I've always been someone on the look out for a good deal. That's why when my girlfriend Amber and I began planning for our year long travel adventure, I thought it would be more cost effective to purchase an old box truck to store our personal belongings in while we traveled rather than renting a storage unit. Of course the up front cost of purchasing a moving truck is more expensive than the storage unit, but the ease of moving and ability to sell the truck when we return could leave us with $0 in moving expenses.
Most people would probably just rent the storage unit and forgo the risk of purchasing a 1984 GMC 7000 utility box truck. but not me. I found the rig on Craigslist ( I love Craigslist.). The truck was located in Eagle River about 15 miles Northeast of Anchorage along the Glenn Hwy. Amber and I drove out to Eagle River from my house in Anchorage and met the owner, Kevin. He'd been using the truck storage for the past year, but was moving out of state so he needed to sell. It appeared to be in decent working order. After all it was built in 1984, the same year that I was born and I'm not fallin apart yet. I was a little concerned about its size. I wasn't sure if I wanted to drive the truck around town. Its about 27 feet long and has 10 speed transmission. Fears aside, we bought it after a very short haggling session, and made arrangements to continue storing the truck on Kevin's property for several weeks until we needed it to move our belongings into.
three weeks later......
We drive out on a beautiful Saturday morning to pick up the box truck in Eagle River. Kevin meets us, and we go to start the truck... After cranking it over a few times, the battery dies and it won't start.... Damn It! After some struggles with an extension cord, Kevin manages to get his battery charger hooked up and we get it started. With that, I get in the truck cab, and off we go!
The first half mile or so is down hill so shifting isn't much of a problem. The engine is a little tired, but it works. I reach the stop light at the bottom of the hill with no major problems. I'm at the front of the turn lane so I'm first up when the light turns green. Amber is right behind me in her car.
At this point, the RPMs are starting to idle a little higher than usual. I get it into first gear and creap forward. Max speed in first gear for this truck is about three mile per hour. I shift into second gear as I begin the corner. I didn't accerate enough, and the truck begins to sputter when I release the clutch in second gear. I shift back down to first gear to try it again. Now the RPMs are much higher than they should be, even at idle around 1500 RPMs. I'm accelerating and I go to shift into second gear again. Big trucks aren't quite like cars in that they don't like to go into gear if the RPMs are too high regardless if the clutch is pressed in. I push a litter hard and then.....
the gear shifter goes lip as if it came out of it socket! I search for first gear... nothing. I search again for second gear... nothing. Oh Crap!!! I have just enough speed to coast to the side of Highland Road. The back end of the truck is barely off across the white line. Amber pulls in behind me.
I spend a view minutes try to figure out what is wrong to no avail. I shut truck off and give Kevin a call. "Hi Kevin, I'm right down here on Highland road about a mile from your house. I went to shift gears and it's like the gear shifter sheered off the top of the transmission." "Really", Kevin says, "Ahhh, I'll bring some tools and I'll be down in a minute."
Five minute later Kevin arrives with some tools. We both agree that we are going to have to pull off the top of the transmission to see what happened. We pull back the aged rubber flooring and disinegrating fire and sound insulator to expose the floor panel around the transmission. Kevin goes for more tools as I begin removing the bolts holding the panel to the floor. Two of the bolts are so rusted that they stripout immediately on trying to unscrew them. Our only option is to use a drill bit to drill out the top of the bolts.
Twenty minutes later we get the floor panel off. The gear shifter is bolted to the top of the transmission by only four bolts. They come off without incident. Kevin and I discussed along with cell phone consultations with my dad that if the gear shifter was secured to the transmission with a pin, and I sheared the pin, that it may have fallen into the transmission. Which is really bad as it is very difficult to get out and could require removing the whole transmission.
We slowly pull the shifter off the transmission and there it is. The bottom two inches of the gear shifter had sheared off and was resting in the top of the transmission. It appeared that there was an inperfection in the metal casting that made the metal weaker than it should have been. I don't think 1984 GMCs are still under warranty.
We are somewhat relieved as this could have been a much more serious issue. It is Saturday so most mechanics shops are closed. And a gear shifter for a 1984 GMC 7000 isn't exactly something that Napa keeps on the shelf. I can't leave the truck on the side of Highland Road for very long. It is a fairly high traffic highway and I am envisioning a cop car pulling up behind the truck at any moment and saying that it has be towed right way.
Kevin thinks that the gear shifter can be welded back together. We drive to an auto shop in Eagle River, the people there don't think it is possible, but Kevin isn't convinced. Kevin says he has a friend in Anchorage that has a welder that he can use to do it himself. So we leave the truck on the side of the road, hoping it will be there when(if) we return.