MacGyver’s Escape Pod, A Little Beauty

White City, Oregon

Meet Bellina.

MacGyver’s new love, Little Beauty, is a Vespa 300 Super, which he refers to as the Escape Pod.

MacGyver's Escape Pod, A Little Beauty

Home at the truck stop, the Vespa — it’s not a Moped damnit, says MacGyver — Bellina parked in front ready to roll.

We are in the the final stages of MacGyver’s Grand Project. A project that Jim Lenford, Sales Manager at Highway Products in White City says, while “not the craziest thing we ever built, it’s in the Top 10.”

MacGyver has been thinking about and planning for a way to incorporate little transportation into our big transportation since the day he began to see that our trucking-adventure lifestyle would work long term.

Trucking has filled all our requirements for the last Big Do-Over before the slide into retirement.

MacGyver's Escape Pod, A Little Beauty

The box on this tractor from Quebec, Canada, seen in New Jersey, is about a third of the size of Black Beauty’s box.

By 2005 the Internet was changing our creative business and we were changing too. The walls were closing in, chained to a computer monitor it seemed we were watching life pass in front of us. We wanted, maybe even needed, adventure, particularly me, who was becoming cranky. But what? We decided that while we required more income, to save for retirement, we needed more freedom, less structure.

Our list of requirements was unusual. We wanted to work together but we did not want to be in an office, and certainly not attend the same location every day. That eliminated anything corporate. We didn’t want to spend all of our savings on capital costs to launch a new business and we didn’t want to spend money or time on major retraining. We weren’t getting a degree. We didn’t want to be tied to New York City but we didn’t want to cut our ties to the City either. We wanted our new thing to accommodate MacGyver’s creative business. And, most importantly, we didn’t want a boss, we didn’t want employees and we didn’t want customers.

Looking at the list, it spelled futility. We shook our heads and stuck it in a drawer. But several months after writing our third business plan, and five years ago, in the summer of 2007, we read a Newsweek article about a 50-ish couple who left the corporate world and became team truck drivers for Schneider National. I didn’t even know that was a job.

We’ve always assumed that we’d find a way to wrap trucking around our greatest interest. We love to learn and to try new things. We are explorers.

This latest new thing, the Vespa, which is Italian for Wasp, required a heck of a lot of learning.

The Vespa is not all fun. There are practical applications. Truck parking is becoming more difficult to find. It is increasingly difficult to stop in retail areas, especially with a 53 foot dry box trailer. We can park in distant truck stops and take the Vespa for groceries and for truck supplies. And of course, we’ll be able to explore. Making it easier for him to keep his nose to the grindstone so we can get started on saving for our next Grand Project, a sailboat — he’s already a little smitten by an Islander 41 by the name of Angelina.

MacGyver's Escape Pod, A Little Beauty

This is a big house, extended sleeper with a drom box, which is used to carry additional freight, often used in the moving industry.

MacGyver chose the Vespa 300 Super after two years research, a compromise of weight and size, it can carry both of us and because he was hoping that I would ride it — if he was buying a bike for himself it would be some sleek BMW model —  the final three months we fretted about the color.

By now, you’re wondering: Where we will carry Bellina?

She definitely can’t fit inside. The tractor is full. It carries our Brompton folding bicycles, which caused an amusing stir at the Calgary, Alberta Flying J about two months ago when a half dozen drivers crowded around with their smart phones snapping photos of MacGyver’s highlighter-yellow bicycle wondering where they can buy one. The Vespa is trim, and solid and too heavy to hoist up into the tractor. That, in fact, was one of MacGyver’s biggest stumbling blocks in designing the storage box. He needed an effective hoist or ramping system.

MacGyver's Escape Pod, A Little Beauty

This is the homemade box, storing a Harley, that we saw in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This driver’s rudimentary box convinced MacGyver his concept worked.

MacGyver has been wearing his Michelangelo hat in his spare time for about two years, acting as architect and industrial designer. Stopping every driver that had a box attached to the back of a tractor. We ran into one at the TA in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania about a year ago, who had his Harley in a home-made box behind the tractor. But his loading system required too much muscle. MacGyver likes to conquer his problems with design.

He studied several loading ramps before discovering Mountain Master in Phoenix, Arizona — we spent the last six months taking loads so we could eyeball all the components —  selecting the top-of-the line telescoping ramp, which unfolds in three pieces. His design and production partner is Highway Products, which has been tweaking the design based on MacGyver’s photos and measurements and re-measurements and measurements for one last check. Because the rule is measure twice, cut once. In this case, measure eight times, plasma-weld once.

In January we returned to Florida to take a motorcycle course for our endorsement, along with our tanker and doubles and triples endorsements on our CDLs. MacGyver has ridden motorcycles for more than 30 years, I’ve been on the back, maybe five times in my life. What did I learn at the course? That I really have no interest in driving a motorcycle or a Vespa, but I do need to know how to at least move it.

In February, a few days before departing for Bangkok, we bought the Vespa and left it with Highway Products. Since then we have been making the tractor, box-ready, reconfiguring major systems.

MacGyver's Escape Pod, A Little Beauty

Mountain Master’s telescoping ramp system attached to the bed of a pickup truck. Our telescope is in three pieces making it more efficient because the box sits more than four feet off the ground.

The Fifth Wheel has been moved back along the frame, way back. The center of the Fifth Wheel, where the king pin locks into place, is now across from the center of the REAR drive tires, typically the king pin is midway between the f
ront and rear drive tires. Moving it back creates the clearance to allow the trailer to turn behind the storage box without slamming into the box.  The airlines have been adjusted and will be readjusted again and attached to the bottom of the box on a quick release system.

We converted our exhaust-to-the-sky muffler at the back of the tractor to a weed burner, which exhausts to the roadway. We removed the batwings, which create aerodynamic airflow around the tractor, from the side of the tractor and we discovered it made virtually no difference to our fuel mileage because we drive slowly, 58 mph.

Our last load before arriving at Highway Products weighed 41,000 pounds. We had to make a quick stop at the nearby Volvo dealership to move the airlines another five inches to allow us to scale legally, to have less than 34,000 pounds on the drive axles at the back of the tractor and the trailer axles. We drove across the country filling up twice a day, 50 gallons at a time — normally we put on 200 to 225 gallons of fuel — and when we arrived in Spokane, Washington MacGyver crossed the government scale and it looked like we were 200 pounds overweight on the trailer axles. We crossed the CAT Scale at the North Bend, Washington Travel America truckstop before fueling. Sure enough, the non-CAT but government-certified scale that we used in Virginia that showed us borderline on the drives, should have told us we were over on the trailer and that we had 1,000 pounds available for fuel. We had driven across the country, restricting ourselves to small fuel top ups to stay legal and we were illegal the entire trip. Maddening and frightening. Overweight tickets are killers.

Today is installation. The stainless steel box looked like the Jolly Green Giant’s refrigerator as the forklift lifted it onto Black Beauty.

“So far all the measurements work,” MacGyver told me, a wave of relief crossing his face. “It fits.”

8 thoughts on “MacGyver’s Escape Pod, A Little Beauty

  1. Very funny Dougie. It's true from the driver's seat, you can't see the little beast. Wait until you see the box. It is ENORMOUS. Photos in a couple of days, we have a couple of final touches. Need to reattach the APU condenser for Air Conditioning and move the airlines for the trailer, yet again. KaChing!

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  2. Ok, just kidding. It is very cool! And I especially enjoyed your explanation of how you found yourself in the trucking business. I can relate on several levels.I am now earning a living following all those cheating/stealing/scum sucking bastards we know as investment bankers, in making money from the stock market. Is it difficult? Yes! But the first rule is "Fuck Everybody" – then you will have a fighting chance. Works for me…lol. See you in Thailand this winter perhaps.Doug

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  3. What do you mean you don't want to drive the little Bellina??? I can totally picture you on it, wearing a skirt, with a scarf wrapped around your neck, and of course those super stylish red-rimmed glasses of yours!

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  4. I like having 80,000 pounds wrapped around me. It's a bit startling to go from the biggest thing on the road to the smallest gnat on the road.

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  5. I am so envious. I have wanted a Vespa for years — my Italian heritage, you know — but my beloved has this thing about not wanting me to be crushed by some inattentive SUV driver during my 15-minute suburb-to-suburb commute. I know, go figure.

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