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2001 Chevy Silverado 1500 2WD - Nuclear Cowboy

Chevy Silverado Left Front Angle
Kevin Blumer | Writer
Posted November 1, 2011

Nothing Radioactive, Just Precision Performance

There are safe jobs, and then there are jobs that keep the rest of us safe. Want a safe job? You’ll probably end up behind a desk where your likely risks are paper cuts and rising cholesterol levels. The other jobs, the ones that keep the rest of us safe, usually aren’t. Jason Smith of Orange County, California, has one of those jobs. Jason is a key link in the supply chain of electricity, a form of power each of us depends on and largely takes for granted.

Working with electricity is always sketchy, even if you’re doing something as elementary as changing a light bulb. It’s no fun getting zapped. Imagine then if you were the one who produced the electricity in the first place. That’s what Jason does.

Jason doesn’t dice with light bulbs or light switches. While the rest of us are typing away at work stations, Jason’s busy wrangling nuclear fuel rods and heavy water at Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear power plant where he makes sure everything’s functional and running as it should be. Precision performance isn’t optional in this line of work. It’s standard-issue.

Jason’s ’01 Chevy Silverado 1500 features a lot of hardware that embodies the term “precision performance,” but it wasn’t always that way. He bought the Bow Tie from a now-defunct dealer that did a brisk business by buying secondhand trucks, equipping them with off-the-shelf lift kits and selling them for relatively low bucks. As purchased, Jason’s truck had a six-inch drop bracket lift kit up front and four-inch lift blocks out back. While it looked great and instilled pride on the drive home from the dealer lot, Jason soon discovered that the dealer’s installers really weren’t all that savvy. “About five people I knew or worked with all went to the same place and bought trucks,” Jason informed us. “Later on, we all found out that no one there had any clue about how to install the lift kits or anything else. We all had issues with things like upper and lower A-arms coming loose, speedometers never reading properly, and sway-bar end links falling off. Basically, my whole truck was falling apart and needed to be re-done right.”

During the re-work of his truck, Jason became more and more familiar with the world of prerunner trucks and the high-speed desert environment. While the drop-bracket lift kit provided the clearance he needed for oversized tires, Jason realized that bona fide desert performance required a more intensive (and expensive) approach. To move fast through the rough, the Chevy needed more wheel travel and better damping control. It also needed a low center of gravity.

The needed wheel travel came by way of a BBR Fabrications long-travel kit up front, and a pair of replacement Deaver spring packs astern. Instead of basic twin-tube OEM-style shocks, you’ll find large-diameter, extended-length, rebuildable racing shocks on Jason’s truck these days. The aforementioned low center of gravity was made possible by using flared fiberglass fenders up front and by flaring the stock steel bedsides. These body mods mean the ride height can stay fairly low without tires smacking sheet metal.

This truck has come a long way, but it’s still a work in progress. It takes Jason and his wife Shannon everywhere, including his 100-mile commute to and from San Onofre. Down time for upgrades has to be carefully planned. A full rollcage and further rear suspension refinements are on the list.

As far as jobs go, most of us end up doing something we’re suited for. For many, that means gainful satisfaction as desk jockies. As we type away, eyes fixed on our computer screens, we’re glad there are guys like Jason, atomically producing the electrical juice we need to work and live. They’re the nuclear cowboys.

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