The Hunt – Finding The Greatest Aircooled Volkswagen Haul

Words & Photos by John Deitchman

Ok – Story time everybody. Pull up a chair…

First off, I am going to do a show and tell about the greatest find of my VW hunting career.  I will tell you about how, and when, I came into finding this once-in-a-lifetime VW (Holy Grail) find.

To begin, I would like to introduce myself and say Hi to my VW friends all over England and the rest of Europe.

My name is John Deitchman (AKA – THEOVALGUY) and I live in Texas, USA. 

This story starts sometime around 1990. I had become pretty good at hunting VW’s and had just started my VW hunting/buying/selling hobby. I’d been given the name The Oval Guy by a kid that lived nearby. At the time, I owned 14 Oval windows and I was always looking for more cars and parts in order to finish one or more of them. Don’t think because of the sheer number of cars that they were easy to find… I was already addicted! Spending every minute I could looking for more, older and rarer stuff like all of you guys and girls.

Ok – so one day I decided  I wanted to go to a different show, I had not been to a million times. and see a swap meet I had never been to. So, like a normal, I loaded up the truck up and headed out. This trip was a pretty good distance away and I was hoping for new scenery and hopefully some new parts and pieces. This all sounds familiar to you guys I bet.

Anyway, after a day of selling stuff the show was coming to an end. I had packed my stuff up and said I was going to look around just one more time real quick in case I’d missed something. 

VERY GLAD I DID. This was a turning point in my VW life.

I walked up to a guy that had a few special Oval-only parts who’d had there really late. I don’t remember the guys name, but sitting behind him was an older man. This old man was soon to be the person I’m still friends with 28 years later.

I bought a few things from him (and the old man) and asked if they had any more stuff and where it all came from. They both said it was nothing compared to what he had… I was introduced him and he was a very knowledgeable old guy – I had asked if there was any chance to check out the parts he had since I didn’t live anywhere near him. He said NO. Flat out – NO.  He asked what I had and what I wanted. Naturally, being a young man myself, I wanted it all! So, that’s what I told him. I wanted to buy all of his Oval stuff – cars, parts and whatever you have.  He actually laughed at me.   

I thought  to myself; man I might have found maybe a little stash. I better act like I really want all his stuff. So, I carried on – I said “NO really I want to buy all you stuff I have the money and I am ready now!”

Well, he kinda chuckled and said  “Son you don’t have enough money to buy all my Oval stuff. You don’t even know what I have.” Luckily for me, I guess he thought he would school me for being a cocky little bastard, and after talking to his friend he decided – What the hell. If the kids got money I might as well show him.

I was told to follow them, and I did. Thinking the whole way “man, I might find some taillights, fenders, seats, motors… maybe even a Decklid.” My mind was racing like normal.

Well, after about an hour’s driving further from home we rolled up to this little dirt alleyway, drove down it and stopped at the old man’s old 1920 house… it had no running water, Just an outhouse and I am sure at times had no electricity.

Off to my right was a big-ass fence, but I could already see cars – and lots of them. Maybe 20 or so. My heart was racing. Got out of the car and was then properly introduced to the old man.  He lived on the property and lived there alone. I remember thinking – Man, I’ve got to see what’s in there…  

I was asked what exactly I needed, and was told again “you can’t afford all my Oval stuff“. I said “Yes, yes I can…” He then said “Ok, get your list and come on let’s walk“. He was about 60 at the time.

At this point.. If ‘d have known what I was going to discover about 30 minutes later. I would have made a mental note to self – prepare to have your mind blown.

The old man walked me through the yard, showing me a few Ovals and other cars. Man it was crazy right off the bat – ’55 Ovals, Single Cabs, Press Bumper Safari Buses, More Ovals and even sunroof cars. We picked up a few pieces and as I tried to get my head around what I had just tripped into, he said Ok – time to go. I had been there about an hour I guess. I thought, man I have seen it all. There is nothing better than this in the world. We loaded up the parts and carried them to the driveway. This was another turning point in the beginning of our friendship. I laid all the parts out in a big pile – a good pickup bed full. I asked what he wanted for all of it. We couldn’t come to an agreement but I was not going home without it all. 

So I thought quickly – How can I save this deal? I took the pile apart and laid every single piece out on the ground in a huge 25-foot long line. I then went down the row with a piece of paper and pencil and wrote what I thought it was worth retail – and what I thought I wanted to pay for it. He did the same – we agreed mostly.

Hallelujah… He loved that idea. While I did pay more than my initial suggestion for the pile, this was the key to the VW mecca and our friendship was born. He could see I was not trying to screw him like most of the people who’d been to his place had and that I was willing to pay fair prices if I could buy lots of stuff.

Well, long story short – It took a few weeks calling him. I couldn’t believe he even had a phone. Although, he didn’t like talking on it or even hearing it ring, I think. 

Most people I met didn’t like this old man because of his gruff, standoffish, kinda grouchy exterior. I never once ever heard a bad word about this man. I take that back… I asked when he open the junkyard, he turned and barked at me “DO YOU SEE ANY JUNK HERE?!” The next time I got to go up there, he let me loose!

I was there at 8:00 am, Which was a serious effort since I lived about fours hours away. I got there with tools and ready to work. He then said “Ok have at it… but don’t take anything off the cars.” I thought “What?! Oh crap!” But since I knew there was stuff around, I figured I should play it by ear. I left the tools behind and went walking around to see where to start. Well, I now know that it’s a 5-acre lot and there’s 3.5 acres of cars, I guess now about 450 cars – Mostly VW’s

That’s it. I was set free in the VW graveyard. Little did I know what was in store for me. Ok, this is getting rather long and I don’t want to bore anyone. That day I did as requested again – Left the tools outside. But, what I did pick up would make most people’s head spin. I think on that first day I was there I bought a VW Decklid from a ’54, a heart bulbholder, a Judson Supercharger air cleaner, a set of rear heart taillights, rear ribbed Oval fenders and a whole bunch of small stuff. I remember the Judson supercharger clearly – I found it sitting right out in the pathway, half covered in dirt. When I showed him that part he laughed and said maybe you can find the rest some day. I bought all that stuff and left for home, getting back about 10pm.

I told my wife, Lori, you’re not gonna believe what I found… See the reason I only got those few cool parts was because I got lost in the jungle, and I only picked up what I found laying around.  I told her there were more cars than I could count and that I had spent all day in there and had only maybe seen half the yard.. There were more Ovals, Ragtops, Ghias and Buses than one person could count. I told her about it and she was amazed and asked if I was going to go back again.

Well the answer to that was, I did. I went back every possible weekend when your priorities are as screwed up as mine. I was there almost every weekend for two years straight unless he had to go to the doctors or somewhere else. I bought so much stuff from there, and still not pulling parts off the cars. 

OH, I forgot to mention the reason to not pull parts was. All these vehicles were all 100% complete cars minus engines usually. Meaning VW decklids, heart taillights, third brake-light decklids, semaphores, safaris, ribbed bumpers… Hell, one Oval even had a motometer rally pack still in the dash.

I’ll tell you a few cars that were a highlight of this place. Some or most of which I or one of my so-called friends bought over the years.

Heres a short list:

  • 2 Oval Convertibles- both semaphore cars. Both very rare here in the US.
  • 3 Pre-’60 convertibles – semaphore cars again.
  • ’51 split convertible (now restored in Europe),
  • ’56 23-Window (which since the “splitbus rescue” I just found the rear bumper to it a few weeks ago… crazy)
  • 3 Pre-’55 Ovals,
  • 2 Ragtop re-’55 cars.
  • 3 Pre-’57 buses – Two with Safaris, all had their front press bumpers but the old man removed the rear bumpers to pull motors to rebuild.
  • A Pre-’64.
  • 2 panel buses.
  • 5 mango buses.
  • A blue Euro Kombi.
  • A Red logo bus (vacuum bus).
  • An early Single Cab.
  • A Dormobile.
  • A ’63 model with mint interior – which has since been stolen out of the car.

A Brief rundown: After about a year, I got to where I knew where everything was and just where to go to look for anything. And yes, I did find the rest of the Judson – He sold it to me for $200.

Heres another little list: There were 23 Oval windows, 18 ragtop cars not including the Oval ragtops, 18 split buses – of which I have just bought the rest (15). A handful of Ghias, including one with a front mounted 327ci Chevy Corvette motor in it. There were a few Ghia convertibles, but they were bad rusty and wrecked. And, the Porsche 356 that looks like it was dropped on its nose from outer space!

As for the history of the yard – Where did all this stuff come from? Ok, the old mans family bought the land pre-1920. They had lived on it and had several barns and outhouses without running water (still none when I met him). The old man had been collecting, buying and selling all kinds of cars and was a pretty serious cyclist (even when I met him, and way way later). The family all grew up on the land and never left it, well that was until a fire in the 1952, I was told. At this point there was a lot of damage to the house and the cars, so most of it was cleared and he started collecting and working on VW’s in 1953. At that time he could buy them for about 300 bucks with bad engines. He would just throw them in the yard and rob whatever he needed of them – that’s why there were so many early pre-’64 cars. He would pull the engine, rebuild it for about £90 and get it back on the road and sell it. He told me last week that people used to just drop them off with notes saying stuff like (we cant afford to fix this so here you go – have a free car) or just leave them and walk away, so he had lots of them just given to him.

It’s funny looking back, years later. Like I said, most people couldn’t talk to him and did not like him because he was harsh and generally not friendly. Funny considering this last thanksgiving, I know he had 60 bucks to his name but he gave $30 to a friend so he could have a good thanksgiving dinner with his family – Old gruff guy has a huge heart. I always got along with him and treated him fair and like a friend. I remember calling him once and asking if the tornado (F5 – worst one) had got him or the cars. He laughed and said “no, didn’t get me or the cars” but it had cleared the field on the other side of the street. It literally was right across the street from him in his old worn-out house and the phone still worked. I thought I was going to to have to go check on him… four hours away. I am not sure why he took a liking to me or why I was the one he trusted this with now, but it took me about 10 years to get it done.

The old man got tired of people coming and stealing stuff when he was not there riding his bike or whatever. So, he gave the yard to his son to run. This led to another mess and a few hatchet scroungers and thieves getting to it. This was doomsday for the stash… everything I hadn’t taken off was now gone. I remember seeing a lot of the parts show up at a show once. 25h aprons – I knew exactly where they came from… and I was pissed. At this point the old man said “That’s it, screw this. I am done with these people” He wouldn’t even talk to me on the phone – thinking originally I might have been one of them I had to prove my innocence and show who I thought it was. The yard was locked up and a huge fence put up for about 15 years after that. That was another huge chore for us, since we live four hours away. At this point, I should mention this thing was way too big for one person so I had to very cautiously recruit help. I have a very good friend who was half-crazy enough and very skilled at VW stuff. He agreed to help me tear the fence down and build a 20-foot wide gate that the old man’s brother wanted putting in. 

I can honestly say that without a very good friend like Matthew Folbre (texasvwnut) this would have never been possible. While I did all the planning and gathering of stuff needed like tools and such, he did all the welding cutting and tree cutting. This was a colossal effort on both our parts. Luckily for us, our wives Lori and Debra are usually ok with our dumbass ideas. We are half-way there now: 9 buses home, 7 more to go. Hopefully after this is printed they will all be in my storage. I have sold a few buses to good friend Barry Craske at Lonestar VW in Norwich, who’s another great friend that’s going to help with this stuff but there will be loads of parts and cars still for sale later. Well, looking back, it took about 20 years but I am going to get all the Ovals, Buses and whatever else I can drag out.

Dreams do come true…

I hope everyone enjoys the pictures and I hope to help a few people get parts they might need. I have a full time job and I think I have just bitten off more than I can chew. But, that’s my norm… 

I need to thank the following people: Lori and Debra, Carl, Jaunita, John, my car hauler Steve, the neighbours (whose yard I am trashing every time I go there) and for helping with the tractor.

Thanks Ned for letting me share my experience with the world. Some of my euro friends might recognise this VW heaven.    

The Hunt - Full Gallery