The Wanderers build

Anyone who knows me knows that I like outdoor humor. Patrick McManus, of course, Rick Sieman? absolutely. What, you don't know Rick Sieman? in the 80s there were two crusty guys who wrote for offroad magazine. Granville King wrote one with Superdawg is sidekick, Rick Siemans wrote "the Wanderers" If I get really enthusiastic, I'll intersperse stories from him but the nutshell was a Suburban with every creature comfort that was designed to go overland camping before overland camping was a thing. This is my tribute. No, it won't have a 454 but will be more modern with diesel power. For now, the turbo 6.2 stays but this project will evolve over time.

So here is the basis.... a 1985 Grandpa-fresh 6.2 Turbo diesel with turbo 400 trans and 3/4 ton running gear. Dana 44 front, non-floater 14 bolt rear.

first order will be redneckepticomy (remove the added wires)

One thing I've been considering is putting a a/c system in that is not motor-running dependent. We do SAR, and having A/C that operates for up to 8 hours without running the motor is on the list of things to research/do. That may include putting the a/c system from a Volt in it (with the battery pack)... don't know yet but it is coming. Also it will have storage, a bed, a sink, a cooler and a stove. Both the stove and the refrigerator will have a gas option (like propane). I don't like diesel stoves so that's off the list though it seems like a natural fit. On top of this, it will have sufficient water (20-40 gallons)....

oh and I guess I need to say this here because of a prior, failed thread. I enjoy blogging my builds however I do not take people who call me or others names. I put time and effort into presenting you with this free entertainment and learning experience and the price you pay is you must be nice. You have your opinion, great you say it once then we move along. Be like Pirate and I simply won't post here.

with that unpleasantness said, enjoy and it should be at the NWOverland Rally along with the failed thread subject.
Cool start. The Volt AC sounds interesting. Have you thought about a 110 volt AC and small generator ? It might be cheaper , lighter and less complex. Now get to building.:ylsmoke:
Yep, even tried a 3 battery set up with the lowest amp draw a/c I could find. 15 minutes is all it ran - I think it was english made - the smoke came out of the wires then it didn't work anymore.
My personal opinion is you really can't expect a Volt AC unit to work correctly even if you had unlimited voltage and amperage available....AC's are sized to a specific cubic foot area to keep cool. Your Suburban (love the square bodies) is probably at least 3 times the internal volume of a Volt. So even if you could get the Volt system to work for any length time, it wouldn't have enough BTU's to cool down such a large volume.

For SAR work, you might be stationary for a long time. An RV type roof AC and small generator would be the way to go. You may also want to look at a hard start capacitor upgrade for the air conditioning compressor to allow it to start up in very hot or high pressure conditions with a smaller wattage generator. Here is an example:

I was always entertained by Rick and his Wanderer stories....I loved that Carl was always in a pickle, Emma always smoothed things out and his Suburban was called the Whale....your post brought back a lot of memories.
My personal opinion is you really can't expect a Volt AC unit to work correctly even if you had unlimited voltage and amperage available....AC's are sized to a specific cubic foot area to keep cool. Your Suburban (love the square bodies) is probably at least 3 times the internal volume of a Volt. So even if you could get the Volt system to work for any length time, it wouldn't have enough BTU's to cool down such a large volume.

For SAR work, you might be stationary for a long time. An RV type roof AC and small generator would be the way to go. You may also want to look at a hard start capacitor upgrade for the air conditioning compressor to allow it to start up in very hot or high pressure conditions with a smaller wattage generator. Here is an example:

I was always entertained by Rick and his Wanderer stories....I loved that Carl was always in a pickle, Emma always smoothed things out and his Suburban was called the Whale....your post brought back a lot of memories.
Fortunately I live in Seattle - so the cooling load isn't as great. That said, the other thing I've been pondering is using hydrogen cells rather then batteries. The generator idea is a non-start. It was my first thought and suggestion to my wife. The answer was no. Now, if you want to come reason (read "argue") with her; you're welcome to come try. That said, I will not pay for the psychologist bills or the medical bills you may incur in that attempt ;) and I'll say now that may God speed your recovery after that attempt.
And seriously, I like the challenge of it (the a/c not the arguing with wife) and find it's easier to do what I love all with the blessing of a happy wife.
Hey bud, cool ideas! I'm going to pitch in here. Just keeping it to the point, all of this is meant in good faith :)

I happen to have experience working with AC on this scale. We built Command and Control vehicles, primarily out of Chevy Tahoes and Suburbans. We did a retrofit kit where we replaced the rear-driver window with an aluminum panel with the condenser portion of an RV AC system, and placed the Evaporator and Compressor inside the vehicle. This was a big undertaking but if you were open to cutting holes in things, it is a cost-effective option for stationary AC. I for sure would say to ditch the Volt battery pack and AC idea, that isn't going to work for jack. You will kill that battery in 30-60 minutes. To run our AC's, I believe it was 10,000BTU/hr, we had to remove the factory alternator, run two serious 220-amp low-RPM alternators, three Odyssey batteries in addition to the ignition Odyssey, a 4KW Inverter, and the vehicle had to be running constantly.

If you do the Volt idea, you will not have nearly enough cooling. It will literally do almost nothing. You need 3-4 times the BTU/hr output. I would use an RV air conditioner hooked to a 4KW generator if you want to run with the engine off. But really, I personally would ditch the whole engine-off idea and just run the engine. You won't hurt anything (especially if you install a high-idle kit, and I would suggest synthetic oil. You have a 6.2L, it needs all the help it can get.), you don't have to spend any time, money, or space, there's no added complexity. Just run the engine. One thing we did on that note for our Command rigs was we used flexible tubing (like drainage tubing, the metal kind with corrugations that you can flex) and wrapped that over the exhaust pipe tip and just routed that away from the vehicle. We stored it in an aluminum tube with closing lids, exactly like you see on work and plumbing trucks, that style. We put that on an aluminum roof rack.

Onboard water, cool.

Cooking. Since you aren't running diesel, just do propane. Way easier, lighter, cheaper, fuel is simple, way faster setup, smaller components, much more reliable. I sold my gas stove and lantern and bought propane. I was very proud of my gasoline stuff until I always ended up borrowing people's stoves because it's such a pain in the butt. IMG_1125.jpg IMG_1784.jpg
Let's talk hydrogen generators.

I'll say it again.... were it me, the diesel would be on and turning the a/c pump.... it's not me, and I don't mind the challenge of it even if it means doing it myself.... but you all are right - far easier doing a generator and small a/c unit...
I'm just going to be frank here. This is all meant in a positive light:

Dude. Get serious. Stop it with the hydrogen fuel cell. What is the issue with running the engine? I would brave the depths of the living room and have a nice firm talk with the wifey on that one. Drop the fuel cell idea before you go too far down a road of an idea that you cannot afford, they will not sell you, you have no place to put, that still takes energy to run, is unsafe, in order to RUN AIR CONDITIONING. If this is a University funded research project, so be it. But if you ever actually want to use it.... you're going in the wrong direction, hard.

I'm sincerely trying not to be a jerk or anything along those lines, and I am stoked that you even considered hydrogen! But seriously, you have not put a serious option forward. If you really want AC, run the engine. If the wife is worried about CO or Benzine issues, pipe the exhaust away and install a CO monitor inside. If she won't go with that or a generator... you aren't getting AC when she's around. That's it dude. Don't spend immense amounts of time and money to get an AC system to work three times a year in a cool climate.

I'll repeat myself and say that I really hope you can sort all this stuff out, I look forward to seeing your build :) But I'm slapping your idea right in the face before you shoot yourself in both feet and then realize you're five miles from home. I've been down this road so many times, I hate seeing other people do it too.

Marcus :)
Yet you are being a jerk. You've stated your opinion, now twice. Next up comes name-calling. While I have little idea how I'm going to solve this dilemma, I know one thing for very certain - one more comment like the last one and this thread is done. Oh and if you're curious how the last "impossible" build turned out.

this is the "stupidest build ever" "dumbest build ever" "the builder must be gay" "it will never drive down the road" "it will never run" "it will never be finished" oh yeah, and "in the wrong place" build. Oops, forgot my favorite one - that while I can build cars that go 200 plus mph, that off-road is "different" therefore I've no idea how to build a suspension.

Quite frankly, and do let it "slap you in the face" - I'm quite capable at both the design and execution of the build. Anything else? and do choose your words carefully. As far as my checkbook, unless you're donating to it you can butt out of that too. Don't forget to whine to Ray (owner of this site) about me.
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I've often been asked if some of the stories in The Wanderers series are true or not.

As I sit here and scratch my chin thinking about it, I can offer a solid … well … sort of, kind of, and a definite maybe.

If that sounds fuzzy, it is so because many of these tall tales are based on some real world experiences passed on to me from friends and acquaintances in the off-roading community.

So, indeed, many of the truly goofy things actually happened.

And what about Carl and Emma, you ask? Are they real?

Hmmm. Well, I know people like Carl and Emma. So close in mannerisms, in fact, that you might be convinced that I merely changed the names to protect the innocent. Hell, half my friends have many of the bull-headed traits exhibited by Carl!

Actually, what The Wanderers is, dear reader, is what we all wish we could do. Who among us would not love to simply take off, with no schedules to keep, no plans set it stone, or commitments to take care of?

Ahhh, yes … the perpetual vacation. Just point the rig somewhere and go with your impulses. Stop here for a while; drop a line in the water over there; build a campfire by that mountain; watch the sun rise over a mountain top.

So, kick back and let your mind wander a little bit with The Wanderers. And keep the sun to your back when you're on the move.

Rick Sieman
Somewhere in Baja


By Rick Sieman

The Whale, a huge 4WD Suburban, painted a truly awful shade of dull green, lumbered down the Interstate highway at exactly 56 miles per hour. Behind the wheel was Carl, a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer, and in the passenger seat, fumbling with a road map, was his wife, Emma.

After 28 plus years in the Navy, Carl was now doing what he always wanted to do: that is, explore the back roads of America at his leisure. His choice in vehicles was clear cut: Carlbought the biggest four wheeler he could find, and that was the enormous Suburban.
In a way, it reminded him of the ships he had spent so many years on. Of course, it had a 454 engine under the hood, with enough speed parts on it to nearly double the horsepower.

Carl was an ornery sort, set in his ways. Which is one of the reasons he always traveled at exactly one mile per hour over the speed limit. He hated laws, rules and regulations with a teeth-gritting passion.

Emma was the opposite; patient, calm and very organized. It was her self-assigned task in life to keep Carl from doing any number of dumb things ... a thankless job, at best.

Carl and Emma were on a perpetual vacation. They would drive to a state they'd never seen before and hit the back roads, explore them, and return to the pavement when they were good and ready.

The Whale was fully equipped with most everything needed for camping. In fact, as Emma pointed out all of the time, it was over-equipped.

On the back of The Whale was a 250 cc trail bike mounted on a swing-away rail. Up front was another trail bike, a small 125 cc rig for Emma. On the roof was a 14-foot boat, snugged down between the rear air conditioning unit and the satellite dish that folded down when not in use.

A fold out tent was hooked to one side of The Whale and an awning to the other side. The Whale also had a beefy generator inside, as well as a self contained shower and porta-potty. The TV, tape deck and VCR were right next to the microwave oven, and a smallish kitchen flanked some fold-down seats and a table.

The roof was lined with fishing rods, shotguns, crossbows and a selection of very expensive hand made pool cues. Small cabinets took up every square inch of free space and were filled to capacity with food, beer, canned goods, beer, utensils, beer, snacks, beer, clothing, beer, cameras, film, beer, tools, beer, spare parts and yes, more beer. At the end of a hard day of off-roading, Carl did like to have a cold suds or three, or more.

One small cupboard held a number of Harlequin romance books that Emma enjoyed. Carl leaned more toward Field and Stream and Soldier Of Fortune.

Yes, indeed. The Whale was set for traveling and Carl and Emma were on their way to:


Carl left the tangled web of endless bridges and bad roads that made up Pittsburgh, and headed south on Highway 79, toward the Canaan Valley in West Virginia. A friend of his in Pittsburgh told Carl that he just had to see the Blackwater Falls and the magnificent country of that region.

Highway 79 was a slick, modern road, saved from boredom by only two things: the beautiful tree-lined landscape and the ever-present Pennsylvania Highway patrol. This was the state where the fines were posted right along the road. Ten miles per hour over the speed limit cost you $75 bucks, and so forth, in an ever escalating gouge.

Carl kept the cruise control on 56 mph and listened to all three radar detectors shriek at full pitch every few minutes.

Carl gave an evil grin as The Whale rumbled by the Highway Patrol cars, knowing that even they were not chicken enough to bust him for 56 mph. Fifty-seven, yes!

The terrain became suddenly prettier as they crossed the state line into West Virginia, leaving the Keystone State cops behind.

Here, the state cops were a different story. Still tough, but not as bad as in Pennsylvania. Carl eased The Whale up to 58 mph and kept his eyes open. Out-of-state drivers had to cough up their driver's license until their ticket was paid in West Virginia, so some care was still required.

Emma coughed quietly. "Carl, I wish you wouldn't speed so. We're not in any big hurry, you know."

Carl spit a wad of Red Man tobacco out of the window of the Whale and deposited yet another stain on the flank of the huge Suburban. "Emma, why don't you try to pick up a good country station on the radio, and leave the driving to me. I mean, 58 ain't exactly like I'm racin' in the Baja 1000, ya know."

Carl peeled off on 119 south of Morgantown, swung over to highway 50 and caught 32 south to head into Thomas. Here, the terrain flanking the road was truly spectacular! Tall trees rose to the sky and a tangled mass of greenery filled the space between each and every tree trunk.

The Whale handled the ever-tightening roads comfortably, in spite of the horrifying load, and the 454 engine lugged happily.

Emma squealed happily, "Ooooohhh. look Carl! A deer! Just like in
Bambi. Over there, on the right side under that tree!"
Carl reached up and grabbed for one of the shotguns. "Supper
time! Venison burgers, comin' up!"
Emma grabbed his arm. "Now, Carl! You just can't go shooting
everything you see. It's not nice. Plus, it might not be deer season, and even if it is you don't have a license, and even if you did, it can't be legal to shoot from a moving car, and even if it was, I'll divorce you if you shoot at that darling little creature!"

Carl grumbled and put both hands back on the wheel. Women!

On the way into Thomas, they saw another dozen deer, and then from Thomas into Davis, they saw at least eight more. Carl pointed his finger at the deer like a gun and made loud "bang-bang" noises just to irritate Emma. He almost hit one deer on the driver's side with a wad of tobacco juice. Take that, Bambi.

It was dark when The Whale rolled into the small town of Davis, and they checked into the Best Western Motel and had a great meal at the Sawmill Restaurant. Carl asked where the best off-roading was in the area, and the waitress said that the Blackwater Falls regions was famous for trails, but they were on the tough side.

Carl laughed heartily. "Hey, I got a 454 under the hood of my truck and it'll go anywhere."
Emma sighed. "Now, Carl. Remember when you got us stuck up in
New Hampshire and we had to wait two days for a tow truck to come
and get us out?"
"Hey, that was a fluke, woman! How was I to know I'd bury the wheels in a mud field with no trees or rocks to hook a winch to?"
"Well, I did tell you not to go into that field, you know."
"Finish your French fries, Emma, and be quiet, or I'm going to go out and shoot Bambi."


Early in the morning, Carl gassed up both of the gas tanks and asked the attendant where the best trails were.
"Well, they usually go through town and across the river, then follow the arrows, but I don't think I'd take a truck back in there, because... "
"Because you ain't got a 454 under your hood, pal. But I do. See you on the flip-flop. That's trucker talk, ya know."

The Whale idled through the narrow main street of Davis, seeing only one other vehicle on the streets, a ratty '51 Chevy pickup loaded with logs. Carl guided the Suburban over a rickety board plank bridge at the end of town and headed out on a bumpy two- track dirt road.

The Whale shifted and wallowed as the trail deteriorated.
"Gotta get me some of those new Rancho shocks one of these days," Carl grumbled.
Emma giggled. "Carl, you'd need a dozen of them on each wheel the way you load this poor rig down. If you'd take half this crap off the roof, the stock shocks would probably work just fine."
"Any more out of you and I'm getting a deer license!"
Emma shut up and went back to enjoying the scenery.

Soon Carl came to a junction and saw a trail heading off to the right marked with bright red ribbon and cardboard arrows.
"Hah! This must be the trail that guy was telling us about. Hang on, Emma. We're gonna do some serious trail driving!'"
"Now, Carl. I'm not so sure we should just go driving off by ourselves in a strange place. Remember how we had to spend a whole week stranded up in Utah that one time?"
"Hey, that was before we got all the trick parts for the 454. We got torque now!"

The terrain before them was almost an eye-hurting green, with lush grass growing over the rolling fields. Emma said, "I was talking with the waitress and she said it rains or snows almost every day of the year here. That must be why it's so green."
Carl looked over at Emma and shook his head. "Yup. It probably took some real rocket scientist thinking to figure that out. I always thought that foliage grew best in sandstorms before you explained that to me."

The trail wandered slightly downhill as they headed to the bowl of the valley before them. The grass grew thicker and lusher and little streams criss-crossed the beautiful meadow. Fertile-looking black mud flanked the streams Carl noted: "Boy, bet you could plant some real good beefsteak
tomatoes in that soil. Looks real rich!"

Emma shifted around uncomfortably. "Carl. maybe we ought to turn back it seems that there's more and more water the further we go. And we are heading downhill, and water does go downhill, and I don't want to get stuck again like we did back in Delaware, and ..."
"Hush up, woman. Nobody gets stuck going down hill."

A small stream crossed the trail up ahead, perhaps three feet wide. Carl stopped, studied it for a minute, then shifted into Four Low, second gear. "Guess I'll play it safe and blast through."
"Carl, shouldn't you get out and poke a stick in it and see how deep it is?"
"How deep could it be? That dumb trickle of water is only a yardstick wide. Get your belt tight and watch how a 454 handles this little slick spot."
Carl revved up the big engine, charged forward at full throttle and promptly buried the nose of The Whale over the headlights and half way up the hood.

Carl sat there, stunned, then got out of The Whale to inspect the situation. When his foot touched the ground, he sunk in to his knees and yelped, "Quicksand!!! Don't get out, Emma!"
Emma sighed "it isn't quicksand, Carl. It's mud. Real black, gooey mud. And it looks like we're going to be here for a while."
"No way, woman. I'll just winch it right out of here."
"What are you going to hook the winch to Carl? There aren't any trees or rocks out here."
Carl looked around frantically for a while, let out a deep. deep sigh, then said. "We'll. as long as we're going to be here for a little bit, why don't you rustle up some breakfast. I think better on a full stomach."

Several days later, a rider came along the trail on a dirt bike, saw the Suburban buried in the mud at a weird angle, noticed the tent out, the satellite dish up, smelled the bacon cooking, and stopped. "Can I help you folks?"
Carl poked his head out of The Whale. "Oh, nice of you to stop. You see, we were just camping and this stream came up during the night and buried the front end real good. Come on in and have some coffee. We got some tag team wrestling on the TV."

The rider kicked the mud off his boots and entered The Whale. He gladly accepted the coffee, and looked around at the inside of the Suburban with pure awe. "You know, you folks are out on the Blackwater 100 race course. It's considered the toughest place in America to ride a bike. What you're in right now is a real natural bog. This whole valley sits on top of mud and water. You got the grass, six inches of water, three feet of black mud and another layer of water under that. Nobody, but nobody, ever brings a truck back into here. Especially one this, this, this...uhhh, big."

Carl looked out of the window, glanced at the rider, then stared at Emma, who was discreetly watching Hulk Hogan body slam Greg "The Hammer" Valentine on the tube. "Emma, don't say a word or were gonna have Bambi for breakfast."


Authors note: There are a lot of wonderful and interesting people in America, and many truly beautiful places for these folks to experience their off-road adventures. You can consider this an invitation to follow the travels of Carl and Emma, as they explore this great country. Who knows? Maybe they'll explore the back roads of your state next. If they ever get out of the Canaan Valley bogs, that is.