[This is a continuation of the true story of my ’76 VW Camper’s fire and resulting odyssey.]

Within a few minutes, Denise and I had hitchhiked to the next I-95 exit in South Carolina, leaving the Campmobile behind. We then began to hike our way along a long country road with few houses in sight. In fact, the only houses we could see were some small trailer homes dotted along the next half mile of the road. We decided to ask to use the phone (we did have our AAA card, at least, so emergency service was a possibility). This was before cell phones of course (I didn’t even have my first car phone until several years later). The first house was no help. They didn’t have a phone. They were serious–nada. So we tried the next house. They didn’t have a phone either. The third house was also sans phones, but they did say that the people 3 houses down were the ones in the neighborhood who had a phone. To say that we were in a remote location would be kind. To say we were in hell would be not far from the truth.

So we trekked down (and over, and up) to the “lucky phone house” and asked to use the phone. The phone was on top of a tiny phone book, thin, about 5 inches by 8 inches. I’d never seen one like that (although I’ve seen them since). We called AAA, and got a ride back down to the exit. The AAA guy eventually picked us up and we rode back to the van. Once he’d hitched up the van, we started heading up to the next exit again, over the bridge and back on to I-95 south–back into Georgia. You see, the only VW dealership was sixty miles back down I-95 in Savannah. Oh, joy.

So we rode in the AAA truck back into Georgia, back into Savannah, where we (and the van) were dropped off at the local VW dealership. The dealership checked in the van and put it in the shop. From then on it was Wait City. Waiting.




More waiting.

And this was the first five minutes.

Realistically speaking, We had burned the engine in the morning, and it was only one o’clock or so in the afternoon. It hadn’t been that long (yet), but time stretched agonizingly. From time to time, I walked outside and explored the lot. In the back, they had an old VW Thing (you know, the original SUV–a jeeplike creature). Is this my worst case scenario, I wondered? Will I have to resurrect this shaky looking contraption and muscle it to Pennsylvania? I refused to consider the possibility.

At four o’clock I’d had enough. I went up to the service counter and asked for someone who could tell me what was going on with my van. I knew they’d seen it, so what was the holdup?

The service manager came out with the mechanic. They looked surprised that I was asking about the van. I restrained my urge to scream (I’m a levelheaded person, but this situation made me white-lipped).

“What’s the deal? Tell me now–I need to know my next step here,” I said.

The service manager spouted some nasty terms about fire damage and my van, and more fire damage, and more about my van, and then said the words that rocked me: “Have you called your insurance company, Mr. Mancuso?”

OK–education time here. My van was worth maybe $1,500 to $2,000, so I had absolutely no collision and (more importantly) no comprehensive insurance on it. Just good old liability coverage. What would the insurance company do for me? Mail me a courtesy tissue so that I could cry into it?

I explained this to the service manager in sentences that, while agitated, were (to me) carefully measured out and controlled. I accidentally set my now desperate vision and mission in one last statement: “You can’t tell me that this van is a total loss! There must be a way to get it running again!”

I had one crazy gamble to make. If the damage was as superficial as I thought, it was limited to the fuel system. If so, all I had to do was find a 1976 VW Transporter Campmobile replacement fuel system within the hour and within walking distance of the dealership. Easy, right? Sure.

Yes, you’re right. The easy solution would have been the dealership themselves. Unfortunately, that would have been too easy. They had nothing in stock (and nothing in my price range anyway). Go figure. I turned to Denise. She didn’t even need to ask “What now?” We started the quest to find our replacement 1976 VW Transporter Campmobile fuel system at 4:30pm on January 2, 1990.