To the surprise of everyone or no one, I was a band kid in high school. Team sports weren’t really my thing, so I threw myself into all of the fine arts programs we had instead. I was one of three tech dorks in our drama department who made the shows run so well, I sang in a few chorus programs, and I was in no less than four band programs – one of which was the marching band. The Marching Bulldogs played at football games, traveled to competitions near and far, and took an annual trip for competition and fun.
We would always ride on buses, either white “activity buses” that were just school buses without flashing lights or charter buses for those long annual trips. Our instruments for the 100-member band also had to travel, and they didn’t come on the buses. They didn’t fit. We had an enclosed trailer that sat in the teacher parking lot, and a dedicated group of dads – mine among them – would load the trailer before our events and tow it to the destination.
During my freshman year I remember one of the band dads, Greg, using his personal Chevrolet Suburban to tow the trailer. Sometime during my sophomore year, though, our school district managed to purchase a tow vehicle for the band. I think they bought one for every high school, actually. It was a nondescript 2004 (?) Chevy Tahoe Fleet model, painted white, only used to tow our instrument trailer. I had forgotten about it, and then I saw it on I-95 on Saturday night, 17 years after my high school started using it.
Where We Traveled
My first memory of the Summit White Tahoe can be traced to the fall of 2004. The marching band was invited to perform at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. It was a huge deal, and we allowed some of our concert band students to march with us, even if they weren’t in the band normally. This meant more uniforms and more instruments – and a second trailer to haul them all, likely borrowed from another school in the county alongside their white Tahoe. The team of band dads split into two groups, and left for Texas the day before our charter buses. They covered 1,300 miles each way with two of the GMT800 SUVs and two enclosed trailers.
Following the Cotton Bowl, we traveled to St. Bernard’s Parish in New Orleans, Louisiana. This trip came after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, and our trip was more of a service trip than anything. We helped get the school back in order and put together a concert with their students. Again, another 1,000 miles each way in the Tahoe.
My senior year saw a trip (barely) closer to home, in Chicago. I don’t remember what we performed, or where, but we saw the Blue Man Group afterward. The Tahoe was undoubtedly in attendance, in the background of photos doing its thing.
It’s Still Being Used
Driving home toward Washington, D.C. on Saturday night, I rolled up on an enclosed trailer in the middle lane of I-95 North. My attention is always piqued when I see an enclosed of that size, wondering what car might be inside coming home from which racetrack. I got closer and saw the back door.
“Stone Bridge Marching Bulldogs”
Well no way, talk about a chance encounter! I kept moving and got alongside the trailer. It has to be 18 or 20 feet long, nearly as long as my enclosed car trailer. The tow vehicle came into view, and I don’t know what I was really expecting, I guess a somewhat-recent model.
Wait a minute, they’re still using the same GMT800 Chevy Tahoe that was new when I was a high school sophomore?
Figuring Out a “Fleet Spec” Tahoe
It’s tough to find exact information about the actual Tahoe we used, but I remember it rolling on five-spoke steel wheels, like the most-basic GMT800 Silverados of the era. In typical bulk-government-purchase style, that means it was as decontented as the person placing the order could get away with.
“Fleet spec” in this case means our Tahoe likely has the smaller 4.8-liter V8 that was standard on the LS trim, which made 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That famed Chevy 5.3? Optional. The same sturdy-til-it-isn’t 4L60 automatic transmission was bolted to every Tahoe, and while two-wheel drive was standard, I do wonder if the county added four-wheel drive as a safety precaution.
Past the drivetrain, I know our Tahoe was pretty basic inside. No steering wheel controls, a basic AM/FM radio, two rows of cloth bench seats and not much else. I know all of that because my dad was one of the “band dads” who drove this very Tahoe when I was in the band. He and my mom both volunteered, with him driving the Tahoe all over creation and her sizing uniforms and corralling other volunteer moms and keeping us kids on a schedule and social events and doing everything else the parent “President of Band” does.
The Thankless Life of a Fleet Vehicle
This particular 2004 Chevrolet Tahoe is nobody’s “baby.” It’s probably never been waxed, is cleaned more often by rain than a car wash, and receives whatever maintenance is needed to keep it reliable for trips. Tires, brakes, oil, repair any leaks, done. Beyond that, it sits in a parking lot behind the high school and is largely ignored, yet expected to perform every time some band parent turns the key.
Part of me is surprised that the county still has this Tahoe in service. It’s “old” now. On the other hand, I can’t imagine the mileage is very high despite the age, and it’s long since paid for. Why shouldn’t the county get a long life out of the big SUV? School budgets are always tight, even in counties seemingly flush with cash. Maybe when the Tahoe is twenty years old, it’ll be replaced with a new one.
Most of the new vehicles we review are well-equipped, and most of what people buy will only stay in their driveways for so long. The average age of cars in the United States rose to 12 years, still a ways off from “17 years and counting” as with this county-owned Tahoe. GM’s body-on-frame SUV has been redesigned three times since my high school took delivery of their 2004, but to what value for a fleet buyer?
Sure, fuel economy is up by about five percent (unladen, who knows while towing) thanks to a more advanced 5.3-liter V8 and ten-speed automatic, but is that worth the cost of replacement when the truck sits more than it’s driven? The new Tahoe would tow the trailer with more ease, but the old one is likely good enough. The biggest benefit would come from more advanced safety engineering and driver assistance tech – again, nice to have but not the most compelling upgrade if you’re adding 3,500 miles per year to the odometer.
Nobody does or will remember this particular white Chevy Tahoe, not even the people like my dad who logged thousands of miles behind its steering wheel. The county probably bought fifteen of them at once, each assigned an identification number that’s stuck to the tailgate. These Tahoes are in the background of photos and sit behind each school and that’s about it.
Their very existence is and has always been rather thankless. And I think that’s why I was taken aback as I passed the truck and trailer on I-95. I had forgotten about a vehicle that was consistently “around” for my high school years, and it’s still around now doing the same job, but for new people.