Road Trip Across USA Part 1: Reno Air Races

f4u corsair wings folded

Throughout my life, I had always wanted to drive across the USA. While I had traveled to a handful of different states, it was almost exclusively via flying which was exciting in itself to see changing landscapes from high altitude. However, driving was always on the bucket list experiencing it all up close and personal down to individual, small towns and local residents. Since I had no previous experience traveling anywhere near such a vast distance on 4 wheels, I had no idea what to expect.

This article is just about the 1st leg of my journey, but the entire U.S road trip agenda consisted of 5 parts:

  • This Article Topic, the 1st leg: Bay Area, CA to Reno Stead Airport, NV & return to FWC factory in Woodland, CA = 500+ miles traveling Interstate 80, up through Tahoe and over Donner Pass. Vehicle: 1983 Chevy K10 w/ Project M Camper
  • 2nd leg: FWC (Woodland, CA) to Fort Tuthill County Park (Flagstaff, AZ) + sightseeing 1000 miles via Highway 99, connecting to I-40 East via Highway 58 in Bakersfield, traveling through Mohave. Vehicle: 2021 Ford F-150 w/ Project M Camper
  • 3rd leg: Tuthill, AZ to Arrington Va + sightseeing detours 3,000 miles along 1-40 across Eastern half of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, then heading NE into Arrington, Virginia. Vehicle: AEV RAM 2500 Cummins w/ Hawk Camper towing a small, single axle trailer packed with Four Wheel Camper’s booth gear for the Overland Expo East event.
  • 4th leg: Return trip to the Four Wheel Campers factory roughly 3,000 miles along the same route 1-40 in the AEV RAM with trailer in tow.
  • 5th leg: Return home with the K10 from FWC factory roughly 100+ miles

Entire journey roughly 8,000 miles over a month

As mentioned, the first leg of the month-long journey across the USA started in BigRedK10, a 1983 squarebody Chevy K10 longbed 4×4, newly outfitted with a Project M camper built by Four Wheel Campers in Woodland, CA. After a 9 month push, mostly 7 days a week involving serious work that included restoring the bed of the truck, rust rotted window frames, and successfully outfitting the truck with the camper, it was showtime.

The destination for myself and the vintage squarebody Chevy in this first part of the trip was the famous Reno Air Races. The Chevy K10 with its Project M camper were showcased in the Four Wheel Camper booth, a sponsor at the event. I’d worked the event for 5 days showcasing the truck and camper to attendees. I was very excited to attend, being a general fan of aviation including vintage aircraft like P-51’s that were racing or the Lockheed U2 spy plane. It was awesome to see them in action, as well as modern aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor or U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying their F-16’s in acrobatic formations.

p51D mustang aircraft

My route from the Bay Area to the Reno Stead Airport one-way was 300 miles, including crossing over Donner Pass through Tahoe National Forest, summiting at roughly 7250 feet elevation which had me quite nervous. My return would be roughly an additional 200 miles back over the pass to Woodland (near Sacramento) where the Chevy K10 was to be parked for the following few weeks while I continued my journey onward. I had only put about 500 miles total on the truck before parking it for the 9 month restoration work marathon, and previously drove about 100 miles to the FWC factory in Woodland for the camper installation where I had experienced a breakdown and had the truck towed home. In addition, the truck’s original naturally-aspirated GM 6.2 Detroit Diesel which I run on Propel’s 90% renewable diesel is only around 130 hp/240 ft lbs torque. For a big truck, the vintage diesel gets decent mileage at around 20 mpg as it was designed back in the day, but I knew it would be slow cruising over Donner Pass as I typically do max 65 mph on flatland freeway with no head wind.

Hitting the road fairly early, I set out for the long haul and had no problems, even climbing the Donner Pass grade tucked in amongst the big rigs until I stopped off early in the afternoon in Truckee. The truck died once I pulled into the gas station exhibiting the same issues as when it broke down at the FWC factory. Although I had AAA just in case, a huge wave of anxiety hit me, that after pushing all year to make this event I was to fail right at the end.  With the previous breakdown, I had swapped out the 6.2 diesel’s two fuel filters thinking they may have been clogged and eventually was able to start the truck again. I had brought spare filters with me fortunately, dove in and got to work.  It took me about an hour to swap out the filters and holding my breath, I cranked the engine over repeatedly (thank goodness the K10 has a dual battery setup. I had tried multiple times, taking a break to not overheat the starter. Finally after about the 7th or 8th try, the engine started to show signs of life, where I could tell fuel was finally reaching the glow plugs and igniting. Then another try and it roared back to life, ready to rock n’ roll. I let out a loud “YES!!!” which had a couple people over at the gas pumps who had been watching me feverishly work, looking over smiling. I cleaned myself up, hit the road and made it to Reno Stead Airport just in time before closing the event access up in preparation for the start of the races the next day.

four wheel campers booth

The FWC booth was stationed a ways back behind the bleachers, so I could watch the air races out over the desert, and witness all the special fly-ins of military aircraft including a U-2, F-22 Raptors, the Thunderbirds and more, right overhead.

The old squarebody K10 turned out to be a big hit at the races. Many in attendance were of course air race pilots, and seasoned crews of intelligent aircraft mechanics. I met a multitude of individuals who had traveled out from all over the country, who either had owned, still do own or are big fans of old squarebody trucks like the K10, both younger and older generations. I learned a great deal from these people as we chatted about these old Chevys. Many had extensive knowledge to eagerly share about the vintage 6.2 Detroit diesel and helped accelerate my learning curve significantly. One gentleman, whose wife was a pilot in the races, even mailed me an original Chevrolet service manual for the truck which was incredibly gracious. People seemed to really enjoy the K10 being at the event, and the time chatting it up with all the various attendees was one of the highlights for my entire journey.

chevy squarebody four wheel camper

On the 5th day at the end of the event, it was time to pack up and head back to a hotel room in Woodland, and thankfully I had no issues with the truck. I even took a quick detour at Donner Pass, to take a peek at and get a few pics of the K10 parked at Donner Lake. I had figured out months later that the truck would quit running after stopping from a long drive when the motor had been warm for some time, and all I had to do was crank it over a few times to get fuel rolling again – possibly a tiny air leak somewhere in the system.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience attending the Reno Air Races, especially with the K10 parked right in the show.  I was sad to learn that the air races would be putting on a final show for 2023 in Reno – so if you get a chance, I highly recommend taking a trip to see the show before it’s gone.