Posts Tagged Portland

Farewell Oregon

Posted on October 1, 2009 by 6 Comments

The 500 mile engine check-up went well – no major issues.  Just a valve adjustment and a carb tweak.  Since it took a while, we didn’t quite make it out of Portland and grabbed a cheap hotel for the night.

We stopped at a pub for some grub and they had an old Atari 2600 and a Nintendo system in the corner.  Bode has now been properly introduced to Super Mario Brothers.

The next day we headed towards Mt. Saint Helens for a ‘real’ test of the engine and also helped out a stranded motorist along the way.  This guy had ran out of gas and then drained his battery trying to get it started again.  Not sure what make or model, but it was 70’s and had wood-grain siding stickers.  I pulled over to pay off some car-problem debt and gave him some gas and a jump.  I didn’t realize it until I got close that he also had two small kids in the car.  We kind of know the feeling, but one parent getting stranded with two kids has to really suck.

Once again, it was obvious that NO ONE was even slowing down or changing lanes and cars whooshing by at 70 mph within 3 feet isn’t very cool.  The guy said that he sure was glad he moved to Portland because everyone was just so nice.  He said if he were still in California, there’s no way anyone would stop to help.  I tend to agree.

I had a conversation with someone earlier in the day and he said that everyone in Portland was from somewhere else.  The Bay Area is the same way.  The difference might be that people move here for a certain quality of life.  People often move to the Bay Area to ‘get ahead.’  Two very different communities have evolved.  My opinion.

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Anyway, here are some more random thoughts on Portland before we cross over to the Evergreen State…

Brewpubs everywhere. Good ones.

Portland has more strip clubs per capita than any other city in the U.S.  (Jennifer and Christin verified this factoid.) They’re everywhere and you notice it.  We were given some political explanation, but we think Portland may just be a horny city.  This may be related to the above observation.

Wild berries grow everywhere.

People commute by unicycle.

The crosswalk buttons are reversed compared to everywhere else.

People attempt to fence baseball card collections on the train.  Don’t want baseball cards?  How about some sneakers?  $5?

If you’re a board rider, you can ride Mt. Hood in the morning, skate the Burnside park at lunch, and surf Seaside in the afternoon.  A dude trifecta.

If you drive a VW bus downtown, you might have a well-dressed drunk yell at you and call you a tree-hugger from across the street.  You might also have homeless people have a bottle-throwing fight from opposite sides of the street while you’re driving between them.

There are more old VWs here than anywhere else in the country.  Guaranteed.

It doesn’t always rain.  It can get hot.  Real hot.

Most of the people here seem to be from the Midwest. They’re nice.

Everything is beautiful.

Bartering is alive and well.

If you ask someone to draw you a monster with 6 eyes and 10 arms, you just might get it.

If you break down, people will help.

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Filed Under: Oregon

All’s Well That Ends Well

Posted on September 25, 2009 by 24 Comments

Sorry for the long delay in updating the blog.  We’ve had lot’s of stuff happen and not much in the way of internet access over the past few days.  Anyway, this is the blog entry I did not want to write. The good news is that we are up and running and putting some miles on the new engine. The bad news is that I got taken by a con artist.

Here’s what happened…

After getting lot’s of recommendations for VW shops in the Portland area (thanks!), I called pretty much every one of them to see what they could do. Most folks could rebuild what I had, but weren’t sure when they could get started or when it would be ready. I did more research and ended up calling every other shop in the greater Portland area and found the same story – nobody has a rebuilt bus engine ready to go and pretty much none of them could start on mine right away – except one.

Enter Joseph “The Hawaiian.”  He sounded like he knew his VW’s and I took my long block down to his shop. There were two or three VW’s out front and a cherry ’56 oval window Beetle with a 2100cc performance motor inside the shop – his ride. We talked for a while and he seemed to be on the ball, seemed to know his stuff. Enough that I pulled out my motor and decided to have him rebuild it.  Ready in a couple of days.

Two days go by. Angela and Bode go to the OMSI – twice. I adjust my rear spring plates and splines – more greasy filth and more effort than I thought (but worth it.) Joseph calls – the engine is ready. We boogie on down to the shop to pick it up.

“Here ya go!” says Joseph.

“Umm.  That’s not my engine.”

“What do you mean?  That’s your engine.  It’s all ready to go!”

“So, first of all I know the serial number and that’s not it. Second, I drive a bus – that’s a bug motor. No mounting points.”

He proceeds to hem and haw. Well, your motor is at ‘the other shop.’ Later, it was “Actually, I don’t have it anymore. This one will work fine – just go buy an adapter plate.”   etc. etc. etc. I actually listen to him and consider taking the thing. I’ve haven’t got many options – I don’t have an engine – I’m from out of town – I’m perfect for scamming.

I tell him I’m going to the bank to get some cash, and take off to collect my thoughts and go visit a few other shops nearby and see what they have to say. The first shop says, ‘Yeah that Hawaiian guy. I know him. He comes in and buys stuff. I didn’t know he had a shop.’  I ask about the mounting plate and they say it’s a terrible idea and guaranteed to wreck my oil pump and leak oil quickly. I tell them what just happened and they suggested I go back with a baseball bat and demand my engine back and get the hell out of there. If that doesn’t do the trick, call the cops.

I’m not exactly the physically imposing type and threatening people isn’t really my style, so I didn’t head to the sporting goods store for a bat. I go to another shop.

This time I don’t have to do any explaining. About 10 seconds into the story, the shop owner says with a knowing smirk, “Yeah – the Hawaiian guy.  He’s a scam artist. He rips people off on Craigslist and The Samba. He spray paints engines and calls them rebuilt. He’s an idiot. I bet he talked a good game – didn’t he?”

I finish my story and they just grin. Heard it a few times already. People buy crap from Joseph and then come to them to get it fixed or start over. That 2100cc engine in his showpiece? They built it – not him. They suggest a gun instead of a baseball bat. They also tell me I can come into their shop and use all their stuff an they will teach me how to rebuild my engine – for free. Finally, back to the real awesome air-cooled VW folks.

I go back to Joseph’s shop and try to use reasoning and logic to no avail. While standing over the engine he’s trying to push off on me, it’s obvious that there are three case studs missing from this one. I imagine if I turned it over, there would be more missing. If you don’t know, these are what actually hold the whole thing together. There’s no way you should even attempt to start an engine without these. He says no biggie, just go buy some more and install them myself. Christin suggests there’s a workmanship issue here and he just goes off.  We’re the bad guys. I told Joseph I would be back the next day and I wanted my engine back – whatever he had – and he agreed.

So now I’m in a quandry – I know I’m never seeing my engine again. I go back to Christin’s place and call every shop again and see what they have and what they can do. Same story – if I’ve got an engine, they can rebuild it, otherwise go look for a brand new motor or buy another bus. Turns out, one of the most recommended (and most expensive) shops has a BRAND NEW (like, no serial number) engine in stock and ready to go. Brazilian magnesium case and all-German components. Basically screwed, I head down to go open my wallet and do what maybe I should have done all along.

I get a message from Joseph right before I walk in to buy the new engine – he wants $xxx for his time or I’ll never see my engine again. Nice touch, douchebag.

I buy the new long block. I buy new dual carbs. Time to start over. Christin stays up with me until 2 am to get the thing put together and installed.

The next morning, we drive down to the new shop and they check it out and give me some great instructions: don’t do anything. Put 500 miles on the engine and come right back here. That’s what we’re doing right now.

The jackass that scammed me out of my engine – he’s still got it. I walked away form the whole thing without picking up a baseball bat. He didn’t get my cash, but he got my engine. If you’re buying a rebuilt bus engine in Portland or thereabouts, it may be mine. I wouldn’t recommend it.

In the end, we got what we needed. A reliable brand new new engine from a respected local VW shop.  A wake-up call that not all “VW folks” are as amazing as the rest (it’s not all peace, love and hippie beads.)  Lots of new friends around Portland that we can call to hang out, dinner, a haircut, a beer, or whatever we need.  Not what we were expecting – but exactly what we expect from now on. Keep Portland Weird.


One monkey don’t stop the show.

-Willie Nelson

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Filed Under: Oregon

Cats on Leashes, and other Portland Stories

Posted on September 19, 2009 by 14 Comments

Things aren’t going as smoothly as hoped on the VW front, so we’ve asked Julie to write our post about Portland.


Hello! Julie here. The aforementioned, very good friend, who had the very good fortune, to visit the very traveling Rehm’s in sunny Portland. You should know that my general day-to-day goal is to get a good story so I can tell a good story … and you don’t always get what you want, but sometimes you do. And boy, did I.

The story ends (for me at least) in a van down by the river, but I should tell the whole story, from start to finish.

I haven’t seen my pals since July and I was missing them a bunch. When Angela called on Weds. 9/9 and mentioned they were near Portland and flexible on timing, I looked for a plane ticket. Four hundred and forty one dollars before fees and taxes – ouch. But it only took me 24 hours to remember my miles! Right on – 25,000 from SFO to Portland on 9/11. Packed my bag, boarded the plane and arrived Friday night at about 9pm, greeted by the smiles and hugs I’ve missed over the past 2 months. And my first ride in the van – who knew it had a name?! We sat around and drank lots of delicious boxed red wine, ate elk salami and caught up on all that we’ve missed recently. Happy.

I’ve never been to Portland and did practically zero research before the trip. I had only 2 things on my list of things to do: Saturday Market and visit the new, cool neighborhood called The Pearl District. Angela had one thing on her list: Voodoo Doughnuts. Needless to say that was our first stop. And success! Not only do they have many of the most delicious and inventive flavors ever, they have an entire menu worth of VEGAN doughnuts!! This allowed us all, even Bode, to enjoy the most delicious and not healthy breakfast together. Sucks when you have to hide good food from the kid who can’t eat it. And if you’ve never had a bacon maple bar – think about Violet’s gum that is a three-course dinner: tomato soup, roast beef and blueberry pie. Then forget the gum and think about a doughnut that is pancakes with syrup and a side of bacon. Is there anything better? And if you tell them it’s your birthday you get a sticker. Or 2 stickers.

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Saturday market was slightly unusual. Lots of wood, creepy clowns, a cute t-shirt with a slice of pizza on it, cats on leashes, tons of homeless people, a guy who would sculpt your face out of clay for $9 in 10 minutes and a great fountain which Bode loved a lot, ice cold water and all. Sadly he wasn’t wearing any undies, so the water absorbing, fleece shorts had to do. A little insight into the Rehms’ world – they have rules about underwear and pants. You can wear your underwear backwards, but not your pants. And undies – not required.

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A visit to The Pearl District, lunch and many local Portland beers later, our afternoon ends at the indoor pool at the hotel. Did I mention Bode is the best swimmer in the entire world? Oh wait, that was Bode who mentioned that. He can’t actually swim yet, but he has grand plans, none of which include swim lessons. Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s not the milkman’s kid.

Dinner at the very spooky pizza place that was a hotel at some point on the past. OK, I may have that completely wrong – but what I do know is that the scary stories we told Bode all day long about people getting Shanghaied at the pizza place did indeed scare him! Poor kid believes in ghosts.

After dinner, Jason insisted Angela and I go the party we had been invited to earlier in the day by some guys in a VW van. They just seem to find each other … So off to the WEND magazine party and the kegs of beer we saw being loaded into that van earlier. On the way over we spot a block party where an odd couple, he in all white/she in all black, was singing rap-ish, pop songs to recorded music. Lots of Portland hipster types – think 20 something guys in slim fitting, mid-thigh length, cut-off shorts (denim, khaki, corduroy.) Now I was taught by my boyfriend in the 90’s that guys weren’t allowed to wear jean shorts which pretty much confirms I’m old, not to mention the disgusting deterioration of my body. But that’s another story.

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From the block party to the WEND party. A free fund raiser, with free beer, adult bike races on kid-sized bikes (with live helmet-cams broadcast on a big screen), a guy in a chicken outfit and more guys in short shorts. These guys are different than Brooklyn hipsters – more athletic. Bike shoes. But still not good. One good reason to be old, I don’t have to date them. We made it home by 11pm. I think Jason was asleep and Bode was pulling a Scooby Doo all-nighter.

Sunday – the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. Since we were pretty much done with Portland, or at least the 3 things on our very short list, we pile into the van and head out of town. It’s really beautiful. Trees, the river, waterfalls, breweries. Since the Rehms had been to the Full Sail brewery earlier that week, we tried the Big Horse Brew Pub and grabbed a table outside that kinda had view of the river and of the out of control wind and kite surfers – wind was cranking on Sunday. I had the mombo burrito (hint – a bit of foreshadowing of trouble later). Down to the river for a closer look at the action, but it’s getting late and I’ve got to get to the airport for a 7:30pm flight.

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At this point I’m not terribly concerned that the van goes SO SLOW and happy that Jason follows the “Slow Traffic Stays to the Right” rule. I’m a big a fan of this rule. I’m just soaking in the sights and sad that the weekend is coming to an end already. Then the VERY LOUD RATTLE you may have read about in an earlier post. Now, I’m a baker who until 2 weekends ago didn’t know how to pop my hood (it was REALLY hard to see that little handle), but can tell a bad car sound when I hear one and I heard one.

We pull over immediately onto the very narrow shoulder, Jason hops out and checks out the engine. Not good. Angela turns the key – RATTLE. Bad. Jason announces “It’s bad. Very bad. Julie, you’re going to miss your flight”. Now I’m thinking “WOO HOO!!! No work tomorrow!”. I hate working on Mondays. So Angela calls Geico for their awesome roadside service. Unfortunately, they unknowingly opted out of the awesome roadside service. But not to worry, money talks and the tow truck guy listened. And we listened to the tow truck guy tell us all about his one and only real vacation he had with his wife in their 13 years of marriage – they had a great time in the classy part of Cancun.

But before the ride with that guy back to Gresham, a very handsome, very tattooed guy in a VW van (apparently they are a dime a dozen) pulled over to help us. He hops out of his van, completely unaware of the fact that his tiny, extremely nervous Chihuahua also exited the vehicle and RAN RIGHT INTO THE FREEWAY. I had an instant heart attack and just covered my eyes. Thankfully there were no cars or BIG RIGS zooming by at that particular moment, but man, that little doggie’s life flashed before my eyes. But before the near death experience, we waited on the side of the road. It’s pretty scary actually. You can feel the cars passing – lots of whooshing – and you just hope some crazy drunk driver filled with Portland’s best doesn’t veer over into the shoulder, into the van, into the family and their pretty visitor. And it’s even scarier when you have to go to the bathroom. But not to worry, Bode shares another Rehm rule with me – you can go to the bathroom outside if you have to pee, but not if you have to poop. D’oh! Just when you think it couldn’t get worse. I really should not have ordered the mombo burrito. But someone was looking out for me and I made it Gresham without going poop outside or behind the makeshift potty Angela offered to rig up.

Oh boy, are the Rehms crazy? You can be the judge, but I never judge them. I love them but think what they are doing is really hard. But if there’s one thing that’s true in life, the grass is always greener. I thought they had a very lucky life in Alameda – a great home with a great yard in a very fun place to live, a beautiful, smart and mostly healthy child who loves to eat unhealthy food, good looking, funny friends – a great life. But as I mentioned, the grass is always greener. For me, for them. And lucky for them, they are doing what they want, and lucky for me, I get to ride along sometimes. That is, until the van breaks down by the river.

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Filed Under: Oregon

Knock Knock?

Posted on September 16, 2009 by 9 Comments

Who’s there?

Our engine.

Well, our high hopes for the engine were dashed after we re-assembled, put the engine in and fired it up. The initial worst-case diagnosis was pretty close after all. Time for a new engine. Again.

Let me back up a bit. After being towed back to a hotel a few nights ago, we updated the blog to let folks know our status and I sent a few emails.  One e-mail was to some of the Portland members of the Type 2 AIRS list (for the record, half of them bounced). It was about ten o’clock in the evening. No more than an hour later, we had suggestions of recommended mechanics, parts places, places to stay, friends of friends to call, etc. Pretty amazing, actually. I’ll repeat what’s already been said – if you’re going to break down anywhere, Portland is the place.

One response was just so good we had to follow-up immediately. Christen said,  “Give me a call, I live in Gresham and am an ASE certified auto mechanic with 15+ years experience. I can offer a place to park your bus and help swapping the engine, tools too.My better half and I have a VW Karma debt to repay, so feel free to impose! ”  I give her a call and it just keeps getting better. A pro mechanic wants me to tow my bus to her house, guarantees we’ll be taken care of until it’s fixed, let’s us stay at her place, picks us up from the hotel, and buys us lunch.  Know any mechanics like that?

After hanging out for an hour or so, the bus arrives on the flatbed and we almost immediate get to work. Within a few hours, the engine is out and torn down to find the problem. The #4 exhaust valve broke off (see photo) and bounced around inside the cylinder for a while and mangled all sorts of metal. Did not go through the piston. Some small bits did get sucked back out the intake and into #3, but no serious damage there.  After lots more inspection, we decided to cross our fingers and get a new head and piston/cylinder, reassemble the whole thing and drive away into the sunset.  The rest of the evening was spent driving to get parts (again, Christen provided the wheels) and re-assembling everything back at her shop. She even had a donor engine for various bits and pieces we deemed needed replacing. After a pretty long day of wrenching, we had dinner a few beers and turned in.

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The next morning, I proceeded to put the engine in. Bode and Angela rode the MAX to the OMSI. Christen had some other business to tend to:  her ’58 Cadillac Hearse had to be taken to a friend to get a new exhaust (remember, Halloween is just around the corner.) Aside from being an ace mechanic, she’s also an artist, sculptor, creator of things that spew fire and enjoys scaring the hell out of people around Halloween. The ’58 Caddy Hearse with a 472 engine is a nice touch.  It looks like something a zombie would drive out of a cemetery.

Anyway, my engine goes back in, I fire it up and… knock, knock, knock. It was actually funnier than some knock, knock jokes I’ve heard – but now I know for sure it’s time for a new engine. Crunching on that broken valve probably bent the crank or bearings and now there’s really no other choice.  I’ve had lots of suggestions to just go buy a new engine (with lot’s of upgrades!) over the past few days and of course, I knew it would be the most likely path to success, but I’m stubborn I suppose. Thrifty too. I had to try to fix what I had. But now, without further delay, a new engine is coming. So, I pulled it out again, pulled the top-end off and took it to someone local who is going to rebuild the long-block for me. Stock. Like new again. Again.

If you go back a few months, you’ll see that’s how this trip started. The engine that came with the bus when I bought it had been on fire and was a complete mess. I found a Craigslist special – an impossibly low-priced freshly rebuilt turn-key engine.  The guy built them in his garage, did his own machine work, had 30+ years experience, etc. I spent a lot of time talking with him and he seemed like a good guy and I’m sure generally does good work. I suspect he or one of his minions may have liberally re-used parts (like, valves) that maybe were just too tired to be re-used.  It was a bargain, and like I seem to never learn, you get what you pay for. Hopefully, now things will right.

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Filed Under: Oregon