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Sometime probably in 1998, I read the “charter” for the DKF club in great detail. I knew of Bill Collins; his dedication to vintage Volkswagens and the driving of them, but this text struck a nerve. Sure I imagined completing my car in a year or two and going to shows with it, but reading about caravans of exclusive oval and split window Beetles being driven all over New England and the rest of country, now that was almost too good to believe. Fact is, I almost made it to Bill’s 1999 DKF Fall Cruise. I had finally finished my ‘57 in September of 1999, and was returning from 2 weeks in France the same day the cruise was to leave. I sheepishly suggested to my wife that maybe I could somehow leave my ’57 at the airport and go right up to the coast of Maine (where the ’99 took place) from Boston when I got in.
“Let me see if I understand this,” my wife said. “You will gone in Europe, away from your family for over 2 weeks, and you want to go straight from the airport into your VW and up the coast of Maine for another 3 days!?”.
“Uhh, yeah. I mean no, that would be
stupid. What was I thinking.”
So in the summer of 2000, I literally chased Bill Collins across the show fields a few times trying to get info on the cruise. I had sent in my DKF membership in the fall of 1999, but I never heard back, and the check I sent for my hat and shirt was never cashed. Folks told me that Bill had been very busy with the Fatherland Tour and the mail was piled high. But late in the summer, I finally hooked up with Bill and asked him about my application and the cruise. “Bet I never cashed the check, huh?” he said. According to my wife he hadn’t (when she balanced the checkbook every month, “who is… ‘Bill Collins’?”). “Been real busy, sorry. But you have to go 1500 miles in your car before you can have a shirt and hat anyway” Bill said. I grinned. "Well the old odometer rolled to 1800 on the way down here today, is that good enough?” I said. We made some arrangements for Bill to tear up the check and for me to make payment somehow right there on the show field and a few weeks later I had my hat and shirt. I was in.
Bill had told me that they were going to do Bretton Woods/Mount Washington this fall, but he thought all the rooms were booked at the Mount Washington hotel. I talked to my wife about it, and she sounded interested. Bill hails the weekend as: “A weekend away with our wives. We just all happen to drive old Volkswagens”. Later Bill sent me an e-mail saying that he thought there might be one room left. One Sunday night I called the Mount Washington Hotel and asked if they had any rooms left for Columbus day weekend. The girl almost laughed at me. “No, we have been booked for almost 2 years, that is the busiest weekend of the year” (for those who don’t know, the first and second week in October are when the legendary New England trees are in their peak fall color. “Fall Foliage” season is one of the biggest attractions in the area). I told her that Bill Collins had booked a group of rooms and he thought that there was one still available. She said she didn’t know anything about that, but I could leave a message with the group coordinator who would be in in the morning. I did, but to be safe, I called the Bretton Arms Hotel across the street and booked one of their very last rooms for $190 a night. Sheesh, leaf peeping is big business.
To my surprise, Monday morning, a woman from the hotel called me back. She said that one room in Bill’s block was indeed available. I was thrilled, I said “I’ll take it”. She told me that package included breakfast and dinner, and that the rate was $365 a night, plus applicable state and local taxes. <gulp> I apprehensively read off my credit card number to her, wondering how I was going to get this one past the spousal approval department.
The complication, besides the expense, was that way earlier in the year, my wife had booked us at a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont for just 2 weekends prior to this. This weekend was no budget venture either at close to $200 a night. But the attraction there was that on the Sunday that weekend, the VT VW club was having their show, and was just 80 miles up the road from the Inn. We went this Inn every year for our anniversary and had talked last year about driving the Oval up if it was done. It was truly a coincidence, I knew nothing of this show when my wife made the reservation at the Inn. This was going to be a real tough sell and might put a bit of stress on the old hobby/relationship balance. Mixing VW hobby with “weekend away with wife” is risky business..
Only by promising my wife that I would sell off some cherished early VW parts to fund the DKF cruise weekend did she agree. “You really want to do this?” she asked. “Yeah, I really think it is a once in a lifetime chance…” I took some pics of some early VW parts that I had been hoarding in the loft, put up a quick webpage, a message or two on some newsgroups/newslists, and in just 4 days, I had “raised” over $800. The confirmation of the first days stay deposit came in the mail. With all the taxes and stuff: $430 a night. Yikes!
The weekend in Vermont was wonderful, in spite of a bit of a long drive on Sunday. My wife’s wonderful parents agreed to keep our kids at their place for both weekends. Just a couple weeks before the event, I found that I had to fly to Phoenix for a few days early in the week not returning until midnight on Wednesday. This left me with just Thursday evening to prep the car. Nothing like a little stress before a “relaxing” weekend.
Fortunately I had given the car a rigorous once over before the VT trip, and it was running very well. Nonetheless, I changed the oil and just gave everything a quick check. I loaded up my usually “support” kit and a small tool box. A couple suitcases in the back seat, and we were ready to go.
The pictures below showcase the weekend. The VWs truly saw all kinds of weather, from bright sunny skies, to rain, to snow. A few of the participants with dangling heater box cables had wished they had made some repairs before the drive. But my wife said she had a truly wonderful time, and so did I. By far, the neatest “VW Event Weekend” ever (so far). I am definitely putting this one on the calendar every year!
||Bill had perfectly planned a wonderful drive
up, with a stop in Lincoln NH for lunch at a chowder house (that's pronounce
"CHOW-dah"). After a cloudy and somewhat rainy drive up on Friday, we arrived
at the Mount Washington Hotel around 4:00 pm. Bill had arranged for us
to be allowed to park on the Hotel's "front lawn". 21 cars in all
(no less than 6 of those Bill's, driven by his guests...), 19 Beetles,
a Karman Ghia and a split window double cab.
I wonder if the hotel management has noticed the 20 brown spots that have invariably formed on the on the lawn after 20 aircooled VWs parked there.
|This picture was actually taken on Saturday
by Bill Sylvestri. Bill, Collins, me and my wife Ardie. As
you can see, the skies cleared up nicely for our "touring day" on the road.
The Mt. Washington Hotel was built right after the turn of the century (the 19th one, that is....)
||A pic of me and my car facing away from the hotel on its driveway. You can see just how picture perfect the fall colors were this weekend.|
|Now how is that for VW Photo Art! Qued up to leave for Bill's "Scavenger Hunt" on Saturday morning (from the front, and from my feeble memory)" Bill's '49 Heb, Humberto Lapa's '52 Zwitter, my '57 Deluxe Sedan, Bill Pickering's '53, Bill Sylvestri's '50 Split, Norman Michaud's Ivory '67 Sedan, Pat Asaro's '73 Super, Geoff Aldrich's black '50 Split Sunroof, Steve Hammond's '51 Split Sedan, Bill C's '67 Convertible driven by Dick and Peggoty Christensen, Loren and Chris Pearson in Bill C's '53 Split Sunroof, Rich Kimball (standing outside) in Bill C's Blue '57 Oval (still riding on its original tires!!), Rich Pacheco's '67 Sedan, Jim Hannum's Yellow 75 Super, Dave Haviland's black '56 Oval, Guy McDorr's '52 Split, Reed Asaro in his girlfriend's black watercooled GTi, Ed Conrey's '63 Double Cab AND.... Stan Wohlfarth, '81 Westy (I think....)|
|My wife took this as we were driving up Rte. 16. What a site it was to look back out of my own oval window at the other ovals and split winding along this picturesque road. This picture doesn't do the moment justice, and it was just that a moment... Absolutely awesome...|
|I was second in line, following Bill's Heb
up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Bill's Okrassa engine pushed him
along quite well. We had all learned not to get behind Humberto who
was running a bone stock 25 hp and carrying his wife and 2 daughters.
Along this lower part of the road, my car ran well, pulling strongly along
in second gear. Trick was on the steeper parts downshifting into
a non-sychronized first.
Bill's Heb still sported "Great Race" decals on both doors...
|I pulled off as we got above the treeline for a quick picture. Mt. Washington is well known for its varying and unpredictable weather. On the this day the clouds and fog were coming and going. This is probably at only a 5000 foot or so elevation.|
|Unfortunately we didn't exactly arrive at the top all at once (many were behind Humberto!), and it was very crowded at the top so we couldn't all park in the same place. When my wife and I first arrived at the top, it was very clear. This is very rare for the summit of the mountain. On a clear day you can see 70 miles and 5 states.|
|Everyone had to have their picture taken
at the very summit point, my wife and I were no exception. In fact
on this day, you basically had to wait in line for your turn to stand on
the little brass plaque identifying the summit. It was 25 degrees
F up there, but it really didn't feel all that cold (but I brought along
my Elmer Fudd hat anyway).
I know to Rocky mountainers, 6288.176 feet (to be exact) may not seem all that high. But this is the highest peak in New England, and due to the weather extremes, the treeline stops around 5000' (this in contrast to Mount Mitchell in NC, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, whose summit at 6,684' is covered with trees). Mt. Washington is best known for it's extreme weather with snow fall recorded in every month of the year, average of 104 days a year with hurricane force winds and the highest recorded surface wind in history at 231 mph (thanks Bill for those "neat to know and tell" facts you made us all dig up for the scavenger hunt. I'm using them already!!) . In winter, the summit resembles a martian landscape.
It may look like the weather observatory building behind is actually higher in elevation, but it is not.
|In the time it took to step inside the visitors center to get a hot cup of coffee, a cloud came in and cloaked the mountain top. This is what the summit normally looks like. After everyone and sniffed out the answers to the Mount Washington summit trivia on Bill's scavenger hunt pages, grabbed a cup of coffee, we fired up the VWs, and headed back down again in the fog.|
|Dropping back out of the clouds, trying
to keep off the brakes. I found that in 1st gear, I could just coast
down, ignition on or off, the only difference was that with it off, I got
no heat. My wife was reading the precautionary flyer they gave you
when you started up "It says do not shut off your engine when going down".
I told here why it said that. Because most cars today, loose most
of their braking and steering assist with the engine off. "Not
this one!" I reached over and yanked the key out. "Shoot, I can take the
key out and the steering wheel won't even lock."
Bill Sylvestri's '50 can be seen ahead of the Jeep in front of me.
|The Judson in Bill's '53 Sunroof (driven
by Loren Pearson) started rattling a bit on the way to Mt. Washington.
The oiler was tweaked a bit, it seemed better, but on the way down the
mountain it made it very clear that it was not happy, and the "team" decided
to remove it and replace it with a stock carb in the parking lot at the
bottom of the Auto Road.
Steve Hammond was the first to sacrifice clean hands as soon as parts, tools and a mondo box of "shop towels" appeared....
|I think if Bill Collins had a left front fender and a front beam, he probably would have enough parts stashed in his Heb to build up an whole 'nother split in the parking lot. You have never seen so many spare parts in your life; and all neatly sorted, wrapped and labeled.|
|Dave Haviland talks to Loren about the VW
parts business while Loren enjoys a beer. Guy and Bill continue to
sift through the parts piles looking for an elusive accelerator cable clamp.
Geoff Aldrich (hat) ponders the meaning of his existence.
My wife left this whole parking lot experience with a "how many VW enthusiasts does it take to change a Judson" joke or two. Bill's Heb also had a dead plug on return to the bottom of the road. Loren pinpointed that in about 50 seconds, and swapped a new one in, after he finished his beer. Later in the day Bill started taking some ribbing about having his cars better prepped before taking 6 of them out for a 3 day weekend next time.
|The offending Judson. I told Bill he could toss it under the hood of my oval and I would take care of disposing of the annoying accessory. But he opted to put it in the nose of another one of his cars for the trip home.|
|I told Bill I would take this pic as evidence
that he actually worked on his own cars a bit on this trip.
After Steve got the supercharger out, Bill went about installing an "NOS"
28 PIC carb he had in his spare parts kit. He got it on, hooked up
cables and fuel lines, and the car started right up. But very soon
afterward, a fuel leak was discovered. This "NOS" part had a hole
in the bowl casting! Another used carb materialized (many of these
guys are "Der Fatherland" tour veterans and really know how to pack for
a trip), it was installed, and we finally headed down the road and had
lunch at 3:30pm.
Dick Christensen looking on.
|Sunday morning, my wife woke up first, got out of bed and rolled up the window shade. "Oh my God! It SNOWED!!" Indeed about 2" had fallen in the early morning hours. The previous evening when we had retired after the scavenger hunt "awards ceremony", a nice dinner, and some drinks in the "Cave" (a prohibition era, underground bar below the basement level at the Hotel. Very cool), it was raining pretty steadily. But temps had fallen as a cold front swept through, and an early October snowfall frosted the landscape.|
|Earlier this year I canceled drives because
the skies were cloudy and it looked like it might rain. Now, my car
was a road warrior, driving passengers, suitcases around in all kinds of
rainy weather, and now standing outside the Hotel, awaiting duty in the
snow. This year had truly seen it all.
Dave Haviland, who was staying down the road at another Hotel put all our fears to rest when he arrived to have breakfast with us. "Don't worry, they didn't put anything on the road" (ie.: salt or sand) . Despite, Humberto still looked kind of pale at breakfast.
|Ok, the photographer wannabe in me took this shot of the decklid of Bill's '53 as the snow was melting away. We had been chiding Bill since the Judson was removed in the parking lot that he would now have to chisel this emblem off the car.|
|Another "artsy" shot (attempt). Check out the cool front quarter mounted rearview mirror on Bill's '53. <sigh> Just doesn't seem fair that one guy should have so much cool vintage VW stuff.|
|Doesn't come out all that well in this pic, but the "frosting" that the snow applied to the colorful trees was incredible. New England fall scenery just doesn't get any better than this....|
|By late morning, most all the snow had melted,
and the roads were just wet. Ardie and I rode along with Bill and
a few other splits leaving the Mt. Washington Valley. We rode north
a bit then dropped down through Franconia Notch. There it was snowing
pretty steadily for a while. Bill and his friends ditched off
of I-93 near Bellows Falls as he wanted to show some of his west coast
guests more of New England. Ardie and I, interested in getting home
at a reasonable time, continued on.
Almost to MA, we passed Humberto in the Zwitter. He had left the Hotel a full 45 minutes before us. But I can't give him grief about having a "trailer queen" anymore. But Humberto, those "Barbie" sheets covering the back seats really clash with the wool upholstery....
|By time I pulled into my driveway
on Sunday afternoon, I had ticked away another 460 miles with the "DKF"
boys. As for Bill's crazy "Scavenger Hunt", I'm not sure he will
do that again. It got a bit, let's say "competitive" in the conservatory
on Saturday evening. Some "grey areas" in some of the questions,
and some people <wink> trying to pass off an ordinary twig as a beaver
chewed stick. Other items to be collected for points included a "lucky
stone" (a smooth fieldstream stone of gray granite with a white layer of
quartz in it forming a white band on the stone's surface) , a porcupine
quill (yep, and Goeff and Marci actually found dead one with a quill
to be spared), and Moose poop. Yes, no less than 3 teams found the
latter item worth 25 points. Bill provided large ziploc baggies.
When the points were tallied, Ardie and I won by a slim 2 points.
Hats off to Bill and his wife Connie for
a wonderful weekend. Man can that guy plan and execute and event,
right down to printed name tags for every one with make and color of VW!!
If you ever get a chance to participate in one of these events, I highly
recommend it. It is serious fun with a lot of camaraderie (and a
bit of food and drink too).