I don't know who to blame, but you guys who are responsible know who you are.
You are the ones who convinced Tom Schwendelmeyer that the act of chroming the underside of the Schwendelmeyer Schwimmerwagen would result in less algea, zebra mussels, and general yuck accumulating there in the course of the season. Tom, of course, being an honest soul, was taken in by the charade (one is tempted to say "Hook, line, and sinker", but that word 'sinker' is touchy with Tom) and began pricing chrome jobs.
The Schwendelmeyer Schwimmerwagen, for those who don't remember, is an inventive craft which is usually lighter than water and occasionally heavier. In its former capacity, it has navigated down the Cuyahoga River and attempted a crossing of Lake Erie. In its latter capacity, the Schwimmerwagen spent the better portion of a summer at the bottom of a swimming pool and adorned the watery depths of a neighbor's pond at the VW Museum.
The immediate problem with chroming the underneath of the Schwimmerwagen was the refusal of all chrome shops to acid-dip the vehicle without disassembling it. This essentially stymied the project until Mario mentioned to Tom that in his excursions to southern Ohio in the dune buggy he had encountered an acid run-off pond from a strip mining operation. The proverbial lightbulb went off over Tom's head and the next adventure of the Schwendelmeyer Schwimmerwagen was born.
And so it came to pass that we were running a convoy down I-77 through the rolling foothills of the Appalachians on a warm Spring day. Out in front was Kevin in Flaming Moonbeam, a 66 van with a rear bumper that says in plain language to the arresting officer "this man is a victim", Pam was supposed to lead, since Kevin's navigational skills usually prove errant, but he jumped out in front. Pam, however, had the good sense not to follow him when he took the turn-off toward Morgantown, and the last we saw of it, Flaming Moonbeam was travelling east about 45 mph.
Bringing up the rear was Tom Schwendelmeyer in the Schwendelmeyer Schwimmerwagen, again a convoy position dictated by experience. The Schwimmerwagen no longer smoked as much as on past trips (Tom replaced some of the rings - "just the ones that needed it," as he put it), but it smoked enough that righteous citizens travelling on the interstate were reluctant to pass lest the Schwimmerwagen explode in a dazzling burst of nuts and bolts as they were alongside. When we pulled off I-77, we counted 56 cars backed up behind the Schwimmerwagen - almost certainly a record.
A short while later we were at the site of the acid pond. Mario had neglected to mention the 12 foot high chainlink fence with barbed wire and a manned guard shack when describing the place, so we had a fast war council. Some were for a sneak entry and some were for calling it quits and returning home, but we yielding to giving Tom one chance at the direct approach.
Returning a few miles up the road to Corny's Cozy Corner, Tom armed himself with a dozen doughnuts and - at the suggestion of Corny, who ran the place - a six-pack of Blue Ribbon. We then returned to the guard shack, where - to our delight - we found that these paltry gifts were enough to gain entrance to the fence-enclosed site.
We parked in a line at the edge of the acid pond - a body of strip-mine runoff well over an acre in size. The acid was a treacherous blue color and nothing grew anywhere near the shore.
Pam retired to Sunny (a 69 Westfalia) and started the vegetarian chili which was to be our lunch, and Mario and Tom prepared the Schwendelmeyer Schwimmerwagen for the coming voyage. In retrospect, the fact that Mario dissolved a large part of his tennis shoe by stepping into the acid pond should have given us foreboding of things to come, but such was not the case.
Tom blamed Mario and Mario blamed Tom, but either way someone had forgotten to fit the propeller to the end of the crankshaft, and it's absence wasn't noticed until Tom had drifted about 50 feet from shore and the tires on the Schwimmerwagen began to dissolve. The combination of these two events prompted some acrimonious shouting from vessel to shore and back again, but the situation was in no way improved by this exchange.
In fact, as we sat on shore eating vegetarian chili and brainstorming solutions to the predicament, we eventually decided that help would have to be called in. One attempt to throw a rope to the stranded Schwimmerwagen resulted in loss of all but about 6 feet of the rope. Throwing stones resulted in howling from Tom whenever our aim was true. So Lisa hiked up the hill to the guard shack to ask for help.
No more than 20 minutes had passed and the situation of the Schwimmerwagen had not changed appreciably, except that the tires were now completely gone from the rims, when the first fire truck appeared. Within half an hour 12 different local municipalities were represented, and as each arrived, one of us was called upon to explain how the Schwimmerwagen had come to be stranded in the acid pond. Such repetitive explanations can become tiresome, and so Mario evidently began embellishing the facts with allusions to aliens, bracers, Howard Stern and third world countries.
Of course, when this many firemen gather without an actual fire to battle, the event takes on the air of a party, and this was no exception. Our paltry supply of beer was soon exhausted and we sent Aunt Mary up to talk Corny out of more. There were evidently some hard feelings between the firemen of Mayfair and the fire department of Bessel going back to a bachelor party some years past, so Pam and Lisa were put in charge of breaking up fights.
The rest of the firemen were well-behaved, gathering in small groups around each other's pumpers and fondling the fire equipment. The boys from West Stockton seemed to have the greatest capacity for beer and the fire chief from Plimpton let Mary climb in the fire engine and blow the siren continuously until finally everyone got together and complained.
The schemes to rescue Tom, meanwhile, had not progressed much beyond the stone throwing stage. Some of the guys had experimented with using a stream of water from the pumper to propel the Schwimmerwagen to the other side of the acid pond, but the explosive confluence of water and acid put a damper on that attempt.
A happy conclusion was reached, however, shortly before dusk when a light breeze sprang up. The Schwimmerwagen was gently wafted to the nether shore where we and the half dozen firemen who were still able to walk pulled it to shore. Mario and Tom made up, and the firemen loaded up themselves and their drunken buddies and began the long, twisting trip home.
Kevin showed up three days later with a red-haired girl that none of us had ever met before. Instead of Flaming Moonbeam, he was driving a mint 1956 bug sporting Delaware plates, but that would be an entirely different story.
The Schwendelmeyer Schwimmerwagen project that started the whole adventure, of course, is now held up by the fact that the chrome shops will not chrome the underside of the Schwendelmeyer Schwimmerwagen unless it is disassembled, but last week Mario told Tom about a chrome pond that he found while buggying in southern Ohio, so anything could happen. Stay tuned.
c 1996 Air Cooled Volkswagen Junkyard of Richfield, Ohio
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