“Any Port in the Storm”
When you’re in an emergency any help is appreciated but its great when you can get everything you need and more. Although I bet GM didn’t think about targeting their motorhome as a lifeboat, one sure came to our rescue during the recent 3 hurricanes that hit Florida. Not only did my coach (Larry as I have named it) come to my rescue, I have had many customers call and tell me similar stories about how their coach helped “save their bacon”. Its not surprising to me that in time of adversity the GMC came through, properly maintained they can be relied upon to do their job and here is my story of praise for my coach
Every tear the hurricane season puts in the back of your mind the question, “I wonder if this year will be the big one”. The weather men lay out the disaster scenarios trying to impress upon the masses in harms way that if “the big one” hits– you need to be prepared. Its one of the stresses you must live with if you decide to live in Florida.
Well, 2004 should go down in the history books as the year that our luck ran out. Back to back to back, the 3 hurricanes that strafed Central Florida did their best to kick our butt and there was plenty of damage to go around. Out of an event like this you must always look to find the silver lining and for Florida although no one welcomed the heavy weather, we do now have a better power grid and all of those old rotted trees have been cleared out thanks to mother nature. I have also a new respect for the GMC and more specifically my coach (Larry) and his old Troll Onan generator. That team came to my rescue when I needed them most and here is how it went.
The weather reporters were surprised when all of those doom and gloom things they have always told us to be prepared for looked like would be coming true. I bet they were first excited to know they had some real job security coming up but then their excitement probably turned to real fear when it set in that their viewing area was going to get hit.
I had never really sat down and made up a hurricane disaster plan before that date so I looked around the shop and made some quick decisions as to what to do with all of that stuff laying around outside and all of the coaches under trees and near fences on the property. As the first storm (hurricane Charlie) let it be known that he would be visiting us soon, we stowed away everything I could vision Dorothy and Toto would have considered, we corralled all of the coaches that would move in the middle of the lot thinking that strength in numbers would prevail and the coaches could weather the storm best huddled together in the middle of the open area.
For the possibility of rising waters, we brought up from the floor as much as we could and moved stuff from the doors. Don’t know if it would help but it at least made us feel better.
Now that the shop in buttoned down, what about my house and our plan? Our house is over 80 years old and seems to be built like the proverbial (*@%# ^&%$ house but who knows what might happen. I then started thinking about my coach and what roll it could play in out salvation. Larry is a racher unique coach having essentially no living interior but plenty of space and a kick butt 12 volt and 110 volt power system. The Onan power drawer generator though an original style was installed new some 3 years ago by the Onan dealer in Denver for the US Postal service (as the story was told to me). It ran like a top and looked as new and clean as any Onan I had ever seen. To support this power plant, I had been adding circuits and wiring to make the coaches power grid convenient. Prewiring was the first step in the outfitting of the coach and although I had wires taped and draped near the place they would end up, things were hooked up, tested and I was satisfied they would work reliably. The coach came with no 12 volt living area electrical system at all (all lighting for the previous post office use had been 110 volt. I had installed 12 volt main service circuits, a fuse panel and and switching. I had rewired the dash circuits to have the lighter plug and radio power from the new rear 12 volt system and had a small inverter to run the engine monitor lap top. I now saw all of this as my lifeline to an emergency power source.
I hurridly made up heavy power cables with male plugs at each end, this would allow me to power up my house if the power went out. Of course I could not spin up the house AC but I could have lights and keep the freezer and frig hot. I thought through how many extensions cords I should have as back ups and blew them, my shop tool box, blankets, rain coats and as much stuff that I could think of that would be needed. I closed down the shop and headed to the house with Larry outfitted for battle. I too dawned my armor, I kinda felt like a camper on my first outing not quite knowing what I would need but not sure if I would need it all, I strapped it on anyway.
Doing all we knew could be done, there was nothing else to do but sit in front of the TV and watch the weather guys as they hyperventilated telling us all to get ready. As the reports of Charlie making land fall in Punta Gorda, horror stories of mobile homes blowing away, roofs coming off and sail boats turning into projectiles– I knew we we gonna have a “swaray” with a killer. Then the cable went out, bummer. Out came a dusty set of rabbit ears and we resumed the news casts from on the air TV. Its interesting to note that even though everyone says satellite and cable communication has revolutionized our way of life, when the rubber met the road– a TV tower was our communication.
An hour later, the winds and the rain started and then the power went out. Janie had pulled out candles and since the frig and freezer could stay without juice for a time, I let the house go without. The weather cooled down the air so the AC was not needed. The air was also thick with the anticipation of what was to come.
So here we are, no power, listening to the weather people freaking out on my walkman with a headset watching the wind increase all the time. If things ever felt ready, it was now. I looked out the window and Larry was standing guard, its sight made me feel better. As a matter of fact, he looked so calm out there that I went out on my screen porch next to Larry and watched as the nearby trees waved their branches and the rain blew sideways. Charlie was a fast moving storm and in 20 minutes or so the storm peaked and I was able to relax a bit. After all of the stress of getting ready for whatever, I felt the best place for me would be in bed so I went to sleep before my head hit the pillow. I knew I had made it through the storm, Larry was standing watch and tomorrow I could get out and try out all of the contingency procedures and equipment I had gathered up— life was not great but it would be good.
Waking up early, the sun was out so the heat was out too, I saw the extent of the devastation. Our place faired pretty well but there was a huge old oak tree next door that had fallen blocking the road and if you followed the weather channel the pics they showed made us look like a war zone but we faired pretty well.
It was now time for Larry to spring into service. Opening the rear door on Larry, my makeshift emergency shelter outfitted with my geer made me feel confident that all would soon be well. I started up the generator and gave it a couple of minutes to warm up. I then connected the rigged 30 amp double male power cable to the Troll (I call the Onan generators “Trolls”) then flipped off the main breakers in the house (the big ones on the outside of the house) and plugged the 30 amp power cord using an adaptor into a receptacle in the house. Immediately the circuit I plugged into came on, I had lights in the living room. Going to the inside fuse panel, I flipped back on, one at a time, each breaker loading down the generator slowly. As each circuit came on, I went around turning off lights to conserve energy. The frig and freezer were the main units I wanted to power, the rest would be luxury. With all the breakers on, I still had no power in the kitchen. The kitchen with all of its 220 volt appliances were obviously connected to the second 110 leg coming into the house so, making sure the outside breakers were off, I took another made up double male power cord (this one was a smaller regular extension cord made up with 2 male connectors) I plugged it into a kitchen receptacle and plugged the other end into a living room receptacle. This supplied 110 power to the other leg of the circuit and the kitchen microwave beeped at me as the frig and freezer started their familiar hum. Well alright, we were on line and it all worked, Larry with his Troll were sitting out front powering the house– I had everything except the stove, oven and AC. Heck, I can live with fans as ling as I have ice for a drink— life is good!
Good to the point that the neighbors came over and marveled at our arrangement. He was saying he would probably end up loosing everything in their frig when I said, “bring over a power cord & we’ll fire up the frig”. Delighted, he brought over the business end of his long weed wacker cord and he too had the reassuring hum of his frig to keep him, is wife and kids calm & collected. Larry & his Troll had saved the day for 2 households.
Then came the question of , “How long will we be without power and how long can Larry service us?” Checking the fuel gauge, I saw that I had 3/4 tank of fuel and checking the bag from the shop I saw I had 3 quarts of oil. OK, we’re good to go for a couple of days but beyond that, there could be trouble. The roads were all but impassible for any vehicle from the downed power lines & trees— all except for my little electric scooter so with a full charge I loaded up with a rake, gas can and the small inverter and headed down the 4 mile trek to the shop. I was the only vehicle moving, I had the stare of evertone I passed. Preoccupied with clearing their driveway to get their cars out, I think they were impressed and envious that I was moving and they were not. Its funny how the day before a funny looking little toy has now turned into the transportation of choice.
Arriving at the shop I found again very little damage. I brought the inverter to power up the cordless phone so I could talk– that is if the phone line was not down. Amazingly enough the phone line at the house and the shop were both still hot so I called Janie to tell her my status. She said Larry’s generator was doing fine and to hurry home.
Using the inverter, I powered up my computer then using my phone line I went up on my web site and gave out some first reports to folks from the war zone using my web site.
I felt like I had it all, I had transportation, communication AND power– as I said before life was good. Ride the scooter home, I found Larry standing guard, supplying power to the masses. Janie had several fans going and a hot meal from the microwave. While all around us people were wondering where their next meal or even shower would come from, our GMC gave us a comfortable life.
Even though I was sure the Onan would run 24-7, I ran it in shifts of 12 on then 6 off, oil consumption was low using less than 1/2 quart a day and fuel ran @ 1/8 tank for the same period.
After 3 days, I loaded up before dawn in search for fuel. Not being painted yet with primer spots and old handles and lights hanging off, Larry was a sight. I didn’t care, it was my lifeboat and it was doing its job well. As I drove down the barely cleared mostly empty streets before daylight, the few people on the street stared at the coach slowly picking its way around the debris. Now where could I find fuel? The service stations had fuel in the ground but without power, the pumps would not work. OK, who would get power priority? Hospitals would be up there and if the grid where they were would be hot then maybe service stations around them may have power and sure enough, I drove toward the local emergency room and there it was. A lighted Shell sign with no one at the pumps– how can this be, the new reports showed long lines waiting for a max. of $10 per car of gas. I bellied Larry up to the pump, slid the charge card and squeezed the nozzle. I fired off and I was pumping gas into the 50 gallon fuel hole. I pumped 42 gallons non stop— what fuel shortage? I went inside for a snack to find them out of Cokes– I guess we are in emergency mode! Switching to a cold Pepsi and a snickers, it had been several days since I had the luxury of junk food and it tasted good.
Loading back up I drove Larry back to the house, backed him in to his station and reconnected our house lifelines. I touched the start switch and the Troll rose to the occasion– I was back in business. I propped back up the Trolls car port and pulled him out for more fresh air. We again had our power plant fueled and working. There were several homes around us with those noisy cheapo generator banging out seemingly as much sound as they did power while we were sitting on the porch next to Larry reading a magazine, yes the Onan Troll had saved our bacon and did it with style.
Now I am a big proponent of replacing the aging Onan generators with fresh new technology water cooled Honda units and I still say that is a good move but if the Onan “Troll” is running well, it can still get you through in a pinch and boy were we in a pinch. Thanks to Larry the GMC with his trusty sidekick Troll, we were saved.
So in closing, don’t think the only thing your GMC is good for is to take a vacation, owning a GMC gives you confidence that you have a rolling infrastructure that can be of great help in many ways. Being in the business I have heard many stories of rescue and support through hurricanes Charlie, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Coach after coach carried people to safety and supported its owners through some pretty rough times. Be proud that you own a machine that is much more than just a pretty face, you have a true blue hero, one you can rely upon in thick and thin. Take care of your coach and your coach will take care of you. What is having a friend like that worth?