It is not everyone who is offered the opportunity to pull their Chevrolet Silverado into General Motors Flint Assembly plant on VanSlyke Road and meet the workers who made it.
But, when you are the owners of a 2006 Silverado that passed the million mile mark in just six years, you are welcome to drive right into the plant, meet the workers, and receive heart felt congratulations and gifts.
That was exactly the case Friday for Hugh and Tammy Pennington of Delton, Michigan – a town between Hastings and Kalamazoo.
The long ride that led the couple to million-mile milestone followed Tammy Pennington’s lifelong passion.
“I have always loved driving in cars,” said Tammy. “I remember as a child on family trips I would ask if I could sit in the front in the passenger seat, so my mom would sit in the back.”
Tammy, a former computer programmer for a grocery store chain, said it was her love for traveling, and her desire to help out after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the south that spurred a new driving adventure for her and her husband.
“When Katrina hit, they needed drivers to get travel trailers for people to live in,” said Tammy Pennington. “So I started pulling out of Fitzgerald, Georgia at the Coachman plant. I ran Hugh’s 2001 Duramax diesel (Silverado) for 150,000 miles. And then I said here’s your truck back, we’re going to buy me a new one.”
In June of 2006 they purchased a brand new Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD crew-cab with a Duramax diesel engine and Allison transmission while in Georgia.
The first trip in the new Silverado was a vacation in Michigan. Then it was back to hauling Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers.
By November of 2006, they had changed their customer base and began hauling fifth wheels and trailers from factories to dealers for the Indiana Transport Company.
Intermixed with their hauling were many long-distance vacations to northwest Canada and northeastern U.S.
Tammy Penningston, who says she was behind the wheel for 90 percent of the driving, says she remembers clearly the moment on April 4, 2012 when the odometer moved past the million-mile mark on their Silverado.
“We were in Chicago, going across the toll road and the odometer started saying ‘error’. And then the fuel range started saying we were losing gas because the of the problem with the odometer. So we had to go and have it serviced and have the odometer turned back to zero.”
Today, she says, the odometer reads about 15,000 miles.
Many have asked the Penningtons how it is possible to put on more than a million miles on a vehicle in a six-year period. Tammy says she has tried to do the math.
“I figure you would have to drive 474 miles per day every day for six years without stopping for a day to get to a million miles,” said Tammy Pennington.
But that’s not how the Penningtons accumulated their million miles.
“We drive 600 to 700 miles a day,” said Tammy Pennington. “We get to where we’re delivering. We deliver and then we go on vacation. For example, once we went to see Mt. Rushmore.”
Tammy Pennington says when they are hauling trailers for other companies they sleep in the back seat of the Silverado, by pulling down the seats and laying a queen-size mattress on top of them.
But Hugh Pennington points out that they often travel in comfort.
“We take our own fifth wheeler that is 35-foot long and then we put a boat behind that, and that’s a 16-foot Sportscraft,” said Hugh Pennington. “Between all three I take my boat, my house and my truck. So I don’t have to leave anything behind.”
The Penningtons say their Silverado has been a workhorse, with seventy percent of the miles put on the vehicle hauling miles.
Over the past six years of its life, they say it has had tires changed twice a year and oil changed every 3,000 to 4,000 miles.
The most significant repair costs over the six years, they say was $7,000 for a transmission and transfer case when they passed the 850,000 mile mark in June of 2011.
“And actually, ” said Tammy Pennington, ” in the end it was only the transfer case that needed changing. It should have been just a $2,000 repair.”
The Penningtons’ advice for longevity of a vehicle boiled down to what they the call the basics: regular maintenance, and making sure you have a good working relationship with the mechanics taking care of your vehicle.
“In Georgia, we had people who let us back there while they’re working on the car,” said Tammy Pennington. “We were looking for that in Michigan as well.”
She also offered some advice for General Motors designers who work on the vehicle.
“The only thing I found that I would change was a bad design of two little radiator hoses that have popped every once in a while,” said Tammy.
But they expressed overall praise for the truck that brought them to Flint for a visit and will continue as their personal and business vehicle in the future.
“It has never left me on the side of the road, said Tammy Pennington.’
“Maybe we’ll still be driving it after 2 million miles,” said Hugh Pennington.
“It is sign of the quality that now goes into these vehicles,” said UAW Local 598 President Ray Gorney who represents the workers who built the vehicle driven by the Penningtons.
Gorney pointed out that much has changed at Flint Assembly since he began there in the 1970’s.
“Back in 1977 when I hired into this plant it was all about getting the numbers out, it was a recipe for disaster,” said Gorney. “We recognized we couldn’t survive with that mentality. We now build an excellent product. The vehicle you see here today is proof that.”