There are some stories that must be told, some that are simply so important and meaningful to our human condition that they just need to spread their word, this is one of them for me. Written before his death, this is a true account of someone who really knew the value of friendship, knew what it meant to show affection and was such a strong spirit that he and his value will live on long past his years. This is the Story of Jim Greer and how I came to have “JG” (a 1973 GMC) in my life hopefully forever. Jim asked that I not spread around his name and the fact that he had pancreatic cancer but shortly before his death he read this story I wrote about the day I drove up to him outside of Spartenburg SC to gather his coach because you see he knew of his fate and wanted to think those that had made an impact upon his life. I may write a “page 2” of this story and give more background and information surrounding the story but for now, please read this part of the event and appreciate Jim’s spirit and his dedication to his GMC.
As I drove down the street in a foreign town, I felt lost. There were directions to where the house was and the awaiting coach but of course until you’re there, you never know where you are. How can I get lost, its 3 doors down from the Baptist church on Main street, there’s only one main street in this little town and probably only one Baptist church on it. Wait, wait, there it is– right there behind that house, I see the windshield– quick, go around the block– we’re there.
As we round the corner to come around back where we saw the front of the coach, it was laid out right in front of us. The side view of the coach with condensation smoke coming out from the back told me that the owner was out in the morning cold getting the coach ready for our meeting. After an all night ride it was funny that in the wink of an eye, I was there, the coach was in front of me and it was time.
We pulled up next to the larger than we were coach after driving the car up from Florida it seemed very large, it was holding its spot, the place where it had called home for a number of years. The area was next to a shop were a cord supplying power came from a cracked open window. Years of holding that spot had dented the soil, you could tell the coach felt at home where it sat.
I stuck my head into the door to find the owner up in the driver seat manipulating the gas pedal and inspecting the array of gauges. I said “Good Morning”, he spun around with a big smile and jumped down from the front for a strong southern hand shake complete with eye contact. “I see you woke her up” were my opening lines as we shared the ancient hand pumping ritual. “Oh sure, just wanted to get her all ready for you” came back through the smiling teeth of this new friend.
Now she’s not been driven much in the past year or so but everything seems to be working well and she’s ready to go”, he said. My wife & I have been a bit under the weather lately and we haven’t had much time to use the coach, I take her out every 6 weeks for a 40 mile or so leg shake, you know these things need to be driven. I nodded my head in agreement and add my respects to their situation. As I try hard to take in all of the new things in the coach, I am following him out the door listening to all he’s saying.
I had not noticed the coach had been running the entire time we had been standing there. The condensation smoke was still pumping from the tail pipe, “That’s no problem, she’s just warming up” he said pointing to the back of the coach. The oversized 3″ tail pipe was standing out, “Now thats a 3″ exhaust system with Thorley headers” he explained, it sounded quiet but strong.
Although the exterior of the coach could use a wash, it looked great. The aluminum wheels stood out and he pointed out the tires were date marked 2001 so there was plenty of life still left in them. The rims were brand new, he had not even put on the lug covers yet. He explains they were in the recent Alcoa recall and the old ones had been replace with these, he pulled out the bag of chrome lug covers from the closet as if it needed to be confirmed that this story was true. I followed him around the coach as he pointed out features. “The coach has been repainted way back by the previous owner, but I don’t think they had spent enough prep time”, he said as he pointed out a couple of flaked paint spots. I would have never seen them if he had not pointed them out to me, I was so impressed by the whole thing that I really was not worried about a few small paint flakes. He pointed out where he had done some body repair and did some section painting to make the black out panels. It was amazing that with just a little paint, he had totally changed the look of the coach. Oh sure, it was not perfect, being a section paintover but it looked sharp, it made the coach.
“Got Emerys stove vent and LED top marker lights. She’s got the engine vents and electric Ramco mirrors. The maserator switch is in here and I got tired of going to get the utility door key so I glued it in place, no problem now” he said as we walked the driver side of the coach. “Took out the furnace, there had been a leak in the sink and the furnace had rusted through, heck we never did winter camping anyway” was his way of explaining why he had done this. To this point I had not said a word, I didn’t have to ask any questions, he was answering everything before I could ask the question. As he spun around the coach showing me things that he had done it was suddenly very obvious that this coach had occupied a very special part in this mans life. It was like he was telling me about his daughter, proudly laying out for me everything that made up what she was.
The paint was an older single stage Taupe color but still looked good, with a buff out, I could see no problem with the outer look of the coach. The rear bumper was color painted Taupe as well and having a monotone appearance, the rear of the coach looked quite together.
He reached down and effortlessly folded out the Ragusa aluminum step as we went back into the coach. “I put in the microwave up there and the stove and oven are brand new and have never been used” as he pointed toward the galley. Reaching over he flipped on the fresh water pump, you could hear the pump as it pressurized up the system. We stood there for a moment listening until the pump shut off and he reached over and turned on the sink faucet. Clear water bubbled out as the pump burped on to keep the pressure up. “I filled up the tanks for you, its going to freeze soon here but where you are going, you’ll have no problem.
Flipping off the switch, he continued his tour. I was stumbling along trying to pick up everything he was showing me. It was kind of like the first day in the 6th grade, I mean you’re trying to remember the kind of notebooks you need to buy, where your seat was and the name of the girl sitting in front of you. “See that valve under there?”, as he pointed into the storage cavity under the bed platform he had built, “Thats how you fill the fresh water tank from the city water hook up” he explained. Wow, what a great, simple idea! The coach was filled with these interesting little additions, each personally installed with care and quality. Onan, his “Barbarian” was pretty special, he showed me the secret clip where he nudged the PC board to action during start.
The original bathroom was neater than a pin, whatever that means. He had replaced the original push button light switch with a chromed paddle switch, the lights switched on and the bathroom came alive with light. There was a new toilet, “Not even used yet” he said as we both marveled at the gleaming white appliance. “Installed a PD Dynamics converter and here is the inverter”, everywhere I looked there were special things he had installed. A stack of service manuals were in the compartment but the rest of the drawers and cabinets were wiped clean and empty– looked like the drawers in a hotel room. I wondered if there was a mint on the pillow! The mattress was new and ready for my sheets.
Going forward, he pointed out the new sofa, real leather reclining swivel rockers and the hand made fold up table, he had built it extra wide and it fit perfect. Hand made window boxes, wood floor, carpet and walls said there was a great deal of work and love put into the interior of this coach. The front seats were new and he had an array of performance gauges lined up under the steering column. The motor was still running and he sat in the seat and gave the motor a rev or 2. Turning off the motor, he lifted the engine cover to reveal the cleanest motor I had seen in a long time. He pointed out the headers and Accel coil on top of the HEI distributor — all installed by him. His chest stuck out a bit as he pointed out how oil free the motor was, I mean you just don’t understand until you end up looking like “Tarbaby” after changing spark plugs on most engines. He reached over, hit the ignition key and the motor came to life with a low rumble. It just sat there mumbling in a low voice “lets go”. “Never had a minutes trouble with her”, he said as he put back down the engine cover.
“Well, thats it, I guess”, he said with a sigh as he straightened up after fastening down the motor cover. I thought to myself “Thats it! Are you kidding”, wow, I was bowled over. He had just walked me through his love affair with this coach. It was totally obvious by this time that there was much more to the relationship of this man and machine than dragging around a bucket of bolts. “I love this machine, I love to be a part of the GMC community and want the best for her”, he said as he opened his arms as if embracing the whole interior, she needs a new home and she’s picked you. I didn’t know quite what to think, I had come to pick up a motorhome and find I was adopting someones pride and joy. Thats how it is with these special vehicles, they have a way of growing on you. One day you’re under the motor dropping the oil filter on your head and next thing you know you’re redoing the whole thing and it continues on from there!
We both stood there for a bit moving the dirt with out feet, him talking about how much fun the coach had been and me saying how much I liked the coach and how I would take good care of it. Our words grew short and it was time to go, I had a long 500+ mile drive and had a bit of getting acquainted to do with my new charge. I thought for a second “How could he let go of such a beautiful machine, paint flakes and all” as I crawled up to the steering wheel.
He said, “Take care of her” as he shut the door behind me. I fired her up and looked around at the switch and gauge array. As I sat there looking out the windshield at his house, I could see his wife probably watching everything we had been doing from the kitchen window and as I thought of all of the times the 2 of them had traveled in the coach, made lasting memories and made the machine a part of their lives for so many years, he rounded the front corner of the coach outside, walked up front to the middle of the coach, reverently bowed his head and placed gently his open hand on the middle windshield pillar post. He stood there motionless for a moment seemingly talking to the coach as you would with your hand above the eyebrow of a loved horse. It was easy to see that he was giving her a few last words of encouragement, maybe letting her know it was OK for her to go with me. As if to signal, “Ah Men”, he held his hand up in a wave and turned his head and looked away as he walked toward the house and his wife looking out the window ending a full chapter of his life and going on to what came next. What price can be put on love and how good is it to do whats right for someone or something when it breaks your heart.
I could not help but immediately feel all the pain and pride I know he felt for this assembly of bolts and metal. In that instant, all of that emotion transferred to me and now the torch of possession was passed for me to carry home. Tears of sorrow for him loosing his dear friend and for me finding one came as I backed the coach out of that familiar spot. The motor seemed to be giving him a farewell as it moved the coach back. He kept his back to us as he stayed on his heading toward the house. I thought of honking the horn but felt it inappropriate, this was a solemn moment to be remembered in reverence. I took my eyes to the mirrors and swung the coach out onto the road, turned my head toward the task of operating the coach and did not look back over toward him. Somehow I knew the path was clear for me to enjoy my future with this special machine. The transmission shifted to second gear which jerked my focus to the job at hand. I had the reins now of this beauty and I knew together we had some good times ahead.
It’s funny how we pass through this world while machines like this GMC seemingly stay immortal. Long after we all are dead and gone, they will be here making others as happy as they made us.
There’s no shame in showing emotion for something like a GMC, they do have a soul and they have a way of getting into yours. Those that have never felt this will probably never understand and maybe that makes that feeling for this classic machine even that much more special, I have it and could not imagine my life whole without having a GMC.
If you are on the hunt for a GMC, keep in mind that the coach you look at may be much more than meets the eye. Look for that special bond and you will find a GMC to fill it.
Jim Greer the day I drove away his baby, thank you Jim for your friendship. Last year Jim Greer passed away due to cancer. Now his coach is a part of our family and I will always think of Jim Greer and him thinking enough of me to want me to have this very special machine. And I’ve made it mine