My gran Annie’s Caltex garage in Harrismith had a filling station, a restaurant on the forecourt, a workshop behind – and the VW agency. My gran Annie sold VW Beetles!
One of the perks of Annie having a VW dealership was Volkswagen’s toy models of their cars & kombis. They were fascinating! They had moving doors, flaps, engine covers, side loading locker in kombi pickups; some had a clear sunroof that clipped off. Something like these:
At one time – I don’t think I’m imagining this – the VW Beetle cost less than R1 per cc: The 1200cc engine model cost R1199. Let’s check: A VW Bug in the USA was around $1563; A US dollar cost us 72 SA cents – Yep, about right.
A long concrete ramp lead up into the workshop behind the Flamingo Cafe. At Truscott was the mechanic – I remember him as small, bald and kind. I remember the big jacks that lifted the cars; the lights they shone into the engine bay – an incandescent bulb in a cage to protect it, with a 220V cable dangling behind it; There was a high ‘shelf’ overhead – above the wall of the ‘office’ inside the big shed-like workshop on which lots of tyres were stacked; The wooden workbenches were full of interesting vices and spare parts and grease.
One of Annie’s forecourt attendants was Joseph Culling. He was a son of Sgt Culling, who was demobbed in 1913, when the British finally left Harrismith after the Anglo-Boer War. He had been stationed on Kings Hill and unlike most of his fellows, he stayed behind and married a local Harrismith lady. In the apartheid classification of the day that immediately – and magically!? – made his children ‘coloureds.’ I remember him with the leather coin dispenser satchel on his hip, the strap holding it slung around his neck and shoulder, wearing a Caltex cap.
Back in the sixties, many of us, of course, also had an inordinate fondness for the beatles . .
Stage Three (in yellow on the map) of my Great North American Road Trip started in Cobleskill in upstate New York, where Stage Two had ended.
A red VW Bug swept up the drive and out poured three lovely Okies and an Aussie. Sherry Porter-Steele, owner of the Bug and twins Dottie and Dale Moffett. Sherry had been a favourite young high school teacher of the girls in Ardmore a few years prior, and involved in Rotary exchange student selection. Jonathan Kneebone was an Aussie, a dinkum character, say no more. Liked a beer.
We headed north to the Canadian border. Five laughing, happy peeps in a VW bug. It wasn’t a squeeze at all, we were having so much fun. At the border the man leaned in, asked “All American?” Yeah, we’re American, chimed Sherry, Dottie and Dale. He stepped back and was about to wave us through when Jonathan and I said “Um, no”.
“Australian” said Kneebone and the man made to step back again and wave us through when he registered what I had said.
“Uh, come with me please sir. I need to check your passport,” he said. An hour later we were off again – to Montreal. That’s where you see Dottie sitting on the grass.
On to Ottawa where we bumped into Indira Ghandi on a state visit to Pierre Trudeau. She chose to arrive while we were staring at some government building or other. That’s the only time I’ve seen a head of state in the flesh ever. And one’s enough.
Somewhere around here I dinged Sherry’s car! “I’ll drive!” I shouted as we headed for the pub. I promptly reversed out the driveway, swung, and BANG! I got out and saw to my great relief – how horrible was this!? – that I’d hit a huge Dodge pickup with a bumper a yard deep; not a scratch on it! We could hop back into the red bug and bug off to the pub. Poor Sherry’s prize red VW wasn’t so lucky. I wrecked her left rear fender and light and I had no money to pay for the damage. DAMN!! Sherry of course was an absolute star about it, bless her!
Then Toronto, Waterloo and up around Lake Superior, Sudbury, Sault St Marie, Thunder Bay. What a sight Superior was! Biggest stretch of fresh water imaginable. For a Vrystater, awe-inspiring! We camped en route wherever we could squirrel away for free. Only once were we shoo-ed off and told ‘I’m Sorry, You Can’t Camp Here.’ This by a Mountie with a big hat, so it was worth it! Yes SIR!
Here we used a rock for a mattress. We had just woken up but Kneebone was already being Australian!
Once we stayed in an old railway station converted to a sort of backpackers, the track ripped up and turned into a trail. Beautiful.
Then, suddenly, we needed to go canoeing. When in Canada, canoe! So we hired two boats in Quetico National Park, Lake of the Woods. All names may not be exact or current – these are 45yr-old memories!
We planned a three-night trip, but after one night we turned back and ran, tails between our legs! We had spent the day trying to dodge dark clouds of midges and no-see-ems, or black flies. When you ran your hand through your hair it came out covered in blood. That night we pitched the tents on an island in a cloud of mozzies. We lined up with our kit, zipped open, dived in and zipped up immediately. So fast that we only had fourteen million mosquitoes in the tent, a fraction of the hordes that were hovering and zeeeee-ing outside!
Ama-azing! Canada sure has bugs! But what beautiful country:
As we’d cut our canoe trip short we decided to carry on into Manitoba, but Canada is vast and we realised we might bite off more than we could chew; so we soon cut back and headed south for the US border at International Falls, into Minnesota, across the Mississippi River where it’s still quite small and headed south for Iowa, where I had to leave the gang.
They dropped me off and buzzed off into the sunset, three lovely ladies and an Aussie with who I had just spent one of the most unforgettable times of my life. That REALLY was special. So uncomplicated and relaxed and unstructured (unless Sherry was planning as we went – she was! I bet you she was!), and free and friendly. Wonderful people.
My host family from Apache Don & Jackie Lehnertz were up there and would be driving me back to Apache via Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on Stage Four. I’m afraid I slept a lot on this leg of the trip!