelly. And your buddy isn’t the guy you hung out with 20 years ago. So really, it’s not worth it. Move along.
Of course, the band is one of your favorites. And that plane ticket actually won’t break the bank. Not that this makes such a trip any more sensible.
These are the first and second thoughts I had when I discovered a friend from long ago had an extra ticket to see Lush in Chicago. Fortunately, I heard one of those third thoughts when my wife said, “You should go.”
So I did go. And it was expensive. And loud, hot, and smelly. And my buddy wasn’t the same person I once knew.
And that was all okay, because as it turns out, I wasn’t the same person either. Catching up with Kevin, I was reminded that some friendships transcend time and distance. Such friendships are few, and it should be mandatory to have a drink with those friends at least once every decade or so. Someday they won’t be around. Someday you won’t be around.
The show itself was nothing short of fucking amazing, but as a longtime fan of Lush, you’d expect me to say that. I’m not a music critic, and this isn’t a review. If that matters, you can get that here. Suffice it to say that this concert gave me the rare opportunity for something more than a trip down memory lane for a handful of best-of moments. It was an opportunity to re-engage with music that has held a meaningful place in my life. I am, as I always have been, blown away by their art. When art moves you like that, it should not be taken lightly.
Most importantly, I am reminded to listen to those third thoughts: you should go.
Last weekend Melina and I loaded up Olly and headed to the Busfest, a gathering of presumably like-minded Vanagonauts and Busnuts in central Texas. It was our first time joining the throng, and we were part of a crowd of over a hundred buses, 27 of which were Vanagons. I’ve honestly never see so many VW vans in Texas, and it was actually encouraging to discover it’s not all Chevy and Ford in the Lone Star State. Not that I have anything against Ford, what with Olly being Bostig’d and all. And for what it’s worth, there was even a Chevy-converted Vanagon present. It was quite impressive.
We took the canoe, and this was also the first time we’ve gone a significant distance with the canoe on the Yakima rack, and the whole thing worked wonderfully. I was able to load and unload the canoe by myself thanks to the Boat Loader extension bar, and strapping it down securely was easy. Only bad thing was that once tied down, the back hatch was inaccessible due to interference with the straps, but if I absolutely had to get in there, it would just mean unhitching the one rear strap.
Olly fared well otherwise, as he does. I kept the speed around 65 mph out of deference to the canoe, but we had the power to go faster. Unfortunately, with the van loaded down, the aging springs and suspension were made very apparent, and I’ve decided to elevate that to the next project. Definitely not something I’m looking forward to tackling.
Two upgrades bear mention. The first was a new mattress pad for the lower bunk, bought on Amazon. The pad fits perfectly, and added so much comfort to the bed. Also, although it takes up a lot of space when we’re not using it, it’s much more compact than other memory foam type toppers I’ve seen some Vanagon campers travel with.
The second addition to the Vanagon kit is the Rear Hatch Shelter by Bus Depot, and it also impressed us. Having the rear hatch fully open kept the van much cooler both day and night, and it was an exceptionally handy place to change clothes, providing room with fewer obstructions than the main cabin. We need to get a better mat for the ground, but otherwise it’s great.
Of course the best part of the whole trip was meeting fellow Veedubers, who on the whole are a welcoming lot. In particular, it was great to meet the growing faction of Texas Vanagon owners, who have their own Facebook page. Visiting with others I learned a few things, although not most people’s names. Sorry if I can’t remember yours the next time we meet. Probably will remember your dog’s name, though.
I enjoyed, but didn’t record the symphony of boxers I heard during the weekend. Here instead are a few pictures:
Working on an overdrive pedal, here’s a few resources about clipping and distortion:
And a more general resource about the TubeScreamer circuit:
And a good compilation of general breadboard techniques:
Many developments uncaptured. The year has been a full one, and I’ve been rather busy doing rather than documenting. Moving past all that, I’d like to reflect for a few moments on a machine that has passed through my life: my 1988 BMW 325is.
After two years of ownership, I sold my E30 a few weeks ago to a kid who will probably give it the attention it deserves. I never wrote anything about the car here, though I certainly did a fair amount of work to both restore and maintain it. And overall, it served me well.
It was a remarkable car for its day, and was in many ways ahead of its time. Its premium feature-set would be considered standard on many cheaper cars today. In fact, the only modern convenience it didn’t really have was air-bags. And enough cup-holders.
It was comfortable, while at the same time tuned to the driving experience. It was also stylish, possessing a distinctive aesthetic both inside and out which has aged well over the years. No car manufactured today comes close competing with the classic lines of an E30.
If it had been my only classic car, I would probably would have kept it. I will probably never own one as good as that one, even if I get another 80’s BMW. But having both the BMW and the Vanagon meant that my daily driver got the bulk of my attention, and Olly has been more than a bit idle the past few months. So if I have to choose between the VW of my dreams and the BMW of my dreams, the van will win every time. But boy I’ll still miss that E30.
To start with, they are masterpieces of industrial design, ingeniously solving so many problems that all guitar pedals face. The casings are robust. The large, raised footbed makes them easy to operate without accidentally hitting the control knobs with an errant step. The battery is housed in a separate compartment which is opened via a single thumbscrew. Simple bold colors make the pedals easily identifiable on a darkened stage, and a consistent form factor makes them easily interchangeable.
Say what you will about tone suck, but the electronics inside are also remarkable. While the pedals may not utilize the highest grade of electronic components or deliver sound nuances capable of satisfying every artist, BOSS stompboxes find a balance between affordability and quality output that work for most people, including many professional musicians. And if it’s good enough for the likes of David Gilmour or Eric Clapton, it’s probably good enough for me.
Recently, when I decided I wanted to add another overdrive effect to my pedalboard, I knew that what I wanted was something Tube Screamer flavored. I’m not going to enter into the debate about whether the vintage ones are better or whatever. Most people can’t tell the difference between all the different varieties, and I’ve got better things to do than worry whether an effect gets me the precise tone color I desire. Among those “better” things? Build the effect myself.
So I looked at the kits offered by BYOC, and settled on their Classic Overdrive. Rather than put it into a standard case, however, I decided to mod the whole thing slightly to fit it into a BOSS enclosure from a dead pedal that I found on eBay. The biggest problem was getting the footswitch to fit, for which I had to make a modified latch for the battery/switch cover plate. Other components, such as the jacks and the AC adapter were taken from the broken pedal because they fit into the case better. I painted the whole thing, and using bake-on waterslide transfer decals was able to emulate the trademark BOSS font and appearance. After a few coats of polyurethane, the thing is ready to play. The effect works very well, and was easy to assemble thanks to the kit. I think I’m going to be very happy with it as a second OD on my board, and I can foresee experimenting with other pedal builds in the future.
Here’s a soundclip.
Here’s some pictures of the process.
Growing up moving from place to place, writing and receiving letters meant a lot to me. I never was very good at it, largely owing to my particular brand of lazy perfectionism, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t moved when I found a friend’s handwritten words, heavy with meaning and intimacy, in my mailbox. And because I craved that joy of connection to another human being, I would eagerly scribble my own words in response.
Then email came along. And instant messaging. And Facebook. And then cheap and ultimately free long-distance. And my life started to look decidedly more grown-up and I found I had all the meaning and intimacy I could handle. Plus, writing letters takes time and I can’t seem to find enough of that as it is, and there is shit that needs to get done. So I don’t write letters at all these days.
I miss it. For one, I am tired of finding absolutely nothing worthwhile in my mailbox. Amazon Prime is nice, but online shopping does absolutely nothing to fill my postal void. More than that though, I miss putting a pen to paper and writing words for another person. With a handful of sentences I can surgically expose my mind to single trusted recipient. I miss seeing my thoughts take shape at my own hands. I miss the sharing, the openness, the softly-spoken vulnerability of a hand-written letter.
This isn’t to say that I resent social media or email. I am no luddite, and I love how the internet has dismantled distance and time. But nothing is an everything-tool, and I am interested in exploring what the humble handwritten letter can do that the mighty internet can not.
I’ve long been in search of better lighting in the Vanagon. I’ve still yet to add an IKEA puck light LEDs to the cockpit area, but I was nevertheless able to make two more light mods that really brightened things up. First, thanks to fellow vanagonaut Harold Teer, I acquired a second overhead galley light and mounted it above the stove. The improvement is incredible; gone are the days of cooking in the dark.
The second modification was to upgrade the bulbs yet again since LEDs have come a long way since I first installed them in Olly seven years ago. With new, brighter and warmer LEDs from superbrightleds.com, the interior becomes much less clinical, making it far cozier. The new warm LEDs also match the IKEA pucks better, giving an overall more uniform appearance when all the lights are on. One installation note: I did have to slightly bend the prongs in the galley lighting to accommodate the oversized festoons, but that was easily accomplished with a pair of needle-nose pliers. This could be avoided by using smaller LEDs than the 6451‘s I used, but some light output would be sacrificed.
As a bonus, the whole thing looks very vanagonish, as if the light fixture was always there.
It hasn’t really been a good spring for Olly. He’s spent a fair bit of time in the garage, which is better than being in the driveway, but he hasn’t gone much further than that. That makes him (and me) a bit sad.
On the bright side, I’ve managed to do a lot of things to Olly while he’s been in the garage. It all started with an idea to replace the heater/vent fan before summer rolled around. Of course, that necessitates dashboard removal, so since it was out anyway, it was a good time to take care of a number of other tasks, like some rust mitigation, wire management, heater box restoration, speedometer cable replacement, brake cylinder replacement, sound proofing, and relocation of the power window switches. While I was in there I removed the stock cruise control hardware and lubed up anything that I could. While I was waiting for parts, I took the seats out and repainted the swivel bases with POR-15 and rattlecan Rustoleum top coat. The bases are much nicer looking now, and turn smoother as well. The passenger side could use some new bushings, but I just couldn’t justify spending $70 for a few pieces of plastic right now. At any rate, pretty much the entire front cab was gutted in the process, and all told that kept Olly off the road for a good month in March.
I also transferred the my existing wiring harness and gauges to the instrument cluster I’ve restored. I love having actual tabs to connect the cluster to the dash. It’s the little things, you know.
Here’s a few notes for future reference, in no particular order:
- I bought the master brake cylinder from Van-Cafe, and it came with the brake light switches pre-installed. Unfortunately, they are 3 prong switches, so I had to cut out the middle terminal and bend the outer ones inwards slightly so that I could keep the stock connectors.
- The sound deadening material I used was from SoundDeadenerShowdown.com. I like his products and website, although he doesn’t have a proper online store. Everything makes a dull “thunk” noise when hammered instead of sounding like the inside of a trash dumpster.
- The padded elements of the dashboard apparently can be removed. This would make painting and restoring it so much easier than the masking that I did.
- I moved the power window controls to the dash a la GoWesty, but without their million dollar kit. I actually did a lot of research looking for the ideal switches, and would actually have used the stock VW switches if they weren’t so durned expensive. So I found a kit made by SPAL Automotive sold by A-1 Electric. The switches are stock size, and so fit into the VW bezel, and they are illuminated unlike the GoWesty kit. On top of everything, they look appropriate to late 80’s automotive styling, so they don’t feel out of place. I did a bit of splicing to utilize the stock wiring as much as possible, and the result is wonderful. Both windows raise and lower without problem. The switches require a slight lean across the cab from the driver’s seat, but it’s not uncomfortable what with my gorilla arms.
- I’d like to get some stock fuse holders to add to the fuse panel for a few accessories: the Bostig MIL indicator and the radio.
- Also, still need to create some kind of filter for the air intake to keep Olly from collecting butterflies.
- The steering wheel shaft has a bit of play in it, and I assume it’s due to some bushing wearing out in the upper column.
I got Olly reassembled long enough for him to star in a movie. I was able to enter Bostig’s spring contest and will post a link to the video once the contest closes.
Olly’s mobility was short lived, however, and ended when I decided it was high time to tackle the wheel bearings. Suspension and wheels scare me, I don’t know why. Probably because these can be really tough jobs to do without a lift and a press of some sort. Also, screwing them up can be really bad. In any case, Olly’s wheels came off so that I could replace and lube all 4 bearings, and none of it was actually that difficult. The job got drawn out when I decided to replace the brake hardware while I was in the neighborhood. I also encountered a snafu involving a broken rear bearing case. It was remedied by Ken Wilford at Van-Again, who is really a great guy. I posted my problem to the Vanagon list serve, and he volunteered to help. A call the next day resulted in a quick payment transaction, and a completely rebuilt rear bearing case was on its way.
For what it’s worth, I have no real complaints about any of the various parts vendors, and use them all. Ken does deserve special mention because he’s very knowledgeable and down-to-earth in his explanations. I’ve also found his YouTube channel to be a nice supplement to Bentley for some quick-and-dirty guides to some dirty jobs.
So now the van is running on all four wheels again. This is a good thing, as I decided to fix the broken window motor in the Bimmer, so now it’s holed up in the garage. The joys of owning 80’s automobiles.