The VW Bus came into my family’s life in the summer 1970 when we lived in Wichita Fall, Texas and I was almost 10 years old. The children’s music program at the First Baptist Church was large and very active. One particular weekend the choir took a trip to Six Flags that required two big, chartered buses. It was a fun-filled day and I remember that I bought lots of useless junk (including one of those ugly trolls). The fun quickly turned to sadness when, on the way home, one of the buses (not the one I was in) hit a passenger car. At the time my friend and I were in the bus’ restroom changing our clothes. We sat in the bus for quite a long while as the many emergency vehicles’ lights were flashing. They didn’t permit us to get off of the bus the entire time. Eventually, we were informed that all the people on the bus were fine but a man in the car had lost his legs. The chaperones got word to the church and they notified all the parents that we were okay but would be arriving back at the church very late.
Once we arrived back at the church, I remember how relieved and happy I was to see my parents. As we walked toward our car, I couldn’t figure out where we were going because I didn’t recognize any of the cars. Our car was at home and they drove an orange VW Bus they purchased earlier that day. I was thrilled! I had experienced so many emotions that day. Ending my day with seeing this cool orange VW Bus was exciting.
Over the next several years Dad modified the inside of that bus to accommodate a full size mattress, a propane stove, ice chest and some storage. Mom made curtains for the windows so it was quite cozy.
In January 1971 we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where we spent several weekends that spring driving and camping in very primitive locations. Dad really preferred camping in locations where no other soul was around, which also meant there were no restrooms. We always took Erica, our beloved German Shepherd, with us and you can see her in the top right photo below.
By June of 1971, we moved to Durham, North Carolina and commenced our camping weekends. One weekend that fall my parents decided to go camping. I remember very clearly not wanting to go because I had a very bad feeling about it and told Mother I did not want to go. She told me that was silly and that we ‘were’ going. I knew not to mention it to Dad because he would get angry at me. So, we loaded up our things and Erica and headed out for a weekend of camping.
We stopped at a rest area after a little bit of driving and when we decided to get back on the road, Dad wanted to nap so Mom drove. Erica and I were lying down on the mattress napping. When we were driving through Winston-Salem, Mom said that Erica started barking behind her left shoulder like she was protecting us from something. Suddenly the front passenger side fender of a company truck behind us hooked the back driver’s side bumper on our bus and caused the bus to be thrown across lanes into the oncoming traffic of the westbound side of the highway. Mother said she could see that we were headed straight for the overpass and, fearing we would go over, she tried with all of her might to get to the brakes. Unfortunately, she was being bounced so much and onto the gear shift that she couldn’t reach the brakes with her feet so she tried to reach them with her hands but just couldn’t do it.
The driver of a westbound vehicle opted to veer to the right thinking she could drive past us and be safe. If she would have veered left she might not have been involved but as it turned out her car hit us on the front passenger’s side. That was probably a good thing for us because it caused the bus to spin around and we didn’t go over the overpass.
The impact of the westbound car and the spinning threw my Dad and his seat from the bus. He said it briefly knocked him unconscious and when he came to, he was lying down in the middle of the eastbound traffic. He got up and heard me screaming. When he found me I was lying on the ground directly below the open doors on the bus and Dad was unsure if I’d been hit by our bus. He told me that I kept screaming despite him telling me to stop. Finally he slapped me and I stopped screaming. I have no recollection of anything past deciding to take a nap with Erica.
I can clearly remember ‘waking up’ in the ambulance and seeing these strange men looking down at me. They told me that I had been involved in an accident and they were taking me to the hospital. I told them that they needed to take me back because they had the wrong person and my parents were going to be really mad at them. I lost consciousness again and did not come to until I was in the hospital and these strangers were taking my clothes off! Luckily Mother was in the next area behind a curtain. She pulled the curtain to the side so that we could see each other and she told me it was okay, to let them take my clothes off and check me to make sure everything was okay. I couldn’t believe my ears, let them take my clothes off! I lost consciousness again and regained it a couple of times – once in the elevator and once when they were taking X-rays or something. Eventually, they discerned that I had not been hit or run over by the bus and only had minor cuts and released me. Mom, however, had a laceration on the back of her head that required stitches and a cracked pelvis from being thrown onto the gear shift and stayed in the hospital a couple of day to make sure there were no internal injuries. Dad refused to be treated but he was clearly dazed.
Once I was released from the hospital, Dad and I walked and walked until we found a motel to stay in for the night. That evening I had to address a very embarrassing issue. I needed some feminine hygiene supplies and I had to ask Dad to get them for me. Since he was going back to the bus I asked him to get a particular sack (I didn’t tell him why but I’m sure Mom had). He was very good about it, he simply came back and politely handed me the sack.
Since we had moved to Durham recently we had very few friends and all of our family lived in Oklahoma. Mom and Dad had become friends with our real estate agent and her husband. Dad called the agent who, coincidentally, was from Winston-Salem and her parents still lived there so she made arrangements for Dad and I to stay with her parents for the next several days. They were a very gracious family and were my refuge during that time since Dad was really up tight.
We believe that Erica was thrown from the bus but must have been very scared, probably injured and ran away. On the eastbound side of the highway it was very wooded and Dad and I went to an area near where we wrecked several times and looked all through the woods. We never found any evidence of Erica.
Eventually, Mom was released from the hospital and it seems to me that we went back to Durham with our bus on a tow truck. The photos of the wrecked bus were taken in our back yard.
Originally posted Aug 21, 2007, then updated on September 2, 2008
You can read more about Erica on my post COG 100th Edition: Erica and here’s our Erica: