Chuck is a 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia Camper. Weighing in at 5000lbs and putting down a ground-pounding 110HP, Chuck has the power to weight ratio of your average 18-wheeler. Displacing 2.0 liters (yes like the Pepsi bottle), Chuck’s engine must somehow haul this mass of steel and rubber over mountains and vast plains alike. This is made possible, in part, by a marvel of manufacturing known as the manual transmission. With a screaming 4 forward gears, Chuck’s 091 series transmission seamlessly connects all 110 of these little ponies to the ground. Needless to say, a transmission is a necessity for Chuck to achieve forward motion.
Chuck’s transmission was rebuilt about 4,000 miles ago due to a FUBAR’d main-shaft bearing. After rebuilding the engine and giving the rest of Chuck a good once over, I was confident that I had addressed all of Chuck’s major issues. Murphy had a law, and it has a way of sneaking up on us…
About 120 miles ago I noticed that Chuck was making disconcerting bearing noise in neutral. It is not unusual for rebuilt transmissions to make some noise, so I made a mental note to inspect the transmission oil for debris and we continued onward.
The next day I noticed with dismay that selecting lower gears was becoming more and more difficult. I tried repeatedly to dismiss this as a simple linkage adjustment issue. Unfortunately, my better sense got to me, and that night (after a vicious and bloody battle with a 17mm hex socket plug), I dipped my finger into the deep blue of Chuck’s blood. This forbidden ritual yielded a few precious drops of Swepco 201, the transmission lube contained within Chuck’s transmission. I sacrificed a chicken and a handful of rice to the vanagon gods, and began to inspect the oil. Close scrutiny revealed a collection of fine shavings. A magnet indicated that these were aluminum and brass. The news was devastating. Chuck’s transmission was destroying itself. Slowly the brass synchronizers and aluminum case were being consumed.
Now our course had been laid, our mission declared; Chuck was due for surgery sooner, not later. After a brief consultation with TheSamba (best group of VW folks period) we had a destination: Driggs, Idaho. The problem? 118 miles of rough roads, and the 8,432 feet of Teton pass stood between us and sanctuary. Our mission: to navigate the injured Chuck from the Teton National Forest, to a garage just outside of Driggs, Idaho, without becoming stranded.
The next day we set out from our beautiful camp within the Teton National Forest, and began limping towards our goal.
Obstacle 1: construction on Wyoming highway 287; 15 MPH of stop and go traffic across a barren wasteland of heavy construction equipment, potholes, and sudden drop-offs.
Secret weapon: The mythical art of “Double Clutch.”
Obstacle 2: Tourist season in Jackson, Wyoming; 3 miles of pedestrian crosswalks, and 2 lanes packed with every manner of bikes, RVs, and campers.
Losses: My respect for Jackson, antler arches, really?
Secret weapon: Chuck’s horn, just lay into it and drive right on through.
Obstacle 3: The Teton Pass; 14 miles of 10%+ grades, crazy tourists, and no passing lanes.
Secret Weapon: Second gear. Yee-ha! Redline all the way.
In the end we made to it Driggs without becoming stranded. At the time of this writing, Chuck’s transmission is on its way to the west coast for some well-deserved lovin’. I would like to take a moment to thank Mark and Erika for their hospitality, and just general awesomeness. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.