Help Nik James get his VW Bus home!
My name is Nicholas James Thomasma. I'm a singer songwriter from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I'm currently traveling around the country in my bright orange 1973 Volkswagen Bus, which I lovingly refer to as Kelly Jo. When I set out on this trip over 3000 miles ago I was eager to see the Great American West and equally naive about the limitations of the vehicle I was driving. I spent a lot of money getting her ready for this trip, and I left thinking that she was in great shape, ready for the long haul.
I managed to do some amazing things on my journey thus far. I drank a beer in a town called Rock Island, IL while a rock band played. I watched a Cornhuskers football game in Nebraska. I saw a Grateful Dead tribute band in Colorado at a Grateful Dead themed bar and toured several breweries including the famed Coors Brewery in Golden, CO. I played an open mic night in Taos, NM and earned enough for a tank of gas doing so. I took a wrong turn in Albuquerque. I stood on the corner in Winslow, AZ. I bought a Route 66 sticker for Kelly Jo while we traveled along the famed American highway. I slept in the Grand Canyon National Park, woke up at dawn, and marveled at the beauty while hiking for a few hours in the early morning splendor. I saw a real roadrunner in the desert (but no coyote.) I spent 4 days at Desert Trip Festival and saw Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, The Who and The Rolling Stones all in one weekend! I went in the Pacific Ocean for the first time in San Diego in a super cool town called Ocean Beach, then watched the sun set from the rooftop of a brewery just a block from the beach. I saw surfers, starfish, some huge seashells and elephant seals for the first time too. I parked my bus outside of the Grateful Dead house and took some photos of the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco. Last night I even saw Phil Lesh, one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead, walk right past me at the resteraunt where I was having dinner. I've also been visiting friends and family along the way and have had some great experiences with really great hosts. I've been well fed, tried a ton of local beer and have had nothing but kindness and good old fashioned American hospitality everywhere I've been. One thing is for sure, it's been an amazing journey.
By the time I reached California Kelly Jo Bus was already running pretty rough. By the time I reached the San Francisco Bay Area I knew she wouldn't make it home. There's no way to get back to Michigan without going through through the mountains and/or the desert. My engine had developed a pretty bad vacuum leak and was backfiring and smoking. She'd lost a lot of power along the way too. Come to find out I'm down at least one cylinder, possibly 2 (out of 4) and need some pretty major engine repair work done. Keep in mind, this vehicle is pretty old and not just any mechanic can work on it. I can change the oil, but that's about the extent of my ability to work on cars. I found an air-cooled specialist here in the Bay Area and took it in to find out if they could help, hoping for the best.
The moment I pulled into the shop the mechanics were standing there shaking their heads in a disappointed fashion. They told me to shut the engine off and come inside to get a work order going. They won't know for sure until they take it apart, but at a minimum I'm looking at a grand or more. My initial estimate and work order is for $2500. If they can fix it for less, they will. If the engine needs to be replaced it could be as much as $6000.
I don't have $6000. Some would argue that Kelly Jo Bus isn't worth that much. Maybe not in your opinion, but I love her and I don't want to leave her behind. I've already put nearly $5000 into her over the 2 years that I've owned her and If I do end up with a new engine, theoretically, I could drive her for another 300,000 to 500,000 miles. That sounds like a pretty solid investment to me.
I'm really hoping it won't come to that. I'm really hoping that they will call me and say that it's not so bad and they can fix it within a few days. I'm really hoping I don't have to spend another 2 weeks in the Bay Area. I'm really, really hoping I don't have to stay in a hotel around here. At this point in the journey, I really don't know. Im staying with some friends for a few days and after that I'm not sure. The only thing I'm sure of is that I'm going to need some help to get home. I'm not out of money yet, but I'm not earning any at the moment either, and probably wont until I get home. As of right now I don't know how much the repairs will be so I set my fundraising goal as the high end of the estimate. A lot of people have offered to help support me getting home and I can't tell you how much that means to me. Anything helps. Anything at all. Even if you can't contribute finacially, simply sharing this through social media will help. Thank you.
What I can do for you.
Everyone who contributes to my fundraising campaign will recieve a copy of Tall, Tall Tales, the latest CD from my band, Nicholas James and the Bandwagon, featuring the song Bus Life. Also, if you provide your mailing address I will send you a thank you postcard from the road. The more the merrier!
Any contribution over $100 will be eligible for a private house concert or a custom song, written by me, for you. Your choice. It will be my pleasure, whichever you choose.
Bus life is better.
Despite the ups and downs of owning a classic vehicle, I still believe that bus life is better. The road is an amazing place. People are kind. People are also curious and I've had innumerable conversations with folks at rest stops, parking lots and gas stations about my bus. The Volkswagen Bus is a magical ride. It makes people smile when I flash them a peace sign while driving by. Little kids point and cell phone cameras scurry to snap a quick pic. If you've got a few minutes and want to see Kelly Jo Bus in all her glory, surrounded by friends, family, music and featuring scenes of her rolling down the road, watch the video for Bus Life here.
Is there any other way to help?
Yes. If you don't want to contribute through Go Fund Me but still want to help, you can deposit money directly into my account at Lake Michigan Credit Union in West Michigan. You should be able to just give the teller my name, and tell them you want to make a deposit as a gift for me, but I wont be able to see who is making the deposit this way. If you need any help, please let me know.
Life is a journey. This is just a bump in a long and winding road. It looks steep right now, and I can't see around the corner just yet, but I haven't lost hope. You guys have assured me that everything will be ok and I know it will. Even though life is a journey, not a destination, I just want to come home. Please help me reach my destination. Please help me get home.
Well, after nearly 6 weeks on the road, covering 6,279 miles, 11 states, with 3 blown fuses, 2 alternators, 1 light bulb, and 2 engines, I'm finally back home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Immediately upon returning home I went straight to Founders and was attacked with hugs and love. I drank a Breakfast Stout at my bar then took pictures in front of the MI mural downtown. It cost me $2.50 to take this photo but I'd say it was worth every penny. Just look at how happy Kelly Jo looks! ;)
I couldn't have made this trip without you and for that I'm eternally grateful. I didn't expect this type of response and I have to say, as strange as it sounds, breaking down in San Francisco was the best thing to happen to me on this trip. Without this fundraiser I wouldn't have known just how much I mean to my community and how much my dreams matter to you. My Mom told me "Nik, people didn't donate because your car broke down. They donated because of who you are every single day of your life."
It's not easy to ask for help. I consider myself to be fiercely independent and generally capable in most situations. You can call me naive and you wouldn't be the first, but perhaps it's my naivety that allows me to chase my dreams the way I do. I can't count the number of people who told me I shouldn't take the Bus on this trip, for any number of reasons, whether they meant to or not. I didn't listen to any of them. I can't. Any time you want to do anything with your life, someone will try to tell you why you shouldn't do it. I can't let those people stop me from following my dreams. You shouldn't either.
I'll be having some "I Saved Kelly Jo" stickers made for all of you. It was a great idea suggested by one the members of Buses by the Beach. Just come up and say "I saved Kelly Jo" and I'll know that you either donated, shared or at least read this Go Fund Me update. Also, as I said at the beginning of this fundraiser, anyone who contributes can have a copy of Tall, Tall Tales. If you want a CD, just come grab one at any show, starting tonight at Rockford Brewing Co. and tell me "I saved Kelly Jo." Or you can download it right now, for free, by following this link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/emd7z4yzv4fqz8n/AABATWPMAyoN3XIa1oi2yoRYa?dl=0
I made a bold promise at the $100 level. For anyone who donated $100 or more I will either come to your house and sing songs for you, or if you prefer (or are too far away,) I will record an original song and dedicate it to you on YouTube. If you just wanted to help and don't need a "reward" that's cool too. Most of you know that I'd come to your house and sing songs to you whether I did this fundraiser or not. It's what I love to do. It's not a chore or a job - it's my life. With all the people who donated, this is going to occupy a nice chunk of my time over the next year. I really do want to come say thank you in person to everyone who contributed and if given enough time, I will. Let me know which you'd prefer and we'll figure out a way to make it happen!
FOREVER GOES THE ROAD
I didn't get to see the Redwoods and we didn't make it to Oregon or Washington. I only spent a night in the Grand Canyon when I wish I could have spent a week. Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Yellowstone and many more National Park and Historic Landmarks were within a few hours but I wasn't able to see hardly any of them. I have friends in both Portland and Seattle that I was really hoping to see too. I guess that means I'll have to start planning my next trip, huh?
Here's to many, many more miles of smiles! Thank you again. I'm so glad to be home. I love you all!
Kelly Jo has never run better. The new engine is more powerful, faster to respond, quieter and doesn't shake like the old one. They also fixed a vacuum issue with my breaks and it's stopping a lot easier and faster now. It's like a whole new vehicle. I'm pretty excited and have been enjoying touring around the Bay in her. I went back to Terrapin Crossroads for dinner last night and got to watch Phil Lesh jam with the band about 10 feet away from my barstool. What a perfect way to end my time in California.
This afternoon I stopped in for my 300 mile check up and got the ok to hit the road towards home. I didn't waste any time. I hit the road right away and climbed the Sierra Nevada Mountains at sunset. There were huge piles of snow everywhere. Probably at least 2 feet of accumulation up in the middle. It was cold!!
I have to stop for an oil change after another 700 miles to properly break in the new engine (and keep my warranty.) That puts me in Salt Lake City, UT for my next scheduled maintenance. If I can't find a mechanic open tomorrow, I might be staying there until Monday, otherwise I'll keep heading home. I'm in Reno, NV at the moment having Sopes for dinner. I didn't know what they were when I ordered them but they are delicious!
If all goes well I'll be home in a couple of days. I wish I could be there right now. I miss you all so much and I want to give you all hugs. Kelly Jo on the other hand, she's in no rush. I'm going to drive late into the night tonight while my energy is high and the temperature is low. I have to stop every few hours to let the engine cool down so its gonna take some time. Wish me luck and I'll see you soon!!
The Good News
I got a call on Tuesday saying that Kelly Jo was ready and "running like a top." I took the train back to pick her up on Wednesday. They had to replace the engine completely, and because of the fact that they don't make my engine anymore, instead of an 1800cc engine I now have a 2000cc engine. It's shiny and clean and is gonna carry me for many, many miles. She starts right up and has more "get up and go" than I've ever experienced with her. It's like driving a completely different vehicle.
The Bad News
I had every intention of hitting the road as soon as she was ready to go. When I went to pick her up the mechanic advised me that she has to come back in at 300 miles for an oil change and adjustments. Furthermore, it's not ok the drive it on the expressway for 300 miles to get there. It needs to be starting and stopping, achieving both low and high speeds, and 1st gear through 4th need to be utililized to properly wear in the new engine. What that means is that I'm stuck in the Bay Area for a few more days. I slept outside of Golden Gate Park last night and in the morning we went to the beach (of course!) I'm currently at a coffee shop in the Haight/Ashbury district and very soon Kelly Jo and I are gonna ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Well, since I've got to get to 300 miles I'll be driving around the Bay Area for a little bit seeing the sights. I bought a few postcards this morning and sent them to folks who gave me their address. I would be more than happy to mail you one. Just send me your address.
I'll probably make one or two more updates on this Go Fund Me and then I'll shut it down. Once again I have to say thank you to all of you. I'm completely overwhelmed by the response. I really had no idea that my adventures mean so much to you. There will be many, many more and miles of smiles ahead. Thanks for joining me for the ride. I'll see you soon!
I'm working on a farm in Northern California with a friend of mine from Michigan. It's harvest season so we're working long days and into the night. We've got a good crew here and we've been working hard, but having fun too. The other night we went swimming at sunset and yesterday, as we were harvesting the last of the seasons crops, a rainbow appeared over the mountain and seemed to land right on our farm. I guess that makes me a leprechaun for Halloween, sitting here on this pot of gold!
Still no word on Kelly Jo. It's ok. I knew it would take a week, maybe two. As soon as I hear from the mechanic, I'll let you know. Then I'll start heading home. I miss you. I just wanted to check in, let you know that I'm ok, and tell you that I love you. ❤️
Gerri. Its obvious that you don't really know Nick. He brings joy and happiness to his community and friends who love his music and song writing and asks for little in return. Maybe it wasn't the wisest decision to take that VW bus on a long trip but he DID prepare by putting quite alot of money into getting it ready. As an owner of a vintage vehicle myself, I know how the unexpected can happen very quickly on the road even after countless hours of work on that vehicle. Go fund me can be used for alot of different situations and who are you to say that this is not important enough?! It's important to people that love and know Nick, his beautiful spirit and his wonderful voice that brings so much joy. I and alot of other people were more than happy to donate to his cause. Save your preaching for someone else.
Let me get this straight. You're seriously asking for people to fix your classic VW because you thought it would be a great idea to drive across the US in an old bus, and apparently never considered (or prepared) that the bus may break down. Now, you want someone else to pay THOUSANDS to fix the bus so you can come home because you don't want to make the adult decision of leaving the bus behind. Here's an idea: Get a job wherever you happen to be; buy a Greyhound bus ticket and go home. Or better yet, put the bus up for sale on CraigsList and use the funds to get back home. Or, here's another: establish yourself wherever you are, get a job, take the money and fix the bus and drive it back. However, that will take alot of time. And you have more time than money, correct? Go Fund Me is a great place to for those TRULY IN NEED of life threatening situations to find assistance. You just don't want to face the reality of your situation, and you're asking total strangers to bail you out. I'm guessing that your family or your friends are not willing (or unable) to immediately wire you the funds or you wouldn't be asking strangers to do that. Trust me because I'm older and wiser than you (and people will interpret that as being mean and uncaring, but it's not). You will discover that finding a way to work your own way out of this situation will benefit you much more in the long run. On the back end, you will come out a stronger, better person because of it. And hopefully you'll pass what you learned along to the next generation. This a life lesson, Nik, take this opportunity to learn from it. Holding your hand out is not a good solution; it's just the easy one.
Your friends and family have your back. Your community cares about you and we want to see you succeed. Also-we want you back in Michigan where it doesn't cost an arm and leg to live, and the Freshwater is calling your name. See you soon and it'll be nice to hear your songs on Tuesday nights again.
I had to laugh at the troll with all the great life advice for you. Here's my advice: have the shop put a temp sensor on your new head, as close to the #1 cylinder spark plug as possible. It's technically a K-type thermocouple and lots of VW web stores sell them. Get the long one. Later you'll be able to hook that up around your dashboard and have a live readout of your head temps. I make sure to keep it below 400 because I cooked a head on a trip to the UP. Fortunately it didn't die until a few miles from our house, but I feel your pain getting bit like this. That was when I swore I would get to the bottom of it. For me it was a weak return spring on the flap that goes over the oil cooler. It gets weak and doesn't force air through that cooler anymore, or not as much anyway. It reduces the cooling ability and then you always run hot. And the devil of it is that you can't really tell from looking at the outside. The flap is internal on the driver's side.
Hey there brother! I've been keeping an eye on your status here and I am so thrilled you have reached...surpassed...your goal! I think it is so amazing that you have lived the kind of life and been the kind of man that your family, friends, and complete strangers want to be a part of you living your dream. It fills my heart to see all of the support you have received. I hope that comments from people that feel they can dictate to you how you should live your life and emit their negative vibes your way will one day have the opportunity to live their own dream. And I hope for them they have lived the kind of life and been the kind of person that their loved ones and complete strangers wanted to be a part of it. I love you. I am so proud to know you.
Just made our donation. Please don't be afraid to cut your losses (which would suck). I dumped a vast amount of cash into a very similar VW bus long ago. It didn't help and diverted money to a cause that truly was lost. There are other buses to buy if Kelly Jo really has driven her last mile. If that is what must be, return by train - SF to Chicago to GR. It is a fantastic ride and a slice of America not often seen. You will meet very interesting people. Best of luck and keep us all posted on your great journey!
Gerri, Nik blames himself for this breakdown. Any car can break down while making a large trip, but now he has a better idea of how to reduce the odds of it happening again, if given another chance. I hope that my contribution will help give him that chance. As for there being "other buses", Ted, I have a small inkling of what Nik went through before settling on this particular bus. Good ones aren't easy to come by! And Nik, if you have to get home some other way, by all means consider the train, as Ted suggested. It leaves from Emeryville, and you'll see sights that wouldn't be possible from the Interstates--or often from any back roads. If you're lucky, you might get a receptive audience in the lounge car on one or both of the evenings you'll be on the train to Chicago. I don't think they'll permit you to play for money, but I'm not sure about that. (Also keep in mind that you might be able to spend some time in Chicagoland subject to house rules before going back to GR.) Speaking of which, will San Francisco permit busking in certain areas? The thought of a Kelly Jo Busk is almost too good to pass up!
I'm pretty sure Gerri Thompson has never been the proud parent of a beloved bus. Sell her on Craigslist? Live in California? Get a job? You may be older and wiser Gerri, but your priorities are f*[>ed. We help the ones in our tribe:) and the love comes back around.
Nik, if you have to crash around Chicago, keep us in mind!
Definitely do as told during the breakin period!!! Also, quit driving like she's a modern vehicle. No crazy 12 hour beat the dead horse single day trips. Take it easy on her and yourself. It's not like you can't find a room to sleep for the night! Treat your little lady with love and respect, and enjoy your adventures. I am going through fuel related issues with my new HoHo right now. So frustrating. She's an 86 Chevy, though. Back to driving Sunkist for a while. Glad you both are back up and running. postcard, please...you pick, from the road home....Sherrie Aoki, 28823 Shoemaker Rd., Beloit, Oh. 44609
Nik, I'm happy to hear you are doing well and will be home soon with Kelly Jo. I've always thought of you as the personification of good karma. Much love and safe travels