It was only a month ago when we found ourselves facing imminent homelessness, heading north from Florida to deliver both our truck and our beloved trailer to their new owner.
We headed towards the sale with literally no plan for what was next. We started looking into buying a temporary RV, or renting a u-haul to move our stuff to storage in St. Louis, or even finding a short-term apartment rental to base out of until we could really decide what was next.
I joked that we might just pile our stuff on the side of a road under a tarp.
We were already planning to stop by and visit our friends Elliott and Ann near Savannah as we headed north, but they surprised us by writing and offering to loan us their 1986 Winnebago Le’Sharo.
When we stopped by their home in Georgia to check out the Le’Sharo, it seemed perfect – small enough to park in a regular spot, yet large enough to serve as a “moving van with a bed” to let us transport all of our stuff from the truck and Oliver. We could then move at a slower pace to stop and research vintage buses on the way. It offered us relatively good fuel economy too.
While we were cleaning up the little RV to get it ready for use, I asked Elliott if he knew what “Le’Sharo” meant.
“You are much more curious than I am. I never thought to ask…”
So I googled it. The top link was about the rituals of the nomadic Fulani tribe from Nigeria:
“According to the Fulani custom of sharo (test of young manhood), rival suitors underwent the ordeal of caning as a means of eliminating those who were less persistent.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)
The Le’Sharo is the exceedingly rare precursor to the more recent and much more successful Winnebago Rialta model. The reason there were so few Le’Sharos left on the road is that they had been initially released with a vastly underpowered imported Renault engine that inevitably ended up blowing up and dying. With parts only available from France, it was little wonder that Winnebago canceled the line after only a few years on the market.
Elliott’s Le’Sharo was one of the few survivors that had been re-powered with a 1994 Buick LeSabre engine crammed haphazardly under the hood, Frankenstein-style.
This will do. All we need is transport for a month or so.
“Sharo – The institution of vital importance to the nomadic Fulani, and all kinds of customs and ceremonies has arisen around it. One such ceremony is the sharo, a public flogging that is a test of manhood. Not all Fulani nomadic groups observe this ceremony or insist on it before a young man may marry.” (The Fulani)
As we prepped the Le’Sharo for departure, Elliott explained a few issues… Such as, there is no working gas gauge. “Just don’t go further than 200 miles between fill-ups…”
And the transmission does not indicate what gear you are currently in – “just count the clicks”.
Oh, and the dash air conditioning had a coolant leak, so we picked up a can of coolant and recharged it, getting it to generate only a tiny bit of cold air. But we can handle a little sweat.
Testing the water tanks, we heard a hissing, and discovered an underfloor hose that had cracked and was leaking. Ok – we can do without running water.
Testing out the refrigerator, I noticed that the DC fridge was rated to draw more DC current than the AC/DC converter / battery charger was rated to put out – meaning that using the fridge while plugged in to a campground would actually result in a drained house battery. Who engineered this?!!? But OK, we planned to use refrigeration only while underway. At least the beer would be cold when we stopped driving for the day – no problem.
Testing the tail lights, we discovered the old connectors were not making a good connection with the bulbs. But after a few hours of jerry-rigging, we managed to get the turn signals, running lights, and one of the brake lights working. Ok, after a winter in the Virgin Islands driving a Jeep with intermittent lights – we know our hand signals, if necessary.
Elliott mentioned that the electric radiator fan was having issues, and to be careful that the engine doesn’t overheat while driving in slow traffic, or idling. But underway, it seems fine.
Uhm, ok… Sure. No problem. We don’t really have time left to find another alternative now. We can handle this.
So, we set off….
“During the Sharo festival, bare-chested contestants, usually unmarried men, come to the center ring, escorted by beautiful girls. The crowd erupts in thunderous cheers and drumming.” (Online Nigeria)
The Le’Sharo had plenty of issues, but we decided to view them all as practice for vintage bus ownership, trusting in serendity that we would be able to handle every challenge without flinching.
The first challenge came during our first nights camped in the Le’Sharo, after a short drive from Savannah to Columbia, SC. A few drops of rain dripping in around the roof vent wasn’t much of a concern. But when I plugged in our small inverter, I was surprised by an over-voltage alarm. Pulling out my multimeter, I discovered that the converter was putting out 19 volts while plugged in to the campground shore power – a high voltage that seemed likely to destroy any battery hooked up to it. A few more tests confirmed that the RV converter was likely toast, and that it had probably already irrevocably damaged the house battery. As a precaution, we decided to minimize time with the RV plugged in, and usage of the interior lights and fans when not. We also gave up on the idea of using the fridge even while underway.
Who needs electricity anyway?
“The sharo is a test of endurance; a youth is expected to undergo severe flogging in public without flinching.” (The Fulani)
Midway through the second day of driving – I noticed the dash battery voltage warning light had come on. We were in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina, and due to deliver the Oliver and Tundra in Lynchburg, VA the next day. We were 40 miles to the next town, Asheboro, NC – and calling ahead, I discovered that all the auto shops and mechanics would be closed by the time we arrived.
Ten miles outside of town, the Le’Sharo engine started to surge and sputter as the battery finally died and the electrical system failed. I coasted to the side of the road, and waited as Cherie pulled up next to me. We set up the jumper cables to recharge the Le’Sharo enough to get started again, and then noticed a great campground literally right across the street.
A place to stop for the night, perfect. Fate!
We’re not flinching yet. But we are tweeting and Facebooking publicly the whole way, sharing the adventure.
“After some time, a challenger, also bare-chested, comes out brandishing a whip, trying to frighten his opponent.” (Online Nigeria)
We wired the Tundra and Le’Sharo together, and left the Tundra running for an hour to top off the Le’Sharo’s battery. We figured that with a fully charged battery we might be able to make it the rest of the way to Lynchburg, as long as we avoided needing to use the headlights or using any electrical systems.
As we were now completely moved out of the Oliver, we slept in the Le’Sharo for the first time – with just our iPhones for light.
But before chancing a long drive, the next morning we stopped into the Asheboro Advance Auto to get a battery & alternator test done, and to buy more engine coolant. (Remember that radiator fan – it was never kicking on, and the coolant tank was now close to empty…)
Advance confirmed that the alternator was dead, but the battery was good. They also happened to have a Buick Le’Sabre alternator in stock, and the clerk thought that her cousin might be able to install it right away. “He doesn’t speak much English, but he is a good mechanic….”
And indeed, Mario was amazing. We found his small hidden garage, and within minutes he had the new alternator installed. I asked him about the radiator fan, and he traced the wires and found a hidden blown fuse, and a seized up air conditioning fan that had likely blown it. He disconnected the fan, replaced the fuse, and suddenly the engine had cooling again. And so did we – the second air conditioning fan was now working as well, though it howled when turned on.
And Mario barely charged us a thing for saving the day. We tipped him extra.
We were back on the road again, and still on schedule to deliver the Oliver on time.
“The festival proceeds with lively drumming, singing, cheers and self-praises from both competitors and challengers. When the excitement is at a fevered pitch, it is the time for flogging.” (Online Nigeria)
Just an hour later, after the next gas stop, I get in and close the driver’s door, but it doesn’t latch. A closer look reveals that the spring inside the latch has sprung – right through the decaying old plastic fixture. We contemplate using a rope to tie the door shut, but thankfully I am able to disassemble the assembly with a star-head screwdriver and get the latch to reset. We discover that if we are very delicate opening the driver’s door, or only enter through the back, we are able to keep the spring in place…
Still not flinching. We are actually still on schedule even!
“The challenger raises his whip and flogs his opponent. His opponent must endure this without wincing or showing pain, lest he be branded a coward.” (Online Nigeria)
My theory was that the fried (from the over-voltage converter) house battery had killed the alternator, so I stopped bridging the engine and house electrical systems while underway. And indeed, the house battery died completely within a few more days to the point that the interior lights would no longer work unless we were plugged in to a campground. No problem, we have flashlights for our en-route Walmart and rest stop nights.
The Le’Sharo’s radio also quit working too. Who needs music – we can talk about our bus dreams to fill the hours.
The antique “Indian Head Nickel” that had been mounted on the Le’Sharo’s keychain fell off, but I found the wayward nickel intermixed in the change in my pocket, and we just-so-happened to be visiting a jeweler friend in Philadelphia that day who was able to properly fix the antique keychain.
It got really cold driving one night, and we discovered that the dash heat didn’t work. We grabbed blankets and made due, until we had a chance to stop and find the hidden valve under the hood (really!) that enabled the heating system.
And overall, despite the hiccups, the Le’Sharo was proving to be an ideal “moving van with a bed”, and the perfect vehicle for our initial bus explorations. We were doing great heading into St. Louis, until we stopped for gas just 20 miles away from my parent’s place.
The Le’Sharo was dripping red fluid – transmission fluid. Lots of it.
Fortunately, there was a Midas a few miles away. They agreed to take a look, just an hour before closing.
“Without warning he lands the whip heavily on the other’s ribs, sometimes drawing blood.” (The Fulani)
The Midas manager reported that the transmission hoses were a mess, old and cracking. But he had been able to tighten the fittings and topped off the fluid level, so we should be safe to make it the final 20 miles to my folks place. He told us that a proper repair however would require 3-5 hours of labor to unpack the front end to reach hoses to replace them.
Another hero mechanic – and he refused to even charge us the $29 diagnostic fee. Wow.
But… While driving the Le’Sharo up on the lift, the cap on the black tank drain had gotten bumped. Now instead of dripping red fluid, we were slowly dripping yellow. (Fortunately – we hadn’t used the on-board facilities for anything other than yellow purposes – so this wasn’t nearly as messy to fix as it could have been…)
We reached Columbia, and were able to unload our stuff, and the cat. Mission accomplished. Now all we needed was to get the Le’Sharo back to Savannah, GA with a stop in South Carolina for Cherie to visit a client.
“Blow upon blow may be struck, with the victim shouting for more. Other youths acting as referees observe the proceedings closely, ensuring that the blows are fairly struck.” (The Fulani)
The first local mechanic we called said he wouldn’t be able to take the job for a week, but the local Firestone shop said that they were able to do the work immediately. We were prepared to be billed for 5+ hours to have the hoses replaced, but the mechanic gave us an estimate of “one to two hours”, and then managed to do the job in 30 minutes! And that is all that he billed us for – amazing!
But… It wasn’t all good news. Firestone reported that the Le’Sharo’s left front tire was a “racing slick” and completely unsafe to drive on, and the other tires were showing extremely uneven wear. Consulting with Elliott, he didn’t want to get stuck with retail tire prices for the Le’Sharo’s hard to find size / weight rating (usually a special order), but the Columbia Firestone actually found replacement tires cheaper than the cheapest internet wholesaler we could find.
So in the end, we left with four new tires, an alignment, and a properly recharged air conditioning system.
Wow. Three amazing and honest mechanic shops in a row!
During the drive from Columbia, IL to Columbia, SC this week, the Le’Sharo felt like a brand new car. It drove straighter, and it didn’t shake and shimmy nearly so much while underway.
Pulling into our campground in Columbia late Tuesday night after a marathon day of driving, as soon as we pulled onto the gravel campground road, there was a pop – and all the headlights, dash lights, and running lights went out. Fifteen minutes earlier, and we would have been in the midst of heavy freeway traffic.
“The point, however, is that the victim does not flinch but shows utter indifference to pain and even sneers at his attacker. If he is able to achieve this, his family and friends surround him with joy, offering gifts and congratulations.” (The Fulani)
As the darkness descended, Cherie and I turned to each other and burst out laughing.
With a grin, Cherie grabbed a flashlight to walk in front of the the Le’Sharo, guiding us in the last little way to the campground loop.
A moment later, the headlights came back on.
We’ve survived the Sharo with a smile.
UPDATE: Never write your victory post before you’ve actually won the game. The Le’Sharo had a few more tricks in store for us.
“It is common for the boy being hit to shout or laugh after he is stricken. Although adolescents have died in this ceremony, young men are eager to participate and display their scars with pride. ” (Jamtan Fulani)
No problem – I planned a route to Savannah with minimal turns.
We were almost home free.
And then – cruising to Savannah on Sunday, making good time on I-26, the Le’Sharo swung her last blow of the whip.
Suddenly, without warning, the engine sputtered and died. “What on earth now?”
We were 185 miles into the current tank, and literally just a quarter mile from the exit I had been planning on for our next gas stop. But after a full systems check under the hood, it seemed the most likely explanation – the lack of a working gas gauge had finally caught up with us, and we had run out of gas.
The combination of running highway speeds instead of back roads, new tires still breaking in, a working air conditioner and perhaps the last fillup cutting off a bit early had left us drained dry way sooner than our 200 mile “start looking” cutoff.
So… no problem… we’re not flinching even now. We grabbed our sunglasses, left a note on the door, and started walking down the freeway towards the next exit. Before long a kind stranger offered us a lift, and the clerks at the BP station loaned us a two gallon jug, and after a short hot walk back upstream, we were soon back underway, and after just a few hours more we were safely docked back at Ann & Elliott’s place.
The final score: 2,876 miles. 170 gallons of gas. 16.9 MPG.
We have indeed and at last conquered the challenge of the Sharo.
And it was perfect.
Now we are packed for our next adventure and ready to hit the rails today.