West Valley High class of ’67 grad, Karl Baker, found his old VW bus at a phone company auction. Having given Ma Bell many years of service, she had finally been retired. Karl knew a bit about cars. His dad owned Yakima’s Baker Chevron station for ages. Karl thought the carriage and mechanics of the vehicle were fine. He figured, with a new paint job, the bus would make a fine Dead Sled (a tricked-out bus favored by Grateful Dead fans).
Karl enlisted me, his bestie, in the refurbishing of the olive green bus. Its body had a lot of variations on the surface. It was dented in spots; and there weird bumps sticking out in other places. It needed evening-out. We decided to sand it down, to prep it for its upcoming, beautiful paint job. First, we tried using an electric rotary sander on the rough surface, but all that did was engrave ugly round circles in the finish! So, we decided we had to do it by hand.
We bought a ton of sandpaper, and we got to work. I remember spending hour upon hour in the Baker’s driveway, slaving away at that job. Finally, after getting all of the old, telephone company paint off the bus, plus blue paint which we found underneath that — a task which took a good week — we were left with a bus that was seemingly half-composed of body putty. Apparently, the bus had been crashed at some point! But, Karl and I kept at it, and finally we achieved that smooth finish we were looking
We were set on having our magic sleigh painted a fire-engine red, with white trim. No fancy decoration; just a striking color combination that would attract admiring eyes, but not that of the Yakima Police. No hippie wanted to attract the attention of the Yakima Police Department! The cops were catching on to the increasing drug use among Yakima’s young people. Marijuana busts were starting to happen more and more frequently in 1968. And Karl and I loved our weed. We were absolutely determined not to be busted. So we did everything we could to avoid confrontations with the authorities. Therefore, we opted for an excellent bus, but not one that screamed, “Hey! We’re holding! Stop us! Arrest us! Throw us in the slammer!”
With Karl at the wheel, we took the naked old bus to Earl Scheib, one of those cheap places which will paint your vehicle for a very low price. The salesperson kept showing us different shades of red, and we just kept repeating, “We want fire-engine red”. The guy finally got it, and a day or two later, Karl drove up in front of my parents’ house on Cascade Drive, where I lived, in his beautiful Dead Sled. And it was — fire-engine red with white trim. It looked exactly how we had dreamed it.
For the next few weeks, Karl and I made our rounds to the various (and few) hippie hangouts in Yakima. We went to the Electric Angel, where we heard Curtis Hurst and his Shady Lane Creamery band play some blue-eyed soul. One of our pals who was at the show was a great, local football player, the owner of one of Yakima’s coolest souped-up cars; and he also happened to be a hippie. He was yelling at the band, “Play some blues!” — Well, they were trying. – We also would stop by the Gallery, a counterculture hangout which was fun while it lasted, for a soft drink and a visit with the other twelve or so hippies in town.
We frequented a bowling alley on Nob Hill, playing pinball on a machine that had ducks on it. I forget the specifics; but something about the motif or mechanism had to do with ducks. We would ask each other, “Wanna go play The Ducks?” – We could spend hours, high on weed, playing The Ducks. Every ball seemed to be a matter of life or death. I’m not making that up: we used to say that, and laugh uproariously! — I remember one time when we were way involved in the game, and my old band-mate from the Velvet Illusions, guitarist Bruce Kitt, who was a “straight”, yelled at us, “You dirty hippies. Get off the drugs!” Yep. We had lived together in Hollywood in the summer of ’67. We got on fine then; but he wasn’t at all impressed now…. Karl and I just laughed it off.
So, the days and weeks went on. We enjoyed day trips to Freeway Lake, where we had great fun and folderol. (See my WordPress story, “Just Doin’ My Thing”.) We went camping; we drove around West Valley, just enjoying the beauty of the orchards and farms. And we had absolutely no contact with the authorities. Until one night….
We met a young friend of ours, Don P., at one of our little hippie hangouts. Don asked Karl if he could catch a ride to a friend’s house. He had to split a hit of mescaline in half, and give one of the halves to his friend.
Mescaline is derived from a cactus, and has been described by young hippie people as “organic LSD”. It makes you hallucinate, but it’s milder than acid. Karl agreed to give Don a ride. So, Don hopped in the back of the bus. We took off, with Karl driving and me in the front passenger seat. There was no rear seat; just a huge, empty area with a metal floor. Don sat on the floor and went to work with a little pocket knife, trying to cut the hit of mescaline into two equal pieces. This was not easy, because it was dark in the back, and the bus wasn’t equipped with the world’s best shock absorbers.
As Don’s attention was focused on his “job”, listening to Credence Clearwater Revival coming through the bus’ speakers, Karl and I suddenly noticed that there were red lights in our mirrors! (Blue lights had not yet come into vogue with the Man.) Trying not to freak out, Karl announced to Don, “Hey, Don, we’re gettin’ pulled over!” Karl slowed the bus, pulled over to the curb, and brought it to a stop.
Bolting like a jackrabbit, Don quickly slid open the VW’s side door, jumped out, and ran down the street as fast as he could run, leaving Karl and me to deal with the situation.
Karl rolled down his window; the cop approached. Knowing that the cop had undoubtedly seen Don burst out of the van and run away, we were anticipating a really ugly scene. I had no idea what Karl or I could possibly say to the guy; rather, I saw our future going up in smoke! Through the haze of almost fifty years, I don’t remember, y’all; but one of us was probably holding; or at least, we had some seeds on the floor…. And they would get you for that! But the officer, an older, gray-haired man, walked up to the window wearing what I can only describe as a sly smile on his face. He said, “I just stopped you to tell you to get your left taillight fixed. It’s not working.”
And with that, he was gone.
Bonus extras ’cause you were good:
Karl found an auto parts store which was open late; he bought a new bulb for his taillight; and we fixed it right there in the parking lot. We were not stopped again that night!
Note to Don P: Thanks a lot, Don. I should-a listed your last name. — I think that was just about the last time we ever spoke to him.
Sad note: The Ruehle’s dog, a girl dog named Louie, seen in the top photo, was without a doubt the sweetest dog I have ever known. One day, while I was playing with her, she was struck by a car on Summitview Avenue, behind the Ruehle’s’ house. She literally died in this hippie boy’s arms, while I cried my eyes out.
Gratuitous tag: The infamous Gary McClanahan (drummer) and Skeet Stoddard (biker gang leader) are incidentally seen in the two photos of the bus. They have nothing to do with this particular story, but they certainly figured into the Big Picture.