United we camp

September 19, 2003 11:00 pm
EAST MEETS WEST: Three Wet Westies members talk about their travels and VW campers at Catherine Creek State Park. From left are, Curt Long of Maple Valley, Wash., Larry Chase of Mesa, Ariz. and Karl Mullendore of Gapland, Md. (Observer photos/DICK MASON).
EAST MEETS WEST: Three Wet Westies members talk about their travels and VW campers at Catherine Creek State Park. From left are, Curt Long of Maple Valley, Wash., Larry Chase of Mesa, Ariz. and Karl Mullendore of Gapland, Md. (Observer photos/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

UNION —

Catherine Creek State Park does not have a German heritage.

However, for one weekend a year it has an air-cooled German connection.

An Oktoberfest celebration is not held here. However, this is where a group of Volkswagen camper enthusiasts, the Wet Westies, meet each summer.

This year they conducted their annual Catherine Creek State Park campout in early September.

The Wet Westies have more than 700 members and meet about a dozen times a year for camping trips in the Northwest. All but a handful drive Volkswagen campers.

"That is our common thread,'' said Britt Grannis of Valley Springs Calif. "A lot of us would not know each other if it wasn't for this.''

Grannis is one of 50 to 55 Wet Westies members who came to Catherine Creek State Park in 26 Volkswagen buses.

Radiator repair shops again did not benefit from their visit. Most VW campers have air-cooled engines.

Members of the Wet Westies have met at Catherine Creek each of the past seven summers. It's the only place where the Wet Westies meet every year.

The park is the first place the Wet Westies met. They came here at the encouragement of Jim Arnott of Union, an original Wet Westies member.

VW campers at Catherine Creek this year ranged from a 1963 Caravelle Volkswagen camper to a 2003 Eurovan.

Club members tended to camp in clusters with similar age vehicles. Some clusters appeared to be a throwback to the 1960s and '70s.

In addition to their vehicles they had other items from the era including Polaroid cameras.

"There is a little counter culture. This is not Madison Avenue counter culture,'' Grannis said.

Tents were attached to the sides of some, turning them into comfortable mobile apartments with sun roofs. The "sun roofs'' are the tops of the Volkswagen buses which drivers can pop open.

The Wet Westies name is derived from Westfalia, a Volkswagen camper model. This year's Wet Westies Catherine Creek campout was coordinated by Jim Arnott and his wife, Lisa.

Wet Westies members share three things, Grannis said.

"A love of camping, a love of VW buses and we're all Internet savvy,'' the California resident said.

They also share something else.

"VW owners are a little quirky,'' Eric Johnson of Boise said with a laugh.

They are also a varied group.

"We have guys that make $500,000 a year and guys that make zero a year,'' Grannis said.

Grannis drives a VW camper that is stylishly painted to resemble a cow. The striking vehicle is identified as Road Cow on its license plates. It's a joy for him to drive.

"You can't drive it and not be happy. You can't go 10 miles without someone waving and smiling,'' Grannis said.

Of the members who attended this year's Catherine Creek campout, none probably have traveled further in recent months than Larry Chase of Mesa, Ariz. Chase has driven 23,000 miles over the past seven months in his van. His van is equipped with many state-of-the-art perks. For example, he has satellite-dish television reception.

"I want to stay in touch in case another war breaks out,'' Chase said. "...My setup has the ambiences of home.''

The Mesa resident enjoys the camaraderie that is shared at Wet Westies gatherings.

"There are a lot of great people with common interest,'' Chase said. "You hear wonderful stories of adventures and their love affairs with their vehicles.''

On the Web: wetwesties.org.