2004 Volvo VNL780

For the year and a half that I was researching and looking at semi trucks I tended to look more at the Volvo 430 and 630 versions. The condo cabs seemed too tall and more truck than I needed. Ideally I wanted to find a Gen1 model with a non-emission motor. Their front axle is set back a little more than the newer models and they tend to have less wasted space under the fairings given the way the fuel tanks are placed. I was open to both manual and automated transmissions but I didn't want a 10-speed manual.

When Donna and I decided to start looking at trucks the first truck we were going to look at was in Springfield, Illinois. It was a 1999 VNL610 with a Detroit 12.7 and an Autoshift. It was already converted into an RV hauler and titled as a motorhome. A couple days before we were going to go see the truck the seller changed his requirement from accepting a bank check to needing to have cash. My credit union couldn't accomodate this in the time needed so we cancelled our visit.

Several days later we went to Indianapolis to look at a truck on Craigslist. The truck ended up having a million miles more than was listed and was in rough shape. We also looked at a few other trucks that day. Even though we didn't find anything we did make a discovery. We liked the condo cabs.

A few days later we drove to Springfield and picked up our drom box. We looked at his truck and test drove it. It was a nice truck but now we wanted a condo cab and this one wasn't. It also had an Autoshift and the clutch was VERY stiff, and the bed was set up for a Smart Car that we have no interest in. I had been looking at a single-axle 670 in Charlotte, NC, but it had an Autoshift. That turned me off.

I noticed it was getting harder and harder to find a Gen1 Volvo with reasonable miles. The only automated transmission offered then was the Autoshift. The stiff clutch kind of turned me off to them as stiff clutches and Autoshifts seem to go hand-in-hand. If I looked at a newer truck I'd prefer a Cummins motor. The transmission had to be automated if Donna was to ever drive it. I was looking at 2007 or older for emissions reasons so that gave me the choice of Eaton's Autoshift and Ultrashift, or the ZF Meritor Freedomline. Of those I liked the Freedomline the best.

I did some searching and found two Cummins/Freedomline combinations. A red 630 in Minnesota and a green 780 in Wisconsin. Both were within $100 of each other and had similar mileages. I had had the green 780 in my Truckpaper 'watchlist' for months, but at the time we weren't looking for a condo cab. Donna and I both like green and it was the condo cab we decided we liked. I emailed Mark McCoy at Wisconsin Kenworth about the green 780. He provided me with information and additional pictures. Everything sounded good so I put a deposit on it and requested a dyno test. It passed the test with no issues.

Donna had to work so on the morning of October 6, 2016, she dropped me off at the Greyhound station in Bloomington. The route was Bloomington --> Indianapolis --> Chicago --> and eventually Madison. The Greyhound was an inexpensive way to get there but I have to say I wasn't that impressed. I thought the buses were pretty junky compared to other buses I have ridden. If I had to do it all over again I would probably fly...and I hate flying.

The Sears tower in Chicago.

Going through Chicago we had a little drama. We were on city streets when a semi clipped the mirror of bus. The bus driver started chasing the semi and followed him back onto the interstate. He was able to get his attention and they both pulled over. The cops came and the information process started. An emergency worker poked his head into the bus and asked if anyone needed an ambulance. This one mouthy guy jokingly said he did while he was holding his neck. The emergency worker didn't take it as a joke. An ambulance was called. The already aggravated bus driver got back on and asked if anyone was really hurt. No. Well, he said now he had to wait for an ambulance to come. Really?

This one guy got up, grabbed his bag, and headed for the door. He reminded me of the actor, Ice Cube. The driver asked him what he was doing and he said he was leaving because he had a bus to catch. The bus driver wouldn't let him leave. Some words were exchanged. The guy started back to his seat then said something about calling the cops for kidnapping. The bus driver told him he could leave, and he did. Several other guys left, too. I think they all had connecting routes.

It was about an hour until my connecting bus left and we were about a mile from the bus terminal. I didn't want to risk missing my bus so I left too and starting walking through the streets of Chicago using my phone as a GPS. At a street corner I met the guy who had started the desertion and we walked together to the terminal. He ended up being a nice guy. He is a truck driver and was going to New York to pick up a truck. He had to purchase his ticket two hours before the bus left and he was running out of time.

A lunch of champions.

When I got to the terminal I asked an employee where the Madison bus would be boarding. She pointed me to gate 8 and said it would about 1.5 hours. What? Oh, I forgot when we crossed into Illinois I gained an hour so I had more time than I thought. Doh! I grabbed some lunch then waited for the bus to Madison. The trip out of Chicago took forever with the traffic. I fell asleep for awhile and when I woke up we were still in Chicago. Yuck! My trip home will avoid Chicago at all costs.

The Madison Greyhound bus stop.

I was happy to get to Madison. I was tired of riding the bus. The darkness seemed to make it more tiring. The Madison bus stop is nothing more than a sidewalk next to a Phillips 66 station and an Arbys. I had supper there and then called a cab. They said twenty minutes so I planned for forty, and I was about right.

You are allowed one piece of luggage in the storage compartments on the Greyhound. At this bus stop there were a couple women there with enough luggage and stuff to literally fill up a pickup truck. The driver told them he couldn't take all that stuff. You could tell the women were trying to get away with something but the driver wasn't buying it. He ended up leaving them there.

During my cab ride the driver made a side trip to pick up a drunk lady and take her home. The Super 8 motel wasn't far away after that deviation and it was nice to be in the room after a long day of bus riding.

The night wasn't over yet, though. The motel is next door to the Kenworth dealership and I had a mission...go see if my truck was available for viewing. The back of the hotel is next to their storage lot. I walked through a fleet of used trucks, across a paved lot, then across a field to the Kenworth lot. At the side of the building I saw some green. Was it? Yes it was.

The green Volvo beast.

I spent close to 30 minutes looking over the outside of the truck. There were a couple dings and such but nothing bad. The front right bumper was chipped and cracked but I plan to replace it with a chrome one. Nothing was mentioned in the truck advertising about it having a locking differential but in the pictures I noticed it had a switch for it. I hoped it was on the rear differential. Cha-ching, it was! That way when I single the truck I won't lose the locking differential. I'd seen all I could see on the outside so I went back to the motel. I watched some TV and heard a noise outside. Thunder. I checked the radar and there was a huge storm heading this way. I hope it is gone in the morning because I don't want to drive home in the rain. I slept good that night. I was excited to see what tomorrow brings. I wish Donna was here.

Halfway to the Kenworth dealership looking back at the Super 8.

I awoke the next morning, showered, packed up, checked out, and headed across the lot to the Kenworth dealership. I wasn't sure when Mark would be in so I got there at 8:30. I found his office and he was there. I immediately took a liking to him. He seemed like a normal guy. Not a suit and tie salesman. He is a motorcycle rider and goes on long bike trips like I do.

We went outside and checked out the truck and took it for a drive. He drove since I don't have a CDL, which is what I expected. Everything worked. I found a few other pleasant surprises. I noticed the sleeper had AC outlets and this led to finding a factory inverter. The door tag revealed the truck has 3.42 gears instead of 3.55 gears. Not a big difference but a little lower is nicer. The truck was advertised with 100-gallon fuel tanks. They are 125 gallons.

We went inside and signed the paperwork. The truck went back to the service bay where they removed the hitch. My insurance policy doesn't allow it to have a commercial hitch. The service bay is awesome. Huge, tall, with overhead cranes. The dealership had done numerous things to this truck so it would pass inspection including:

- Installed a new leveling valve for the rear suspension
- Fixed numerous air leaks
- Replaced a valve on an air tank
- New alternator and belt
- Load tested the batteries
- Changed oil and filters
- Changed coolant and filters
- Replaced the EGR valve
- Pressure tested the EGR cooler
- Repaired broken exhaust manifold bolts
- Replaced exhaust manifold bolts
- Repaired broken turbo mounting bolt
- Repaired turbo wiring harness
- Installed a new exhaust flex pipe
- Installed new wiper blades
- Adjusted the windshield wiper arms
- Replaced the front brake shoes and drums
- Repaired the passenger door latch
- Replaced the rear axle lube
- Fixed a transmission bellhousing bolt
- Recharged the air conditioning
- Repaired both hood hinges at a Volvo dealer ($$$)
- Replaced the right mirror assembly
- Replaced the left mirror

Mark said they sank almost $11,000 in this truck. Better them than me. For my intended usage once something is fixed it should be fixed for life. The turbo didn't look that old either so all the major failure components should last me forever. Here are the basic specs for the truck:

- 2004 Volvo VNL64T780
- Cummins ISX 870 motor, 500hp, 1650 ft-lb torque
- Meritor Freedomline 12-speed automated transmission
- 822K miles
- 3.42 gears with air-locking differential
- 237" wheelbase
- Dual National air ride seats
- Power windows
- Heated, power mirrors
- Dual 125-gallon fuel tanks
- Aluminum wheels
- Dinette with upper bunk
- Refrigerator
- Grass Green Metallic
- pictures

Our new-to-us Volvo.

The deal was done. Paperwork was in the briefcase. Hands were shaken. It was time to head back to Indiana. It was a surreal feeling walking across the parking lot to drive the beast home. I deployed the steering wheel cover and GPS I had brought with me. I fired up the 915 cubic inch monster, moved the transmission to 'forward', and I was off. 440 miles to go. Mark had mentioned an 'old school' truck stop on US51 that had a good diner so that is where I headed. I drove, and drove, and drove. Along the way the 'low fuel' light came on. I drove some more and decided that somehow I had missed the truck stop Mark spoke of.

I didn't want to run out of fuel on my first trip in the truck so I started looking for a place to fuel. In preparation for this trip (and future trips) I had bought a Garmin RV 760. It has a nice 7" screen. I tried to search for a truck stop but couldn't find one. I'm not in love with the new GPS. Garmin's screen and interface remind me of a child's toy compared to my trusty old 478. I eventually found a normal gas station with diesel so I took up the whole side of a fuel island with the monster truck. I assumed the pump would shut off when it reached $100 but it didn't so I stopped at $150. 62 gallons. That'll get me home.

No trip would be complete without stopping at Walmart.

Now that I had fuel I had another thing to do. Find a Walmart so I could buy some license plate bolts to mount the temporary plate. I did a GPS search for Walmart and it found one about a mile down the road. The GPS is regaining some favor. The Walmart in Stoughton is one of the older, smaller Walmarts. I put the first bolt in but then I had an issue. There is a plastic cover for the taillight and it covered the back of the second hole. Back into Walmart for sockets and wrenches to remove the taillight cover. I'm already collecting tools for a truck tool kit it seems. Back outside with the tools I found another problem. All the tools had security bands (zipties) on them and I had no cutting tools. Another trip into Walmart.

It took nearly an hour for a five minute job but I was happy to be moving again. The plan is to take the interstate until Indiana. The toll road around Rockford only cost $4.30...that's cheaper than my motorcycle with its trailer. I stopped at the Burger King in Oglesby, IL, for a stretch break and a late lunch. The truck looks huge in their parking lot. I ate outside and applied some "Not For Hire" stickers I had brought with me. By now the truck doesn't feel weird anymore...just wide. I've been to Illinois twice in the last month. I enjoy its rural, farmy feel. People are friendly. Too bad their corrupt leaders have turned it into an unconstitutional nazi state. My gun permit means nothing here.

The automated transmission is interesting. It's as if there is a ghost shifting a manual transmission. The Freedomline transmission is synchronized and uses an air-operated clutch for each shift. By comparison the Eaton automated transmissions 'float' shift the gears without using a clutch. The Freedomline is basically a 3-speed transmission with a high/low range and a splitter. 3x2x2 = 12 speeds. It starts in 3rd gear and normally skip shifts 3-5-7-9-10-11-12. You can also manually shift it but that's something I'll try when I'm more comfortable with it.

The cruise control works great and the speedometer is dead on accurate. I'd listen to one radio station until it faded away then I'd find another. At the I-74 & IN-63 intersection I stopped at the Pilot Travel Center and ran the truck across the CAT scales. $11. Front axle 10,800 lbs, rear 7780. From here I took IN-63 then IN-54 home. People say the Volvo headlights suck and I agree. I used the Jake brake on the hilly roads. Nice. The only negatives I noticed were some slop in the steering wheel and I think the front tires needed balanced. There will be plenty of time for those fixes. I'll have to find some larger tools to work on this beast.

When Donna got home that night she gave it her seal of approval. Now the fun begins as I go through the truck and slowly convert it to an RV hauler...

The trip route.

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