By all accounts George was a real character. He had a strong will and an independent mind which meant that whenever he put his mind to something he would find a way to make it happen. He was also prone to taking spontaeous decisions. So when he came home from work and announced to his wife: “Nellie, get the kids ready, we’re going off on holiday“, you know he really meant it.
George was also a very practical man – with big ambitions. He was never happier than when he had a ‘project’ on the go. He once built a sunroom on the side the house and called it the ‘California Lounge’. He would often take stuff to the dump and come back with even more stuff loaded on to his trailer, just in case he found a use for it. His backyard was full of planks of wood, old washing machines, car parts and so on. And vegetables. And hens, lots of them.
So the idea of owning a VW bus that could allow his ever-growing family to escape for weekends and holidays away, and which he could tinker with and fix to his hearts desire, was something that made perfect sense.
The photo was taken in 1964 – according to my mother-in-law, George’s husband. He’d just bought a brand new (yes, brand spanking new !) split screen bus from Blackadder’s Garage in Falkirk, and the first big trip was planned. Except we’re not talking about a weekend in Scotland: this was an 1,600 mile round trip from Falkirk to Holland, at a time when the only stretch of motorway opened in the UK was a short stretch of the M1 between Watford and Rugby. So it was a long, slow trip.
I’ve already mentioned that George had a growing family. There was his wife and six children all under the age of seven (my wife wasn’t yet born), and they also invited along for the holiday Uncle Andrew and Auntie Jessie and their two children, Valerie and Alison. So that made twelve – yes, that’s twelve – who all piled into the VW bus for the 1,600 journey to Holland and back.
You can just make out on the left of the photo the guy ropes from the tent that some of them slept in. The others slept on the bench seats in the van. As you can see, the van was pretty laden, with a pushchair on the roofrack and all the other clobber you would need for a fortnight’s holiday away (for twelve). Helen’s doing the washing up, George is toddling around and Douglas is looking on. Uncle Andrew’s in the van doorway.
The part that sticks in everyone’s memories was the incident on the way home when one of the cylinders stopped firing. Not that a 1964 bus with twelve people on board would go very fast, but with only three cylinders it went even slower still ! Fortunately, the AA managed to fix it when they got back and as far as I know, the van provided many years good service through to the early 1970s.
Inspired by the US Why VW web campaign, I wanted to share a couple of stories of VW vans owned by my wife’s family. Particular thanks to my mother in law for telling me the stories. Part 2 to follow …