Route 66 for couple with their VW camper

DOROTHY is the third party in Matt and Cindi Paines’ marriage. No problem, though – she’s a VW Camper. Matt tells John Woodhouse how the fiftysomethings, of Stafford, fell in love with her on a road trip across America – and how Dorothy is now making other couples feel special.

FOR some time, Cindi and I had been considering buying a VW bus. We both shared childhood memories growing up with them and had started visiting various shows around the UK drooling over the assortment on display.

Eventually, we decided enough was enough. It was time to own one of these nostalgic motorised tin-box beauties ourselves. The only question was whether to buy in the UK or, since Cindi is American, buy in the USA and bring it back.

Purely by happenstance we discovered a friend of a friend in Wichita, Kansas, had decided to sell his bus. We were considering having it shipped, until, one relaxing afternoon, while lying on lounge chairs in our back garden, Cindi suddenly suggested we go fetch ‘Dorothy’. Two things had happened here. The first was the bus now had a name, since Dorothy (The Wizard Of Oz) was from Kansas, it seemed like the obvious choice. The second was the idea of buying the bus had veered away from a mere vehicle purchase and was now rapidly moving towards becoming a road trip adventure.

Against the owner’s strong recommendation to ship, we decided to fly into San Francisco, Cindi’s home town, then on to Kansas, buy the bus, and drive back again to California – eight states and 2,456 miles in two weeks.

We considered several routes, but the one highway that beckoned was the famous Route 66. It looked straight forward on the map, what could possibly go wrong?

Plans were made, our moonstruck adventure had become a reality, and we were heading over to the US for a real fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trip of a lifetime.

We had arranged to meet Dorothy’s owner at our hotel at Wichita airport. Seeing the bus for the first time in the morning sun, she lived up to all the pictures and expectations. We were truly happy with our decision. We were now owners of a 1970 VW Westfalia Camper.

It was time to hit the road and head south-west until sundown. My first reaction was how difficult it was to turn the over-sized steering wheel. Then the brakes – or the lack thereof! I practically had to put my foot through the floor to get the old-style drum brakes to react. Cindi and I just looked at each other and laughed in a futile attempt to ignore our growing concerns. We had a very long road ahead of us!

It was becoming noticeable that people were staring at Dorothy as we were driving around. We’d get waves from other drivers, pedestrians, and every time we stopped to fuel up or for food, we’d end up with someone telling us about their history with VWs. We even had trains flying by blasting their horns and drivers waiving at us traveling the opposite way. We both found it very amusing.

Route 66 may be one of the most famous roads in the USA, but it has to be said that, for such a national treasure, it’s actually quite difficult to know if you’re on it or not, since at every opportunity the powers that be try to filter traffic back on to the newer interstate 40.

As we headed north, we were beginning to become apparent the little towns that had petrol stations were becoming few and far between and would commonly be 100 miles apart. Not only that but we had discovered early on that large trucks and crosswinds were not a VW bus’s friend. Our slower speed, square girth, and loose play in the steering was a recipe for an unstable situation whenever one flew past. I would see them coming up in the side mirror and just hold on to the steering wheel and cringe, waiting for the overpowering gust to try to blow us off the road and over.

So needless to say we were relieved to finally exit the big roads and head north towards the Grand Canyon. At this time the bus wasn’t running too well. Our concern for Dorothy was coming to fruition. It was becoming clear the altitude was having an impact on her ability to climb hills.

As we approached the Grand Canyon, we realised there were signs stating the parks were in fact closed due to government funding. Heading west again we entered Mt Zion National Park in Utah. There were signs everywhere stating we were not permitted to stop because of the government shutdown. All we could do was gaze out the cab in amazement at the spectacular scenery, the most gorgeous red rugged mountains I had ever seen.

As we exited the park we found a campsite. This was to be our first and only night we were able to enjoy the delights of Dorothy. Mainly because it took me an entire week to convince Cindi how fun it would be!

Lighting the fire pit adjacent to the bus, noticing the rubbish bins were made of steal and padlocked because of bears, it made us wonder how much Dorothy’s vintage doors could withstand should a bear decide it wanted in. Thankfully, the night went without incident and we continued our journey into Nevada. Our aim, Las Vegas!

We became aware that a white pickup was following us. We made several turns, in and out of retail parks, but the pickup remained. As we pulled into the car-park at a burger bar, it pulled alongside and a man leaped out. In his mid-30’s, he started to look round Dorothy, and explained “I have four of these myself”!

As we neared Las Vegas, the style of driving, temperament and behaviour of other motorists had noticeably changed. All of a sudden everyone was in a hurry. The quaint rustic charms of Dorothy no longer cut the ice as they gestured with a blow of their horn for her to get out of the way or speed up.

Vegas was a chance to unwind from eight days of driving. To check in to a suite at a fancy hotel, sample some interesting cuisine and . . . get married.

While the adventure had progressed, Cindi and I had been having a life affirming and romantic experience at the behest of our guest, Miss Dorothy. So much so that if there was anywhere in the world this Brit and Yank should make it official, it was here and now. We had a very simple unassuming ceremony at the Little Chapel Of The West, the perfect choice for us.

After a two-day break, it was nice to leave Vegas as a married couple, definitely making the adventure that much more special. Next state, sunny California, or so we thought!

The final stage back to San Francisco was mostly uneventful and a little sad, because it signified our epic journey was coming to the end. It was glorious to see the city as we passed through, then crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, where Cindi is from. At that moment, the realisation that Dorothy had miraculously transported us safely to our destination on a wing and prayer was emotional to say the least.

Back in England and Dorothy now spreads her joy by making other couples’ big days more memorable. We hire her out for weddings in Staffordshire – a beautifully preserved classic 1970 Volkswagen Campervan, immaculate inside and out, that will certainly get you noticed on your special day.

Every day we’re thankful for the adventure she has given us.

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