Dr. Tod T 1953 Volkswagen Beetle 2dr Coupe

"Rico" the little '53 Beetle that could !

Rico and Landgut Burg

By Tod Tolan

Group XXIV

As far as I am able to piece together the story of ‘Rico’, the 1953 gray VW beetle bug, I believe it starts with Group XXI, in the summer and fall of 1968. Group 21 included such memorable Stanford students as Carol Boone, Barbara Rust, and Richard Dinihanian. Indeed Group XXI included some very special folks, but no discussion of Stanford-in-Germany during those years would be complete without mention of the extremely notable and larger than life Frau von Radecki.

Frau Von, as she was usually addressed, was much more than a permanent professor of Hochdeutsch at Landgut Burg. To be sure, she was a primary educator for the most advanced German language students. But Frau Von was so much more than syntax and sentence structure. Frau Von was the self-appointed cultural guru of Landgut Burg. Frau Von was knowledgeable in anthropology, literature, opera, music, dance, architecture, sociology, history, as well as multiple languages. Frau Von influenced the lives of every Stanford-in-Germany student during her tenure on Landgut Burg. Frau Von organized dance lessons followed by an all campus waltz party in the Ratskeller. She hosted groups of students in her home. Frau Von clearly relished her association with the Stanfordites of Landgut Burg.

As most groups soon learned, Frau Von would hand select a cadre of students to be her ‘pets’. Usually, but not exclusively, these favorite students were the strongest German speakers in each group. Frau Von always included several young men, strong of stature and constitution to be part of her inner circle.

Landgut Burg students were treated to 3-day weekends every week, plus a 3-week holiday between terms. Travel and exploration were encouraged. Interaction with local families was fostered. For many students, these familial relationships became the focus of their European experience. During the 3-week break the facilities at Landgut Burg were shut down--no cafeteria, no classes, no Greek maids, gar nichts. Students were required to vacate the dorms.

I had known Richard Dinihanian back in grade school. We had attended the same

Episcopal communion classes in Portland, Oregon. Richard’s outstanding achievements in academics, athletics, and student government were rewarded by admission to Leland Stanford Jr. University. At some point during that summer of 1968, while at Stanford-in-Germany, Richard acquired a gray 1953 two-door Volkswagen beetle. He had planned to drive the VW during the 3-week mid-term break. Unfortunately Richard also acquired scarlet fever, which required bed rest and quarantine. Sorry, Richard, no nation hopping for you! Furthermore, no dorm or meals at Landgut Burg. Professor Frau von Radecki came to the rescue by offering her home for Richard’s recuperation.

Richard and Frau Von developed a bond of mutual respect during the 3-week quarantine. Frau Von showed me some of Richard’s sketch work when I arrived in Germany a year and a half later. I can still visualize his pen and ink free-hand drawing of a wicker-wrapped water jug. “Perfection by freehand, unbelievable,” I thought in amazement.

In gratitude, no doubt, for nursing him back to health, Richard gifted his 1953 VW to Frau Von when he completed his 6-month stay at Landgut Burg. In honor of Richard, Frau Von named the trusty little auto, ‘Rico’, which was her pet name for him.

In the subsequent groups of 22 and 23, Frau Von chose one or more young men to chauffeur her about the town in ‘Rico’. In exchange, these fellows were allowed to borrow Rico for weekend trips or 3-week break. Steve Balgrosky ’71, was the ‘chosen one’ in Group 22, winter-spring 1970. I knew Steve, Nelson Dong, and Tim Gillespie from freshman dorm at the home campus, in Palo Alto. Like passing a baton, Steve encouraged Frau Von to select Tim Gillespie as her personal driver for Group 23. “He is an artist, and he is sooo sensitive,” Steve explained to the professor. Tim politely declined, so Angus Fulton assumed the honor.

Tim extended the favor by introducing me to Frau Von. By the time I met Rico, he was in pretty sorry shape. Although strong of constitution, Rico had suffered sadly from lack of regular maintenance. Frau Von recognized that Rico would require expensive repairs in order to be driveable. Rico had no brakes, no heat, no defrost, badly worn tires and was desperately in need of timing, spark plugs, and a new muffler. Even on my very limited budget, though, I figured I could restore Rico to his former glory. Perhaps because I knew the original ‘Rico’ (Richard Dinihanian) or because I was willing to take on Rico as a project, Frau Von transferred Rico’s title to me, no strings attached.

Chapter 2

Rico, Don and Frau Von

By Don Clarke

Group XXII

It's great that "Rico" is still remembered lovingly by all. What a great car! I remember driving it to Amsterdam with Frau von Radecki to pick up my sister at the airport. Rico would periodically just quit running. I would freak out, fearing we'd never meet the plane but Frau Von would just pet him on the dashboard and coo, "Du musst ihn streicheln, einfach so!" ["You must stroke him just so!]. When that didn't work, we'd sit on the shoulder of the Autobahn and she'd sing Russian folk songs to him. Needless to say, each time it worked and Rico would hit the road again. He later took us through Bavaria, Austria, and elsewhere with only the occasional need for streicheln [strokes or pets].

Rico, as you probably know, was named after Rick (Rico) Dinihanian, who was in Gruppe XXI. I found him in Northern California a few years ago, running a design studio. It's been a couple of years since I heard any news from him, but I'm sure he'd enjoy knowing that his name lives on!

Chapter 3

1953 Volkswagen

By Angus Fulton

Group XXIII

In reading the class notes in the Stanford magazine, I picked up on your short paragraph about a ‘53 Volkswagen. I suspect that it was the same great car that I drove while at the Burg from June to December 1969. I believe that Burg German teacher Frau Von Radecki, who by the way, taught me how to make orange schnapps, loaned the car to me. At the time, I thought that the car you call ‘Rico’ existed with groups before 1968, but I could be wrong. It was a 50’s model. It had a very small back oval window and mechanical turn indicators that actually flipped out from the side frame near each car door window. Rico had no gas gauge but a lever on the floor by the gas pedal that when pulled would provide an extra gallon or so of gas. Near the gas and brake pedals, the floor was partially rusted, keeping the car well refrigerated and necessitating the wearing of a heavy coat in winter.

I never checked the oil (I did not want to know) but I sporadically added oil when I thought that perhaps it was running low or I was feeling sorry for the car. I drove it as fast as I could. I never paid any attention to the tires as long as they held air. It made it to Austria via Garmisch-Partenkirchen and later Switzerland over the mountains--double clutching all the way. I even tested it out driving through a pasture near Munich while taking a short cut to a gas station as I was running low on fuel. Rico was driven at all hours of the day and night for whatever missions any number of souls and I could dream up. Over the years, I have told many friends and family about that incredible car. I would be interested if my description matches the memories of others.

Chapter 4

Repairing Rico

By Tod Tolan

Group XXIV

Hermann Unrath owned the ESSO Petrol station and auto garage (Tankstelle) in downtown Beutelsbach. His teenage son, Hermann Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps as one of the best auto mechanics in all of Remstal. Hermann Jr. agreed to assist me in repairing Rico in exchange for the opportunity to practice his English. While we worked in his father’s garage, our conversations were a curious mixture of English, German and grease. I learned the German vocabulary of auto repair while Hermann, in turn, learned the English equivalents.

Although Rico required many repairs, we focused on the few safety essentials: brakes, lights, spark plugs, and timing. Creature comforts such as interior heat and defrost, unfortunately would have to wait.

I vividly remember removing the wheels in order to access the brake shoes. Hermann showed me the benefits of using the pneumatic lug wrench. It worked magnificently until I came to a particularly rusted lug nut. Try as I might, it would not budge. The wrench noise changed. I turned to Hermann in frustration, “Das ist kaput!”

Hermann applied the wrench to the stubborn lug nut, but to no avail. He looked at me with surprise and disgust; “It is damaged!” I felt about two inches tall. Here I had borrowed his dad’s tool and now probably through ignorance had ‘damaged it’.

By the end of the week, Rico was ready to roll. In addition to new standard and emergency brakes, Hermann had proudly applied red, white, and blue racing stripes. Hermann certainly had embraced and enhanced the spirit of Rico. We were now ready for our maiden voyage to Munich and Vienna.

Chapter 5

Fahren nach München und Wien

Driving to Munich and Vienna

By Tod Tolan

to be continued.....

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