To preface these weekly posts I've gotten my hands on the official vehicle of Camp Mug Supply Co. the Volkswagen Westfalia. Having spend so much time and energy falling in love with these vans, I thought it fitting to share in the sense of adventure these vehicles embody. So with that said, no more introduction is needed. I hope you find the photos intriguing, the writing engaging, and the adventures apparent. Enjoy!
It's definitely been a long time coming... I would say Volkswagen vans that convert into campers have always kind of been a fascination of mine. Scrolling back through old Instagram posts, I can document it (digitally at least) as far back as 2011. Little did I know, this fascination (read: obsession) would only grow stronger as I got older. Maybe it was partially due to the enjoyment I found sleeping in my grandparents' popup camper each summer back in the mountains of Western North Carolina as a kid. Maybe it was that vibe mixed with the growing #vanlife culture that became apparent I was finishing up art college in Georgia. Without a doubt I remember noticing a few local VW vans cruising around those cobblestone streets. Whatever it was, moving to Portland, Oregon certainly didn't help. Realizing soon after moving here, that amongst all the wild adventures you could end up on in the Pacific Northwest, they all usually had roadside campsites, pull-up-dirt road, endless view kinda spots. Where all you need is a tent and vehicle to get you there.
I guess amongst this accessibility, the "Roof Top Tent" culture was born. A few of which companies, ending up right in our backyard (https://cascadiatents.com/). That was great and I've thoroughly enjoyed the nights sleeping on top of friends' cars but for me, I was drawn to something more than just the casual camping trip. It was the iconic design of the Volkswagen Vanagon outfitted with a Westfalia camper interior. The utilitarian nature of adventure on 4 wheels you can easily navigate through an urban wilderness and pull up discretely in your standard city parking spot.
But back to my original thought about moving to Oregon. It was almost impossible for me to go a single day without crossing paths somewhere in the city with a Westy. So that's when the search began...
Finally landing on a rig for sale in Corvallis, we mustered the energy to drive down on a weeknight before the next buyer had a chance and scored our long awaited and endlessly searched for Westy. And as an added bonus one that ran, one that had a bulk of the engine work we were planning to do already done, and one that was well-loved just looking for it a good home. I think it’s safe to say it has ended up in good hands. The previous owner was so kind, telling us about all the adventures her and her husband had taken it on. Burning Man, Mexico, Canada, it has definitely seen some miles. At least 205,000 and that's when the odometer decided the rest would be a mystery. When her husband past away and she hadn’t put much effort in to getting rid of it since, so it had sat in her driveway under a nice set of trees for about a year and a half we were told. In the Pacific Northwest, we have a little thing called moss that usually finds its way onto just about anything that sits outside during a rainy winter season. It’s beautiful, really some of the coolest plant material that pops up out of no where, but when it ends up on something like a vehicle, it’s a bit of a bear to get off.
Apart from that, the black mold inside, a torn rooftop tent, some older tires, a few dings and dents, and mess of electrical wires under the backseat, we were in really good shape. The moss would come off easily, with a little bit of elbow grease and hard scrubbing (we would later find out how hard) and all the other things would be resolved in the future, with no true immediacy for the most part -- we're in it for the long haul.
Doing the deal, swapping the title, and handing over a few last things, including the keys, the van was ours! One last thing the now previous owner mentioned was that the van’s name was Kodiak. With a namesake that tied back to her husband's Native American tribe, Kiowa. To us it sounded like a perfect title and we said we'd be happy to to keep it alive!
Back in Portland, the first order of business was to get this thing cleaned up. The fiberglass pop top needed quite a bit of cleaning. Starting with a light pressure washing with the help of a friend we took care of a good portion of grime. There still was a lot we’d have to address and clean more thoroughly but this was a strong start.
Beyond that, the top as I mentioned was the dirtiest. One weekend, the weather in Portland broke and it was nice enough that I knew we’d be able to get some work done on cleaning without the threat of rain. So one Saturday morning, with an early morning wake up, we set off getting the top off and into the backyard through a complex system of moving blankets, ladders, and determination. Landing it on the ground, the first goal was to get the black mold off the underside. I cut off the old tent and we sprayed a diluted concentration of bleach and water on the inside to start attacking that mold. No easy, task, Paige went after it while I prepped and cleaned the luggage rack from the front-top.
Finally seeing results with some of the mold fading away, we were starting to see this thing come back to life. After a good while of spraying and scrubbing and then washing all that bleach out phase 2 was to begin. Scrubbing the top and prepping for a new coat of marine-grade white topside paint. This would bond well with the fiberglass and was the preferred method based on the hours of reading I had accumulated reading the the endless message boards of theSamba.com (a website community of van owners and Volkswagen obsessed folk from all over the word -- it’s been a lifesaver already). Rolling it on, I think I managed to go through a pint of paint and it was just enough to cover it a few times and give me a couple hours to recover and let it dry before putting the top back on, and we did! A very long day, but that just seems to be the nature of doing business with these campervans.
The next cosmetic thing I had to address was redoing a few favorite original decals. Forever mesmerized by that classic Westfalia logotype on the camper top in the rear and the front, this was definitely a branding priority and a simple fun thing to do. Kodiak was missing both, no sign at all of the front one and the rear decal long gone, but still a slight remnant of its existence. I love these logos, so once the top was clean, painted, and back on, getting these applied was a top order of business. Measuring and eyeballing it and again reading the Samba, I found the appropriate, factory placement of these and put em on. Stepping back it definitely was a statement sticker and I was happy to see it back on where it belonged. A few other diecut additions here and there, some branding and definitely a few CMSCo. stickers, the exterior was starting to look Portland-proper.
Mostly cosmetic, the next issues would be further into the heart of the beast and for that I trusted my good friend Ransom of Crooked Finger Designs down in Bend, Oregon. So in a few weeks, we’d saddle up and take the van on our first long drive since we brought it home.
I'm going to try and keep these to a Friday cadence. Tune in next week and I'll dig into a few more projects that have been in the works over the last couple months. Feel free to comment below!