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Backgroad bug.

At a forest fire not long ago, a little green bug bumped over rutted back roads, shuttling people and equipment back and forth. The bug is a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle with "Baja-style" fenders. This tough and economical vehicle was purchased in 1989 by the Heber Ranger District in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in northern Arizona.

At the fire Steve Egeline, a district ranger, found that the little car lived up to his highest expectations. "Its high ground clearance and short overhang meant that we could go places that would have been impossible with a pickup and difficult with a four wheel drive," he says.

He attributes the car's agility to its oversize tires, which give it as much rubber on the ground as a Jeep or pickup truck has. Another advantage is its light weight-only 1,800 pounds -less than half that of the larger vehicles. -That means more traction, less rutting of muddy roads, and less environmental damage,' he points out.

It was Egeline, a longtime Volkswagen enthusiast, who convinced his superiors to consider a VW when it became apparent that the Heber District needed a vehicle that could carry three or four people. Standard government procedure would have been to purchase a Jeep Cherokee, offered through the General Services Administration.

"That would have cost the taxpayers about 16,000," says Egeline. "This Volkswagen, after being totally rebuilt to Forest Service specifications, cost $4,750. And that's just the initial savings." The VW consistently averages 25 to 30 miles per gallon and, after a year's hard use, has needed only minor repairs.

The engine is open in back and has a steel plate underneath to protect it from mud and rocks. The entire suspension system, engine, and transmission were completely rebuilt. "We also installed an enhanced oil-filtration system because we drive mainly on dirt roads,' Egeline says.

The VW is used for routine Forest Service business including survey trips for timber sales, range allotment inspections, fire patrols, and interdisciplinary-team tours. It has been used in parades and for publicity purposes when the Forest Service is looking for an informal image.

Before obtaining approval to buy the Volkswagen, Egeline had to convince his superiors that he was staying within government procurement regulations, which specify that purchases be of new equipment made in the U.S. He believes that the extensive rebuilding of the VW satisfied both requirements. "It certainly has a higher percentage of American parts and labor than, say, the chainsaws and snowmobiles that the Forest Service regularly buys."

Egeline also faced concerns that the VW would be perceived as a toy, as the Forest Service's new hot rod. But Egeline notes that it has a standard 1500cc engine and no "go-fast- parts.

We haven't had a single negative reaction," he says, adding that campers find it less authoritarian than other vehicles. "People are more willing to talk to the rangers who drive up in it than to those who arrive in a truck. "

Egeline admits that the Forest Service has a history of being conservative about innovations. "It was a traumatic thing when rangers had to go from horses to cars," he says with a smile. "But in this district we have a reputation for being willing to try new things. And the public's reaction has been, Finally, the government has done something that really makes sense!"' AF
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Volkswagen Beetle as forest vehicle
Author:Kroupa, Susan
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:560
Previous Article:A global climate change for foresters.
Next Article:America's Historic Forest takes root.
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