Adventures from Back of Beyond

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ferry to Prince Rupert

This as a VW bus story. And there's quite a few of these, but let's start with one of the best. The Alaska trip of 1979.

At the time I drove a 1966 VW bus, the old kind with the split windshield. Air cooled, it had a 6-volt electrical system, which just about assured a dead battery if the overnight low dropped below about 40. The valves had to be adjusted every 3,000 miles. I had tools and did it myself. It's comfortable cruising speed was 48 mph, providing there was no headwind. I once drove it cross country and passed only two other cars on the interstate the entire time, and they were both exiting.

But this particular trip was to Alaska. Returning from, actually, after driving the 1,600 miles of gravel through Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory into the 50th state.

It was April, and I was working in Denali National Park. Ranger Bob Butterfield, one of the best NPS supervisors I've ever had, offered me a better job at Grand Canyon, so after only about 2 weeks in Alaska I was off back to the lower 48.

I didn't want to return the same way I came, so after a little map study I determined to return by way of the Alaska Ferry, through the fabled inside passage, from Haines to Prince Rupert, BC, where I'd hit pavement all the way to Arizona.

Haines was absolutely beautiful. The Ferry was fantastic too; at times we saw bears walking along the shore, that's how narrow the inside passage is. Not to mention more bald eagles than we could count, plus whales and dolphins cruising around.

The state of Alaska runs regularly scheduled car ferries up and down the passage, connecting such towns as Skagway and Haines all the way to Seattle. The ferry boat has a tapered bow, unlike the big Washington State ferries in Puget Sound, and on the car deck they pack it full.

On this particular run, my bus just happened to be the very last vehicle parked, right in the nose of the ship. Several lanes split off behind me. I would be the first off.

But I made sort of a mistake. I left the radio on for the entire time of this 2-day voyage. The thing had a weak battery anyway, and the next day when it was time to rumble off the boat in Prince Rupert, it was dead as a doornail. I couldn't start it.

Imagine this now, there's dozens of cars idling behind me, waiting to drive off, and I'm blocking every single one of them. Nobody could move until I got out of the way. And imagine my embarrassment when I had to report to the crew that I had a dead battery. They took one look at my old piece of junk, and I heard one guy mumble something about pushing overboard to get it out of the way.

But I had a better idea. I ran off to find the Air Force guys I had met the previous day up on the deck. We had become buddies, so I asked for a little favor. Would they be kind enough to give me a push start?

I knew this bus well, in fact had to push start the dang thing most every morning. Which is why I always parked it on the lip of a hill.

But I only had one chance. The boys would push, and there was one fairly steep downhill ramp off the boat, then a short level section, and then a steep fairly long drive up to the dock level. If it didn't start, I'd be stuck at the bottom of that long hill, and everybody'd want to dump my poor ol' bus overboard.

So these guys pushed, I pumped a couple of times to get some gas into the carb, pushed in the clutch, and put it in second. They let go and I coasted a bit down the's my chance...**pop** that clutch...and she roared to life, up and out.


After I blew the fifth of 5 rebuilt engines in that old bus, I finally sold it. More stories there.


  • HAHA great story pop! Great things come from being personable.

    By Blogger Max, at 11:01 AM  

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