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The day it met the trooper…

Yes, The Legal Genealogist knows that 2021 is a Brood X year — the cicadas either are already here or they’re coming to wherever they plan to emerge.

This isn’t that kind of bug.

The capital letter is there for a reason — the Bug, not the bug.

It’s the flip side of the first car I ever owned — that 1955 Chrysler New Yorker I named Sherman and that had a 354 cubic inch Hemi V8 engine that was probably the fastest and most powerful car I ever owned.1

This was a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle — in the fall of 1981.

1965 VW Beetle


I don’t want you to think I never owned a new car. I did — I splurged way beyond my means with a 1971 Karmann Ghia, followed by a series of Toyotas that I put hundreds of thousands of miles on as a newspaper reporter covering about half of New Jersey, and even a fire engine red Audi A4 at one point.

And I have to confess that I don’t remember why I bought the Bug. I seem to recall vaguely that (a) I needed a car without delay, (b) the car I wanted had to be ordered and (c) the Bug was cheap and available. That’s more of a guess than a memory, though, so don’t go entering it in any family tree story about my driving habits, okay?

But I absolutely will enter in my family tree story about my driving habits the day that Bug made me smile.

It pretty much was just one day. Because the Bug was, at that point, one tiny little step away from the junk heap. It didn’t have air conditioning to help with hot days. It didn’t have functioning heat to help with cold days. And you had to be verrrrrry careful where you put your feet getting in and out because of … well … let’s just say that nobody wanted to look at the floorboards. And it was powered, I’m convinced, by a pair of hamsters running on a spinner wheel. It was fine — even pretty fast — on a flat road.

And it ran. And that day, in September 1981, I needed it to run.

Because my younger sister Kacy was getting married in Virginia.

I drove down the western route, which means south on I-81 and then east on I-64 to get to the restaurant in Palmyra, the county seat of Fluvanna County, Virginia, where the pre-wedding dinner was being held.

And anybody who’s ever driven that route knows what that means.

You have to climb Afton Mountain.

As mountains go, it’s not all that high: the summit is 2415 feet above sea level2 and the road crosses it at Rockfish Gap, which is a bit under 1300 feet above sea level.3

There’s no doubt, given my generally lead foot, that I was (ahem) somewhat over the legal speed limit as I started up the mountain.

There’s also no doubt, at least in my mind, that I was probably still a bit over the legal speed limit4 when I passed the Virginia State trooper hiding in his car on the side of the road a few hundred yards on the way.

But there’s also no doubt whatsoever that, by the time the trooper got going, pulled out, got behind me and turned on his lights, the Bug was laboring, mightily, even to maintain 50 miles an hour, much less the speed limit.

I dutifully pulled over, pulled out license and registration, rolled down the window, and waited for the trooper to approach.

He did.

And with the most puzzled look on his face of anyone I’ve ever seen, he walked up and walked all the way around that rusted-bodied, paint-faded, one-step-from-the-junk-heap 16-year-old Bug.

He looked at it, looked at me, looked at his radar gun reading, and shook his head.

“Ain’t no way any judge would believe me,” he said.

And he got back in his troop car and drove away.

The Bug wheezed its heart out the rest of the way up Afton Mountain… and I got to the wedding dinner on time.

Sigh… how many stories do we all have (and do we all need to tell) to add our own chapters to the book of America’s love affair with the automobile?

This is just one of mine…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The Bug,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 5 June 2021).


Image: Niels de Wit, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0. And no, mine didn’t look that good in 1981.

  1. Judy G. Russell, “Remembering Sherman,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 May 2021 ( : accessed 5 June 2021).
  2. Afton Mountain, Augusta County VA,” ( : accessed 5 June 2021).
  3. Elevation of Rockfish, VA, USA,” Worldwide Elevation Map Finder ( : accessed 5 June 2021). See Kacy? I did note it was Rockfish Gap.
  4. Okay, maybe as much over the speed limit as an underpowered Bug could go.
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