The Birth of THE GREAT WHITE – Part 1

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February 10, 2011

It’s like this:  Winter is still making its frigid call on Central Virginia.  The camper is sitting in “dry-dock” and unlike my fellow blog writers that live the nomadic life skipping across the country and reporting on the places, sights and events that make RV’ing so great – I’m stuck here until the  daffodils and dogwoods bloom while trying to think of something to write for a Family RV Blog.  Frankly, after doing this every week for more than a year, I find myself running out of ideas.

You see,  I am retired, but my younger and much more beautiful wife is still working.  She is a Librarian in a Middle School.  When you are a teacher, it is hard to take off just any time you want when school is in session.  So, she works to support all of my bad habits and projects while we wait for the day when she can kiss all of the children good-by and set out on a new adventure.  We are getting close to that day, but for now our RV adventures are limited to the 180 days out of the year that school is not in session.

I spend much of our down-time preparing and planning for the months, weeks and weekends that Nancy is free so that we may make the most of our adventures.

Lacking a great destination or adventure to share this week, I thought I would tell you about “The Great White” and how she came into being.

But, before I get into all of the details about the building the Great White, perhaps it would be helpful for you to have a little of background about me.  By doing so, maybe I can muster some understanding, or sympathy, for our madness.

My Dad was an Engineer.  I grew up watching and helping him make and fix things.  I am also an Engineer, but elected to teach what I had learned to others.  In order to teach, I had to get several degrees in education.  Some of my peers in education aren’t into getting grease under their fingernails or tearing apart a diesel engine.  They pay someone else to do those things – I don’t.

I believe learning is a lifelong experience.  Most of my knowledge and abilities didn’t come from a textbook – they came from a series of mentors that walked through my life.  They are some of the greatest people in the world and their gifts are invaluable.

Unlike the guy in the Country Music song by Tobie Keith that wishes he had learned to rope and ride – I did learn survival skills on how to weld, hammer, cut, measure, wire, and spray paint.

I would much rather take something old, worn out or tossed away and fix it up than go out and buy it new.  My lovely wife smiles at me when I take a load of trash to the county dump.  She knows I will bring back more that I took.  I simply cannot stand to see “good stuff” thrown away.  You see, I know that eventually I can use it – either as-is or by repurposing it for something else.

I  live in a rural area and own enough land to park, store and hide my reclaimed fortunes.  I have no “neighborhood covenants” that I must follow.  For those who may be wondering, I am not a hoarder and prefer to call my stuff “junque” rather than junk.  I am selective about what I keep.

I am fortunate to have as my wife someone I consider to be the greatest woman in the world. She actually trusts my judgment and me. If all of a sudden, I decide to tell her we need a space ship her response will be, “OK, but I get to pick the color.” I unilaterally give her the same trust and respect,  (Yes, it is a two way street).

The "Future" GREAT WHITE on the dealer lot.

So, last year when I told her that I thought it would be a good idea to buy a used class 8 truck to convert into a RV hauler ourselves, she agreed. (Note:  We were not going to pay someone else to do the conversion for us.)

Now, just in case you didn’t quite get that – A Class 8 truck is the front of a semi.  It is the BIG tractor that you see pulling 45,000 pounds of freight up and down the highway.  It ain’t no pick’um-up truck with two extra wheels on the back and hips like the one we already owned.  This is a 20,000-pound beast with a 12-liter diesel engine, 10 forward gears, and 10 tires on the pavement.  For the “Tim-the-Tool-Time” type of guys reading this, it all translates into 1,800 foot pounds of axle twisting torque that will pull any fifth wheel camper you put behind it up or down any mountain that has a road – with better fuel mileage than the pick-up!

Our 1-ton GMC Dually next to The Great White.

Big trucks obviously aren’t for every one.  We weren’t sure one was what we really needed – but we were going to find out.  We both knew that this “thing” had to be tested before we embarked upon our future cross-country trek.

So, on December 1st of 2009 we purchased a 2004 Volvo VNL670 class 8 truck that had seen the previous 5 years hauling US Mail up and down the east coast.

In order to insure and license the truck so that we could drive it, we would have to convert it into what the DOT calls a “House Car”.  In our terms, that is a motor home, which legally qualifies as a Recreational Vehicle.

That is where the fun, and the story, begins.

NEXT WEEK – The conversion from a commercial truck to a RV begins!


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  1. Most cars are really difficult to repair, but then again if you’re an enthusiast and you like dealing with cars a lot, then you might want to try becoming a mechanic some day

  2. Lee Pravitz

    Randy, tell them all how it REALLY got started, drooling over the big red one. I think you forgot Chapter 1, starting in Mid November. (LOL).

  3. G Finley

    My husband and I are waiting for the next posting about this “REAL” truck!!!. We sometimes wish we had gone this big rig trip instead of the heavy duty/normal pick-up to pull our fifth wheel. Not sure how the neighbors would have felt seeing this parked in our driveway or heard it coming down the street. Good luck with the project and please keep us updated. Waiting !!!

  4. jimjan

    Hi Randy,
    Having seen what is, for all intents and purposes, the “finished product”, it will be fun to revisit the process of it’s creation.


  5. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Prof 95 Randy,
    Engineers run trains!!!! I’ve got 42.2 acres of ‘junque’ that now I can’t ‘werk’ with!!! Keep us on the edge of our seats with the ‘overhaul’ of the Volvo… I like the looks of the big Vs…. DON’T GO BRAIN LOCK DAID ON US!!!!!!!