Monday, November 28, 2011

US Trip 09 - Moby the GMC truck

Moby - the great white GMC truck

I was going through some photos of my trip to the US in 2009 and have decided to share them on the blog, but instead of boring you with a travelogue, I will post themed pictorial essays. This is the first - and its on the truck I used on the trip. Moby - the great white whale of a truck. 

In mid-2009 my mate Glenn and his business partner Sam were heading to the US to buy cars and engines for their car/engine import business 'Baltons'. I had always wanted to drive across the states and back, and after chatting to Glenn we decided to go halves in a truck.  We would use it in LA for a few weeks, I would then drive cross country and back, and it would then be available for he and Sam to use on their return business trips. Sounded good to me. 

They arrived a few days before I did and had already started looking for a suitable truck. After not picking me up from LAX,  I caught up with them the next day and found that they had rented a Lincoln Town Car until they found a truck.  
 Lincoln Town Car and Zac
 Probably not what the rental company had in mind - a 351 Cleveland 'D' block
Moby in the corner of the Mexican car yard

One of the things you realise pretty quick when you arrive in Los Angeles is that it is actually a Mexican city. It is full of Mexicans and spanish speaking Americans conducting business in parallel to the white bread US world that is familiar from countless American TV shows beamed to the globe. Glenn mentioned that one truck they looked at seemed OK until it shat a water pump while they were warming it up. Glenn and Sam are pretty 'mechanically minded' and said apart from that it was OK. It was in a mexican car yard in some LA suburb. We went and had another look. We needed a truck otherwise we would be carting one engine at a time. 

 Glenn waiting for the car salesman
 350 Chev V8, AC (non working), power steering, 3 speed auto, 2 wheel drive.
The truck was pretty rough. A GMC Suburban (basically a Chevy Suburban) from the early 80's it had a 350 Chev V8 that sounded ok and ran fine. The water pump had been replaced. The truck was once red, and had a rough white paint job. It also had rust in bizarre places like the top of the window frames. Inside was roomy and comfortable, with huge bench seats, vinyl floor and a column shift auto. Glenn adjourned to the salesman trailer/office and a short time later we drove out of there (after the flat battery was changed over). We sank  $600 each into this majestic vehicle.  As Glenn said, if anything went wrong, he can always strip the engine and trans out and sell them for a grand in Oz. 

The rest of the day consisted of getting insurance. We could drive it for 90 days on a permit, before we had to get it registered in California. That suited me fine - I would be back from my trip to NY by then.  After getting back to the motel we went over the truck and fixed and adjusted some things using 2nd hand tools Sam had bought from a guy at the Pomona swap meet a few days earlier. One thing we couldn't fix was the brakes. Off to Pep Boys. 
One of the other things you notice when moving around Los Angeles is that the roads go EVERYWHERE and navigating by map would take forever. GPS is the great time saver here. We dropped into a Walmart and bought a display model TomTom for under a hundred bucks. Unfortunately when we plugged it into the cigarette lighter on the dash - we discovered that circuit didn't work. Oh yeah, one of the front headlights didn't work either, not the light, the whole circuit. the right hand light worked fine. We pulled into an auto electricians randomly on a Saturday morning and asked them to have a look. 'Sure' they said. Two hours later, with a working set of headlights and the cigarette lighter also working - we were set. the GPS worked fine right across the US except in the mountains in South Dakota (granite chasms blocking the signal) and downtown Chicago (skyscrapers blocking the satellite signals). Basically, we would use a road map atlas to plan a trip, then plug that into the GPS. 
Why you need GPS in LA
Moby did have convenient cigarette packet holders in the dashboard. Sam also tied a cigarette lighter and a bottle opener to the dash, on strings, for ease of access. 
 Off to Lancaster - a view over the bonnet. 
 California desert is beautiful
 Some people are diva's
 With the back seat folded down, plenty of room for engines, trans etc
There was an amazing amount of room in the back. On this trip we loaded it up with 8 engines, all 351 Clevelands, 5 litre Windsors and one Chev that the guy threw in as part of the deal. They all got shipped back to Oz. 

A  few days later as the truck was on its way to the shipping agents yard with another load, tail dragging, we were pulled over by a genuine CHIPS motorcycle police woman who didn't believe that we could drive in the US on Australian licences and wanted to know if we had receipts for all the engines in the back and paperwork from California's DMV for each one etc. Glenn, famed for his Sir Les Patterson style approach to diplomacy managed to talk her around from any foolishness like impounding the lot... and we were on our way again. 
After a few weeks I dropped Sam and Glenn off at LAX and headed off on my road trip. I was heading first to Colorado to catch up with my mate Ric and went via Las Vegas. I snapped this shot of the odometer as I was heading out of Las Vegas, I was trying to see how fast I could get the truck to go, as it was now free of engines in the back and there was no other trafic on the highway. Heading into the Rockies out of Nevada was the first time I'd been on my own since I arrived a few weeks earlier. I managed to just crack 85 MPH. Disappointing for a 350 cube V8. The odometer shows 46826 miles, but we had already put at least a thousand miles on it by then. Considering the state of the truck, I reckon this clock has been around a few times. 
This plate was on the truck when we bought it. No one ever took it off. It really had no registration, just a permit from Californias DMV taped to the bottom corner of the window (also visible). I bought a few chrome letters from Pep Boys and stuck them on Moby's bonnet. 

I got pulled over by a highway patrol car in Arizona a few months later and apparently I cant drive across the United States and back without a valid numberplate on the car, at least not in Arizona. I was told to take care of it as soon as I arrived back in California. I assured the patrolman I would. I did tell Glenn about this the next time I saw him, and regard my word as having been kept. 
I arrived at Rics in Denver and we began preparing for our road trip - Denver to the Little Big Horn, via Mt Rushmore and Deadwood in South Dakota and back. Sam had tied a bottle opener to the dash board and there were still beer bottle caps littered on the floor. Ric wanted to know where the cup holders were... cup holders ? Another trip to Pep Boys, two tec screws later and Moby had two cup holders on its dash. Is that a cruising setup or what! The bench seat was surprisingly comfortable, I assure you. 
So everything is trouble free, Ric and I finish our road trip, I set off for Chicago and then down to New York for a few weeks. I throw a fan belt in Illinois, but trust me - finding a fan belt for a 350 Chev in the states is easy.  I leave Moby in the JFK long term carpark for that time, and then the day I pick it up to head for Washington and then Tennessee, I lose steering in traffic in Brooklyn! Fortunately it was peak hour and I was doing perhaps 5 mph at the time, not barreling through the Rockies at 85 mph! I manage to pull over to the kerb and get under and have a look. The sway bar has popped out, the coil has popped out. I cant fix that with the tools I have. Good thing I have a mobile phone.

I call 'Emergency' but since I don't have a US ADDRESS Credit card, they cant help me. I call directory, ask for a Brooklyn based towing company. Sure they can help. I get a tow to a Brooklyn garage and chat to the owner about repair options and costs.  I get a motel room in a fleapit notell motel near Coney Island and spend the next day walking around Brooklyn while they fix the truck (mainly waiting for parts). I then head off for Tennessee, deciding to skip Washington since the budget for that leg had been blown on truck repairs. 
Moby makes it to Tennessee fine. Thats Genes Ford Explorer that he had when he was in Alice Springs and it still has its NT number plates on it (and its Tennessee plates).  I've been to every continent except the Antartcic and still say that Tennessee is the most beautiful place on earth.

After a few days with Genes excellent hospitality, I headed off for Memphis. I set the GPS to Soulsville USA - Stax studios.  Memphis rocks! After leaving Memphis I joined up with the old Route 66, roughly paralleling the current I40 and headed back to Los Angeles. 

Oh yeah, Moby caught fire at one point. The engine was running oddly and felt 'restrained' I stopped and looked and figured it was shitty fuel, and continued on. As I headed into Arizona all of a sudden smoke poured out from under the bonnet. Thats never a good sign. I pulled over and popped the bonnet. I could see the belt running to the AC compressor had just melted away and friction had then caused a fire. I grabbed a screwdriver and lifted the smoking flaming fan belt out carefully dripping molten flaming rubber all over the place - and dropped it away from the truck. The little molten puddles gradually went out. Phew.  I forgot to take a photo. 

It was hot - July - and in the desert. I sat down and had a drink and decided to take a break and contemplate my options. While  I was waiting an old Indian bloke stopped in his truck and asked if I was Ok, We chatted for awhile and he said he could go and get his tow trailer and tow me into the nearest town if I couldn't get started again. It was a generous offer. I looked at the engine and figured out that now that the AC fanbelt was gone, that was what was causing the engine problems in the first place and it should be Ok. It fired up first go. I was right. Damn AC never worked anyway! I said goodbye to the Indian fellow and was back on my way. 
This is the last photo of Moby that I have, I took it at the Beach Boys memorial in Hawthorne, Los Angeles the day I left LA for Oz. The Beach Boys grew up right there, but the house was demolished for a highway (that built up thing in the background) in the 70's. 
I dropped the truck off at a yard in Carson, Los Angeles. Glenn had an arrangement with the yard owner and it was OK to store it there. I took this photo of the odometer - now showing 53918 miles - and then put the keys, the GPS and the mobile phone in a plastic bag under the front seat - and caught a cab to LAX. 

Moby lived on for at least a year and was still used by Glenn and Sam when they visited LA. Sadly, it was replaced by a newer bigger Chev dual cab utility that can tow larger trailers. I reckon they just wanted air conditioning. 

2 comments:

  1. Ah, Moby. May he live in peace. That was a great roadtrip, would have been intolerable without the cup holders and professional installation while the Missus looked on in disbelief. Ric

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  2. thanks for sharing the list. it’s really helpful.

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