Cross Country Drive – In a Cabover


Over the last few years, I’ve become more and more involved with the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society.  When participating on driving type events, I thought it would be nice to have a bigger truck to take on tour.  I also thought it would be good to get set up with a trailer to haul my stuff home as well as possible help other hobbyists obtain larger stuff.  I did manage to get a Fleetstar 2010A but that truck needs more to make it road worthy plus it doesn’t have that diesel sound.  Last fall I got serious in my search and anxiously awaited each new issue of “Wheels of Time” to search the classifieds.  I soon discovered a big interest in cabovers.  As a kid I was always fascinated by this style and still am.  Since I have a thing for IH it became apparent that the right truck would be a 70’s IH Transtar. 

Last fall I found an interesting prospect in Wheels of Time.  It was a 1979 Transtar II Eagle, former Budweiser truck, fresh rebuilt Cummins 300, and aluminum wheels.  One slight drawback – it was located in Mt. Vernon, WA.  I talked with the owner but couldn’t quite strike a deal.  The trip was intimidating, work was heading into the busy season, and we couldn’t quite meet on price.  In mid Feb everything was put on hold – I had a bad fall fractured my ankle and tore the quad muscle off my kneecap.  Despite this setback, my Transtar search continued on eBay.  Sometime in April my eBay search finally struck a potential match – and this truck was in NJ.  Just one problem – I couldn’t get the WA truck off my mind.  Before the auction ended, I called Steve Andal in WA.  He still had the truck and in fact had just listed it again in “Wheels of Time”.  This time we struck a deal and the truck was on the way to becoming mine.  Once I got back in the recliner (with my bum leg up), I started to question what I had done.  I just bought a truck over 30 years old, 3500 miles away.  I wasn’t paying much attention to the TV as this all ran thru my mind.  Then it dawned on me, could I hit the ATHS national show on the way back thru?  I quickly grabbed my latest “Wheels of Time” and confirmed the show in South Bend, IA at the end of May.  Suddenly I knew this would all be meant to be.

Planning the trip wasn’t too hard but I did have one obstacle – my leg had to regain enough strength to push the heavy clutch.  I informed my Dr. and Physical Therapist that I was heading out at the end of May to make this trip.  They seemed a little wary or maybe just confused as to why anyone would want to drive a truck like this cross country.  I tied driving my ramp truck on day and it was pretty painful.  I had bought a 54 Pontiac early spring so that car with its light pedal become my “clutch therapy” car.  My Physical Therapist was delighted at my progress.  Every time she said that the exercise bike was doing me good, I told her it was actually the Pontiac’s clutch.  I did a little research on the forums of the ATHS website and got some good advice there.  One bit I particularly appreciated was a recommendation to take Rt. 30 starting in Idaho, crossing into Wyoming and winding up on Rt. 80 near the Little America Truck Stop. 

Finally Friday May 20 arrived, Rose dropped me in Portland to fly to Seattle.  The flight was great, arrived an hour early, and it was an easy shuttle ride to Mt. Vernon.  Steve Andal picked me up at the bus stop and took me back to his house.  Once there we took a ride in the truck.  I was relieved that I was able to climb into it and push the clutch.  It was obvious, however, that I was going to need some practice shifting gears!  Steve and his wife Kay feed me an excellent steak dinner.  The Andal’s own a custom meat shop so you know it was something special.  After dinner Steve and I me tot Wal-Mart to get supplies for the trip.  We stopped for fuel on the way home and since the clerk recognized Steve she declined to take my card prior to the sale.  She regretted that when my cards were declined.  Fortunately it was just put on hold due to the “suspicious” activity away from home and one phone call had it back in action. 

Day 1, Sat. – The next morning we discovered that the taillights in the Transtar didn’t work.  I didn’t have time to figure it out, but after a quick ride to the parts store in Steve’s custom Kenworth, was able to use the feed to the rear cab light to run the taillights.  This also resulted in one of the five cab marker lights coming on as well.  Now I was ready to roll!  I strapped the original Transtar passenger seat in front of the 5th wheel.  The Andals took the lead toward Seattle and we were off through the slight drizzle.  We had a nice stop for breakfast and then headed up into the mountains.  There was still snow on the ground as we approached the top.  We stopped at a rest area near Elensburg, WA and at the point said our goodbyes.  I was sorry to bid farewell to my excellent hosts but at the same time excited to be off on my first solo.  The rest of the day took me down Rt. 82 to Rt. 84.  I stayed that night in a truck stop in Ontario, OR just shy of the Idaho border.  The truck stop was small but there was a nice Mexican restaurant that I got in just before last call. 

Day 2, Sun. – After a great night sleeping in the sleeper surrounded by idling diesels, I awoke and hooked up a CB that Steve had given me.  Equipped with communications I headed out.  This day was only really sunny day of the trip.  I stopped in Mountain Home, ID to install a stereo and stock up my pantry.  One of the goals of the trip was to spend zero on hotels and little on food.  I bought a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, and milk and was able to make lunches with that for much of the trip.  It felt like a picnic every day.  I followed Rt. 84 to Rt. 86, to Rt. 15, to Rt.30.  Once off Rt. 15, I fueled up.  I knew the price was a little high but didn’t want to push it.  I didn’t want to partially fill it because I wanted to check the mileage.  I was pleased to see the truck got dead on 8 MPG.

Rt. 30 was one of the best parts of the ride.  When I was posting on the Forum some thought the secondary roads would be more scenic.  Others felt it would be too rough in the cabover.  The road was newly resurfaced.  A slight drizzle produced a beautiful rainbow.  One great moment when I heard someone on the CB, “Eastbound bobtail - Is that the truck I saw in Wheels of Time?”.  Rt. 30n ended all too soon and I was on Rt. 80 until I got to the Little America Truck Stop in Wyoming.  Here I learned a valuable lesson.  Since my fuel tanks were almost full, I couldn’t make the 50 gal minimum to get a free shower and fuel was cheaper there then when I filled.  All in all it cost me $20 which is cheaper then most valuable lessons I learn.

Day 3, Mon. – Not a lot of excitement, showers and rain as I chugged thru Wyoming and Nebraska.  I stopped in a small truck stop in Elm Creek, Nebraska and feasted on a cheeseburger and 2 large Millers in the cab before crashing in the sleeper.

Days 4&5, Tues & Wed – From Nebraska I headed further east  in the rain  on I-80 to Walcott, Iowa – home of the I-80 Truck Stop.  I-80 is the world’s largest truck stop – 3 full floors, chrome shop with 3 trucks inside – one sporting a 53’ trailer, barber shop, theater, laundry mat, dentist, theater, food court, convenience store, gift shop, and restaurant.  Across the parking lot is a nice truck museum that I visited on Wed.  My plan was to leave on Wed after visiting the museum and head to South Bend, Indiana for the ATHS truck show.  The forecast was bad at the show so I took a layover day at I-80.  I had an enjoyable day puttering on the truck.  My biggest accomplishment was getting power to the left front marker which resulted in another 2 cab marker lights coming to life as well.

Day 6, Thurs – Left I80 bright and early headed to South Bend and the ATHS show.  With only 260 miles to cover I figured I’d make great time.  As with all great plans there needs to be a hitch.  Some where in Illinois I ran into a traffic jam and spent 1 ˝ hours covering 10 miles.  My poor injured clutch leg was very happy to finally reach the show grounds.  Once parked in my space for the next 3 nights, I noticed the cab marker #4 had come on during the ride.  That evening Clayton Hoak and Annette were kind enough to bring me along for dinner near the Fairgrounds. 

Day 7, Fri – Spent the day enjoying the show and working on the Transtar. I started to head out in the truck to go to Walmart but was flagged down by Clayton.  He was gracious enough to send me off in his rental car rather then drive the truck.  When I returned I was able to borrow a ladder and fix the final cab marker light.  I was rewarded by finding a headlight out.  During the day I befriended Christian, a fellow cabover owner.  Christian, his friend Blake, and I headed to Autozone to get the headlight.  While I was there I picked up a headlight switch that would allow me to run the parking/dash lights independently of the headlight.  It was not a stock toggle switch but would do temporarily.  After stocking up on our parts needs we headed to a Mexican restaurant for an excellent dinner. 

Day 8, Sat – Another great day at the show.  I installed the headlight only to find the real problem was the feed to it had come out of a connector at the dimmer switch.  I did install the new headlight switch to get the functionality I wanted.  Towards the end of the day, there was a lot of hubbub in the area where my truck was parked.  A fellow Transtar owner explained that the guy jumping into his truck was Robb from “American Trucker”  At this point, I had not caught on the show, but enjoyed watching the star struck fans around him.  I made a mental note to check out the show when I returned home.  The day concluded with an absolute downpour which made us captive to the evenings “entertainment” – Elvis/ Tom Jones impersonator.

Day 9, Sun – Headed out to face my longest day on the road.  I drove thru Ohio, Pennsylvania, and into New York.  I ran into another electrical glitch when I lost battery power to the truck.  Turned out the battery disconnect had gone bad.  An easy temporary fix was to bolt both leads onto one terminal.  The run was getting long in the tooth as I kept rolling across the NY Thruway.  I was on the lookout for a good truck stop but no exits seemed to promise one.  As dusk approached, I lost my head lights.  Finally the Fultonville, NY exit had a truck stop.  I pulled into the parking lot and opened the electrical compartment to troubleshoot the light.  I removed my glasses for the close work and discovered that I was still wearing my sunglasses!  It wasn’t quite as dark as I thought.  The trouble was easy, a fuse on the new switch was bad.  I replaced it with a slightly higher one and was set once again.  After a good meal in the Travel America, I settled in for my last night on the road.

Day 10, Mon – Last day on the road and an easy run for home.  I ran thru Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine with no problems.  In total I covered 3395 miles, 423.6 gallons of diesel, average of almost exactly 8.0 MPG. 

Epilog – It was a great trip, the truck ran perfectly with only minor electrical issues.  I met some great people and got to see a lot of American scenery.  Later on I got a more correct toggle type, four circuit switch for the truck lights.  When I went to install it, I pulled up what I thought was a stock circuit breaker from the depths of the dash.  Turned out to be a toggle switch, which I suspect was to turn off the taillights when pulling a trailer.  Wish I’d found that earlier, but I was hesitant to pull too hard on anything while on the road.  I had a service manual which provided me with the numbers on the stock wires.  Wayne Graham from the ATHS forums sent me a correct toggle and trailer light switch.  With all this in hand I was able to clean up much of the electrical.  I was happy to find that the previous “technician” did not cut the stock wires.  When he wanted to reroute something, he made up a wire with a terminal that plugged into the stock one.  I was able to plug most everything back like the factory.  Now I just need to fix the pesky socket for the left front blinker!