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A Day in Ultra #Van Life

The 21-foot “Little Green RV,” one of two of our SolarSonic flagship GMC motorhomes with 520 watts of solar

Greg had been working in the driveway for four and half hot LA summer days trying to get the little green RV back on the road after its 7 month stationary residency.

It had been sitting still while the other SilverSonic RV took us to the desert, the mountains, Moontribe, and SNRG… Now it was high time for the 21-foot, 520 watt solar GreenMachine to finally try hitting the beach. We did our two-person maneuver to get out of the driveway and headed for the closest “cheap” (by L.A. standards) petrol station. We use the Gas Buddy app and Bing maps to track down the best places for gas because our home on wheels guzzles up 8 miles to the gallon!

Greg driving past downtown Los Angeles

As we pulled in to the station, we were soon surrounded by homeless gawkers admiring the RV. Los Angeles’s homeless population is now at an all-time high and Mayor Garcetti is offering all kinds of grants to anyone that can help alleviate the situation, while also giving him a platform for his presidential aspirations. One scruffy, but respectful man circled the entire 15 minutes it took us to fill up our tank, wide-eyed in awe.

A bolder man with long gray hair, a reddish nose, bright blue eyes, and a baseball cap came over with Windex and newspaper in his hand. While I thought he was about to ask us about our windshield, he surprised us with the question,

“So, that’s a 1973 GMC?”

“Well, they were made between 73’ and 78’, but this is a 76’,” Greg replied in astonishment. “How do you know so much about these?”

“A friend of mine’s got one,” he explained.

Just when our patience for the little green RV was waning due to several work days in the driveway and what sometimes seems like endless repairs, this man’s enthusiasm for our green machine re-inspired us to keep it on the road, as we have been throwing around the idea of selling it. The maintenance of two RVs had been killing our creativity.

“This is the best RV ever made!” he commented. “That’s got that air-ride suspension, right? And that’s front wheel drive, right? And are those dualies?”

“Tandem wheels,” Greg corrected, “Spaceship lander-style.”

The man went on and on, extolling the virtues of the GMC, until our tank was full and we parted ways.

Full of new energy for the little green RV, fueled by the Windex man’s enthusiasm, we were going down the 101.

“Why is the dash off?” I asked Greg.

“I had to take it off to work on it this week, for the wiring,” he answered. “Horn works,” he demonstrated in traffic, happily. “New wipers, put on in Mexico in the 2-hour Tijauna border exit line,” he recounted with a flick of the wiper switch. And that’s exactly when the power steering went out. Just when we thought we were in the clear and nothing else could go wrong….wah wah wah — -game over.

We got off on the next exit, somewhere near Glendale and pulled over to the side of the road. Greg used all his might to steer, shaking and straining to move the 10,000 pound vehicle. When Greg turned on the wipers, it may have been the final stress that popped one of the older high pressure power steering lines. Proof that in this thrice rebuilt weird old RV, everything is connected.

We sat there, Greg contemplating taking the bike from the bumper in the 90 degree heat and biking the 1.2 miles to the nearest AutoZone (one of his most frequented places this month) to buy some steering fluid. We were in an unknown neighborhood, so Greg made the call just to drive there… which meant a formidable U-turn in the middle of the road-way to get heading in the right direction.

Greg trying to make the 7-point turn when the power steering went out

We waited for a gap, then Greg went for it. Cars behind us were surprisingly kind and patient by Los Angeles standards and after five minutes of sweat and struggle, forward, turn turn turn, backward, turn turn turn, Greg made the 7-point turn.

We made it to AutoZone, met by yet another street person, this time glaring from his beat-up car, shouting threats, as he was convinced we were harboring some girl named Justine within the confines of our RV. We assured him we hadn’t so much as seen her. He kept his eyes on us just the same, begrudgingly, as he drove slowly away. 4 quarts of fluid in hand, we headed home to make the repairs to the broken line.

Once in the driveway, Greg removed the steering line from our other GMC motorhome and said there was a good chance we’d be right back on the road within the hour. This being Tuesday, I brought him fish tacos, and good deed being done, allowed myself to anticipate getting back to the ocean breezes.

45 minutes later and five sixths of the job done, Greg calmly began asking the universe why it appeared that he could not screw the final fitting on. What should be a five-minute careful trick of threading one last nut to bolt… the flared hydraulic line in an almost impossible to reach space, was just not taking… all tricks were failing… and this was now turning into a four and a half hour exasperated blast of sun-beaten driveway hell.

Greg put out a couple SOS texts, fortunately reaching Miguel, one the most expert GMC mechanics in the U.S., who confirmed for us to fear not, or fear alike: most likely the steering box fittings and lines were all compatible between these 76 and 78 GMC coaches, and yes, there’s a chance that the fitting on the pain-in-the-ass-to-remove steering box might be a bit stripped!

Finally, out of desperation to return to his long departed parking spot along the beach, Greg called our 76 year-old Mexican mechanic, Fausto, who does driveway house calls in times like these (when the RV is dangerous to drive / impossible to tow.) And motorhoming house calls at a home-baked price? I can’t tell you how hard it is to find somebody like this in L.A.

Greg and Fausto working on the steering box

Turns out he had a magical little tool that cleans out the grooves and helps it screw on. We go to start it up and test the steering, then look under the engine, and what do we see?

Another leak………..