For 30-plus years, motorists on U.S. Highway 190 about 11 miles west of Copperas Cove have passed Bug Acres. It’s on the north side of the road and invariably has an interesting array of air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles parked in front.
What most passers-by may not know is that this unassuming, modest business has an international reputation. Buyers scouring the world for authentic vintage parts routinely seek out Dale Harder, owner of Bug Acres, for Type I (Beetle), Type II (Microbus or Transporter), Karmann Ghia and
Thing (Safari) take-off components.
“A few months ago, I sold a big quantity of Beetle doors to a restoration company in Belgium,” Harder said. “After this many years, people just know about me.”
And the countless procession of defunct VWs stacked in the back of Bug Acres provides a continual source of recyclable inventory.
Harder also works on VWs. He paused from his current project, a 1956 oval window sedan that’s getting a full re-do.
“Give me a hand here,” he said to Ashley Clayton, 21, who seems an unlikely match for the traditionally masculine vibe of an auto repair shop.
After the two carefully lifted and lowered the transmission and swing axle to the floor, Harder turned and talked about his infatuation with Volkswagens.
“I had worked here, fell in love with the cars,” he said. “On March 28, 1992, I became the sole proprietor. They are beautiful machines, but you have to treat them right.”
Indeed, it was improper servicing by another repair shop that introduced Clayton to Bug Acres.
“Dale fixed my Beetle after I got ripped off by another mechanic,” she said.
And somehow, the dedication of Harder and the fascination of the German-engineered autos captured her fancy.
“I had worked in an office and in retail, but I was always drawn to building things, and how machines worked. I’ve been here as manager for several months, and I really love it — I’m learning more each day.”
Resolutely old-school, Harder doesn’t have a computer and won’t accept credit cards. He admits to grudgingly using a cellphone, and does have a large electric fan to move the air in his shop space.
Cynthia Reeves of Lampasas worked for Harder for four years in the 1990s and said, “We used to have an old clothes dryer for heat.” Harder has graduated to a cast iron wood stove, Reeves pointed out.
But a lack of modern comfort doesn’t carry over to work. “This man is always willing to lend a helping hand,” Reeves said of Harder. “It rarely happened, but if a car came back with a (service) problem, Dale would make it right at no charge.”
One of Clayton’s goals is to establish an online presence for the myriad of parts Bug Acres has for sale. The business was featured in Hot VWs magazine, and parts seekers from all over the U.S. make the business a must-see in their travels. But, a website “would help us sell more parts,” she said.
In his role as master mechanic, Harder performs the exacting machine work himself, such as precision align-boring on the cast magnesium and aluminum engine cases. The well-organized shop reveals mildly modified rebuilt engines, a pristine yellow and black VW Thing and an immaculate VW-powered 1928 Bugatti replica.
And that lineup of vintage Beetles parked out front?
The ever-changing cars that rubbernecking drivers have gawked at for decades are “for sale, and most are consignments,” Harder said.
With a couple of exceptions: He’s giving the two rarest vehicles to his godchildren.
You might call them real love Bugs.