This rare 1954 Barndoor Samba – owned by Michael Chazot – is a long way from its first home in the USA, where it belonged to the Hotel Colorado, in the resort of Glenwood Springs in the Rocky Mountains. During the summer of 1958, five nurses from Great Britain and Ireland who were working at the hotel while on a cross-country road trip, had their picture taken beside it. That photo is the only one to have turned up so far showing the bus at that time. (Three of those women – Pat, Molly and Gwenda – are here today!)
Several years later it was bought by a man called Lin Ottinger, a fossil hunter and tour guide, who owned a fleet of VW buses that he used to take tourists into the national parks of Utah.
But some time in 1966, with a new owner, disaster struck – the bus rolled off a mountain.
That might have been the end of the story were it not for a man called Tom Arnold, owner of Tom Tom’s Volkswagen Museum in Moab, Utah, who rescued the sorry-looking vehicle and kept it along with hundreds of other VWs in a sun-baked two-acre lot. Tom loved his cars, and rarely parted with any, but when he died in 2007, his son, Tom junior, put some of them on the market – including the battered old Barndoor.
John Jones, who runs his own business, Kustom Coach Werks, in Grand Junction, Colorado, bought the bus – now affectionately known as Tom Tom after its rescuer. He loved it for what it was and his intentions were clear – just to get it back on the road without ruining any of the character that time and circumstance had given it. And forty years after it had last started, he did just that. The first place he took it was to Tom Arnold’s old yard, to meet his widow and son.
But when John needed funds, the bus had to go. It was shipped to Asturias in Spain, where its new owner took the decision to repaint it, fearing it would not last long in the humid climate there.
A few hundred miles away in Annecy, France, Michael Chazot had been looking out for a Barndoor Deluxe for years, but they had always eluded him. He leapt at the chance to buy Tom Tom when it came on the market again. Though it was too late to save the patina, he still dreamt of turning back the clock to the bus’s first incarnation as the Hotel Colorado’s Welcome Wagon – if only he could find out what it had looked like . . .
Then a member of the VW online community spotted an article in the Glenwood Springs newspaper about a woman called Gwenda Gofton who had written a book, Bedpans & Bobby Socks, with her daughter, Barbara Fox, about the eventful road trip she had made across the USA in the late 1950s with four friends – and which included a spell working at the Hotel Colorado. And there in the article was a photo of the five young women beside the bus. Now Michael could undertake the job with confidence, including having the lettering rewritten, just as it had been when the bus ferried hotel guests around.
And as a tribute to the man who saved it, he has also had the name ‘Tom Tom’ painted on the driver’s door.
Michael has that photo of the nurses on his desk, and when he looks at it he thinks of Tom Tom’s first home in the American West, and all the characters who have been part of its long and eventful journey.
(Written for Volksworld 2014)