Having owned and wandered in a 1976 VW Camper Van from 1976 to 1983, I felt an immediate attachment to Walter, the giant VW Bus. I decided to look into his past. Most of Burning Man’s Mutant Vehicles have lived full and meaningful lives by the time they make it to Black Rock City. Walter, it turns out, started life in 1963 as a Walter Crash Truck at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. He took his name from the Company. The Crash came from the fact that he was supposed to show up at an airplane crash site before anyone else and spray flame retardant on the highly volatile jet fuel. It was “BOOM” and kiss your hose goodbye if he failed. Beyond that there was a lot of sitting around and waiting. That’s the life of an airport fire truck.
Next, Walter made his way to a less dramatic but still important role with the New River Fire Department north of Phoenix. From there he retired to the Gold King Ghost Mine just outside of Jerome, Arizona as an antique to be admired. Don Robertson, the owner of the mine, likes old things and, judging from photos, is something of an antique himself. Walter would have been happy to spend his retirement years rusting away there— and he would have except for one of those strange quirks of fate.
Numerous vintage VW Buses make their way up the mountain annually to the Jerome Jamboree and camp out at the ghost mine. Kirk Strawn, who was among the participants in 2003, had just read an article on Burning Man. He saw Walter and fell in love. He didn’t see an aging fire truck; he saw a giant VW Bus. Walter was about to be reborn. Kirk traded a 1979 VW Camper for Walter and moved him to an old lumberyard in Scottsdale where a crew of dedicated volunteers, Tribe Walter, began the transformation process. Six years later, Walter made his first trip to Burning Man, and according to all reports, loved the event.
For those of you who crave details: Walter is 30 feet long, 13 feet tall, and weighs 19,500 pounds. He has a 330-gallon water tank for an on board misting system. His nights are lit up by some 10,000 plus LED lights. You can learn more about this interesting Mutant Vehicle at Walter the Bus.
Altogether, there were close to a thousand applications for Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man in 2015. It was too many for the event and the Burning Man Organization, BMO, limited the number of permits to 600. I agree with the decision. Biking and walking take precedence. Still, I can’t help but wonder what wondrous creations didn’t make the cut. On the other hand, I didn’t have time to even start to appreciate all of the vehicles that were there. Here are a few more before I move on to my next topic: There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, and other Burning Man sculptures.