(Interesting, Nonsensical, and Goofy Stories about the Whale)
Dedicated to John Moody - With humble admiration and sincere appreciation
When we bought the VW, Bill emailed John Moody and asked a few questions about the engine. What
has transpired since then is nothing short of wonderful. John has shared engineering knowledge, mechanical
know-how, all the tricks, the nuances, and the sheer joy of the Whale with us. His emails - I have saved
everyone - have chronicled the Whale's past life with him and his wife and their journeys. I now chronicle
its current life and journey with us. John, enjoy.
The "flap door" of the flat storage compartment the runs the width of the VW over the bed area is
difficult to secure. My attempts have been fraught with frustration despite the nifty nautical latch that
John installed. It seems that over the years the compartment has sagged and now the latch pin does not
line up with the pin hole. So, I found that by using my shoulder to lift the compartment, I can line up the
pin and pinhole, But then, it is difficult to unlatch. Luckily all we are storing up there are paper products
and scrapbook materials. When we get back I think an "L" bracket set discreetly inside may help the sagging.
The cup holder / cell phone holder that fits into the ashtray slot - no modifications needed - is great.
We have consumed more water than a herd of camels. The guy who designed this is to be commented!
There has GOT to be a better way for a short person like me to get the bed back to a seat without
going through all the contortions I go through. After the second night's set up and following day breaking
camp, we gave up on putting the bed away. Picture this; one has to lift the bottom of the seat, lean over
it and simultaneously grab the top of the back seat - that is laying flat and wedged against the back pad -
pull up and slide down at the same time. Standing on a stool helps sort of. So, there are days we have l
eft the bed down and folded the bedding into a pile and covered it with the quilt. Other days we get the
seat restored and pile the bedding behind the seat. May need to think about some sort of strap on the
back of the seat or a tool that extends my arm length. John, any ideas?
John responded back that our problem is our technique, not the design. He instructed Marianne how to better
perform the task (but restrained himself from suggesting that we actually read the owner's manual!)...
Another short person problem: The VW was NOT designed for short-legged folks like me. With
the seat all the way forward I can just reach the gas pedal. However, the steering wheel - it is a large bus
-like one - is almost in my gut. The seat itself is high so my right leg is over-extended to reach the gas pedal.
So, Bill installs a block and extension on gas pedal. In fact, John found this same issue and mentioned this
solution. So far, so good. Except, that the extension is made of shiny, slick aluminum and my already over-
extended foot slides down and I lose acceleration. Initially, Bill thinks this is just a "Marianne problem," so
Marianne grins and bears it, and decides she will just fix it herself. However, once Bill tried the pedal with
the extension he admits it is slick. Hmmmm. So the quest for non-skid stuff starts in NC on Sunday morning
before we leave. After not finding anything in camping, automotive, or paint at a WM supercenter, I settle on
the adhesive strips for bath tubs and cut them to cover the entire gas pedal. Not pretty - but functional and
no slipping and sliding. May have to spray paint them black once we get home.
The tire was originally housed inside the rear compartment so the back cushion had a cut-out. With
the tire now mounted on the top, there is a gapping hole. John fashioned a piece of foam, covered with original
vinyl, to fit the odd-shaped gap. The piece was 'lost' by the second owner. So, in the final days of preparation
for the trip, I made another foam piece to fit the gap and covered it - temporarily - with light-weight vinyl until
I can better match the original. The wheel-well now holds all the electrical cords.
There is an amazing amount of storage space in the Whale's nooks and grannies. I made lists of
everything that was stored in each compartment so that I could find the fan belts, the gaskets, the fuel pumps,
the distributor caps, and yes, "sugar lumps," quickly and without the frustration of "button, button, who has
the button." I gave Katherine an entire compartment to herself - ok, the portable floor jack also is in there,
but we all have to make sacrifices. Needless to say, traveling with a teenager whose neatness quotient is
about -2 on a 5-point scale, has been interesting. I think she is finally figuring out that putting things "back
where they belong" has a bit of merit.
The Whale does not have a trip-o-meter and the fuel gauge is shaky (literally) at best. Knowing that
we should be refueling at about 200 miles on a tank and knowing that I could not remember the odometer
readings, I made an trip-o-meter using a "sticky note." Not exactly state-of-the -art,
but it works.
Lighting is an issue. There are a few interior lights, however, these are not enough light for me. I
need lots of light to read maps, work on the computer, and generally keep from bumping into things. With
needing glasses and getting older, having sufficient light is high on my list. The LED lights that Bill installed
just over the back seat and on the pop-up top are good for general diffuse light. When working on the
computer or reading one has to sit right under them. After three nights of bleary eyes trying to use a flashlight,
I decide to just get an electrical light that plugs into an outlet - we have electricity at night so this made sense.
We found a nice clip on lamp - 60Watt bulb - that clips nicely on the metal rail of the folded top-side hammock
and lights the whole place. I also found a battery operated, bottom-weighted, stand-up lamp that is a great
The "slip" of space between the back of the camper top and the ceiling (hard to describe but John knows
where I mean) is a vast storage space. I have everything stored there from clothespins (for the canvas tunnel
for the AC), the canvas tunnel itself, the windscreen privacy curtain, sheets, extra plastic bags, extra household
goodies, pre-measured laundry detergent in bags, etc. I use the bamboo stick with the coat hanger hook that
John fashioned years ago to grab those items lost in the "way back." Works like a charm.
The side cover to the electrical outlet seems to have lost its ability to stay shut. (This actually happened
before they left... the old spring finally rusted to the point of breaking. Not essential... I just didn't have time
to get it remedied before they left. ) Have not figured this
one out yet. And, no, I have not tried the black duct tape!
The "idiot buzzer" remains on the little shelf under the dash. Maybe I will get some real duct tape and
fix that. Maybe not.
The (E-code European H4's... even with stock-wattage bulbs, strictly speaking not US-legal but such an
improvement over the original sealed beams that the Hella driving lamps have proven superfluous) headlights
appear to be a bit misaligned. Perhaps with all the jostling? On low, the left seems to
shine a bit too far to the left. On high, they seem fine. (no, if the lows are too far to the left, so will the highs
be... the Euro lenses have a sharp beam cutoff unlike the US-spec lenses which diffuse the light rather than focusing it.
That's why these work so much better with the same wattage bulb... the light is where you need it. Will instruct them
how to slightly adjust the headlamps.)
Have not needed the Hellas yet. Not a big deal as we plan to do all day driving. The night driving we did
encounter was an exception. I prefer to be set-up at camp before dark.
(I was unsure about hauling the microwave-toaster-oven (strange looking combination piece.. about 15%
larger than the smallest microwaves, but with a built-in 100W toaster oven. They can actually run both the microwave
and/or the toaster element off the battery using the invertor) When we first mounted i on the sink (so it only had to
be moved to use the sink) it proved to really limit the vision to the right..) It takes up space, has to be moved from the
single seat where it travels in its "seat belt" to the top of the sink for use, and seems a "bit much." BUT, having
hot soup and hot cocoa has made it worth the effort.
Have not yet used the "ready-to-go" sink and water supply, but we use a lot of wet wipes as we travel
along. More convenient at this point, but who knows.
The airflow through the Whale with the windows open really keeps things cooler. Amazing how the side
windows help even in the hottest temperatures we have encountered. If you keep moving, it is fine. Stop and
The door side-mirrors are in constant need of adjustment (even after tightening them up as far as I dared go)
after the doors have been open and closed. We now have a routine of adjusting both mirrors each time we get in.
Got it down to a science. Katherine
adjusts without being asked and hits the mark each time.
Katherine decided to test the upper hammock bunk so she wrangled her way up there and decided it
was too narrow for comfort. So it remains folded away, but good for the clip lamp!
The AC hook-up is "interesting." Bill mounted the unit to the roof rack and then purchased the canvas
tunnel that guides the chilled air into the pop-up. The canvas tunnel is Velcro-ed to the AC box itself and is
supposed to be Velcro-ed to the inner side of the zipper-ed window. Hmmmm. I tried to sew the Velcro to
the canvas and gave up as it was too difficult to get the needle through the Velcro and the thick old canvas -
try sewing while standing on a stool with you arms higher than usual. So, I spent lots of time and industrial
strength glue to attach the Velcro to the canvas. After a few uses, the Velcro fell off. Luckily, I brought
clothes pins - ones I used to hold the Velcro while the glue was drying - and use them to attach the tunnel
to the pop-up window Works great. Thought about staples, but decided they might tear the canvas. Have to
figure a better way to attach the Velcro. The cover for the AC is way too big so that needs to be adjusted.
We have all the original curtains stored neatly even though we considered using them for the trip.
But replacing the "spandex-black-flowered" curtains was a must. I made my own measurements from the VW
itself; Bill bought me a set of directions for making the curtains; and I used the originals for measurements.
Surprise - none of them were the same. So I went with the actual VW measurements, consulting the originals
for back-up, and ignored the purchased directions. Bill found the fabric - which is wrinkle-free and "falls" nicely -
at WM on the clearance table for $1 / yard. What a deal!
Another short person problem: Not that I get to sit in the passenger seat much - but when I do, I have
a box for a footstool. With the seat configuration over the front wheel, my legs are over-extended in front of
me and do not reach the floor. The box is covered in the curtain fabric. Will have to devise something more durable
once we're home.
The "horn" (real Italian Air Horn... sounds like a Ferrari!) is a masterpiece. I have used it once - for a real
situation - and once just for fun along a deserted stretch of Route 66. It is wonderful and has a special place in
my heart considering its country of origin is Italy.
We HAVE to figure out better way to get OUT of the Whale once inside and in the back. (Inside sliding door
latch sometimes works, sometimes doesn't... I readjusted and had it working when they left, but it stopped
working pretty quickly.) Crawling over
and through the front seats and going out the front doors takes all the flexibility and leg-length I have.
The "safe" is carrying some precious cargo of gifts for the family (and the fact the door doesn't open from
the inside..even when unlocked, actually enhances the security).
The low hanging under carriage is some concern to me - and to John based on a story he related.
I am very careful about the "lumps and bumps" in, on, and off the roads. Ironically , I had a major "bump"
problem with my BMW 325i. Bill had installed new springs that lowered the car a bit so I was aware of
needing to be careful. One day I was coming down our driveway and moved over to the grass to let our
neighbor by. There was a small grassy ridge ahead so I backed up to avoid it. As I pulled back onto the
driveway I heard a horrible, gut wrenching sound. Something must have happened. I drive the remaining
100' down our driveway, get out, and look under the car. I see a tuft of grass stuck on the exhaust and oil
pouring out of the pan. There was a streak of oil down the driveway and a puddle under the car. I went
back to look at what I hit. There hidden in the grass was a half-buried rock that clipped the pan. Bill was
on travel, so I called to tell him I "broke the BMW." He could not believe it, especially since he drives off
the driveway at times, so of course, he went to see for himself. Yup, the hidden rock. I was fortunate -
anything more could have been meant disaster. (The real "disaster" is replacing the oil pan on an E30...
the entire front suspension has to be dropped. After reviewing the steps while still on travel, I farmed the
job out to the pros-$$$. But just as a matter of note... while some of the oil on the driveway is indeed from
Corvairs and little British cars, the VAST majority is from this fine German automobile...)
After a couple cooler nights, we finally figured out how to use the green-knobbed “sliders” on the dash. Knew they were for ventilation but thought they were off; not so. Slid them up and the major air flow stopped. We find that all the all flow can be noisy when trying to talk on the cell phone. So we have a routine of putting all windows up, turning off vents, and putting the “sliders” in the up position when someone needs to talk. The longer the person talks, the stuffier the inside of the Whale. Once the conversation stops, the reverse operations are quickly implemented. The Whale’s air flow is great; you can have or you can stop it.
Wish we had an indoor-outdoor thermometer to know how good we should feel about all the ventilations we have even without AC.
Every rattle, shimmy, or noise makes me sit up and take notice. I have to find the source and stop the noise. This drives the kids crazy – especially John who notes that vintage vehicles just have noise and rattles. Undaunted, I pursue the rattle and find the tin rack in the microwave is rattling around. The kids use my Australian bush hat as a buffer.
The foam bed is as hard as a rock, and while I like a hard bed, even this is too much for my current state of affairs. Folks mentioned a memory foam pad. After searching several stores I finally find one the right size – double/full bed. Even though it takes up a bit of space – we leave it fan-folded behind the seat and it is ready to go at night - it is worth every penny.
Every so often the front vent cap (trim cover for the front washer fluid resevoir... as a tribute to earlier VW washer systems which were powered by air from the spare tire, this one still requires that you pressurize it with an air pump instead of using an electric pump for the fluid.) falls off. No big deal except the first time is concerned John as thought the Whale was falling apart piece by piece.
Lift up the back seat and there is a huge storage area; and it is full. Every thing from our “food supply” to tools and emergency equipment. As John Moody suggested, Bill secured a nice big washer around the hole that the “hold ‘er up” peg fits into under the seat bottom to protect the surrounding area.
The space behind and under the front seats also is useful and we store a mixture of odd things there: the handles to the floor jack, books, flip flops, to-go mugs, octane booster (not yet needed), paper towels (for all those oil checks etc.), and Katherine’s miscellaneous goodies.
Between my “failing vision” and the diminished dash light available at night, reading instruments – the odometer in particular – requires a flashlight. Perhaps this can be improved.
The hidden “front” battery with the inverter and the multiple plug-thing that Bill installed has been invaluable. We have used it for the small fans, charging cell phones, and some computer work while driving.
There is a small table that pops up from the side of the cabinet. We have found its flat surface most useful for folks to sign our quilt.