A Brief History of CAFCNA

Written by David 'Chief' H. Obelcz, founder of CAFCNA, on December 14, 2005 (view original post on the forums)

It all started back in December of 2001. At the time I owned a Pontiac Transport Montana. Not the ugly “dust buster” Transport but the second generation Transport that has some first in class features like a power sliding door. My Montana was in a phrase, “a complete piece of crap.”

Of any vehicle I’ve owned where the extended service plan had paid off, the Montana was it. From October of 1998 to December of 2001:

  • Air suspension – rebuilt twice, and then completely replaced
  • Transmission – replaced
  • Stereo head unit – replaced – displayed died
  • Driver’s side power window motor – replaced – poor operation
  • Driver’s side rear power vent window motor – replaced – motor failed
  • Power driver’s door module replaced three times – twice faulty – once on recall
  • Front disc brakes – never, ever, right
  • Front driver’s seat – premature wear, cloth tore through at 43K miles – replaced
  • Windshield wiper module – replaced – failed
  • Passenger side front headlight assembly – replaced – seal failed, filled with water
  • Weather stripping and molding passenger side sliding door – replaced, fell off

I guess you get the idea. It was the windshield wiper control module that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had lent my Montana to a friend to drive a group of women from a homeless shelter to a Christmas dinner at a church. In pouring rain in the dark of night the wipers stopped working. That Monday morning I was at the dealer and could see the color drain from the service advisors upon my arrival. They promised an immediate fix to my problem, and there sitting on the showroom floor by service was a black, 2002 Northface Avalanche with every option.

I started climbing around and looking at this Swiss Army knife of a truck. I had seen one at the Seattle Auto Show in 2000 and HATED it. Yup, you read that right. I thought it was huge, beyond insane in size, overpriced, with looks only a mother could love. But as I started exploring everything about the Avalanche, including working the Midgate and checking out the saddle bag cargo storage I became more impressed. It became clear to me on the “why they did that,” and how practical this vehicle was.

So I asked a sales drone if there was a Z-71 package Avalanche around I could drive. That was a mistake. I drove the Avalanche for about ten miles and I was hooked. I took it down to my hometown around a tight col-de-sac and quickly realized that this 19-1/2 foot long truck handled and rode like a luxury car. I enjoyed the view and the V8 under my right foot. This set up the negotiation process and I was in a good position. For all the woes of my Montana it was paid off and still had 43K miles of extended warranty left. At its current pace I’d have an all new Montana by 80K miles as anything that could break would have been replaced. In other words I explained to the salesperson I don’t “need” the Avalanche, this is all about, “want,” and if I don’t get a good deal, I’ll walk.

They tried ramming the black Northface down my throat but I didn’t want anything to do with it. Black is way to hard to keep clean, wasn’t fond of the green and orange interior and no heated seats. So we found a blue Z-71 with every option you could get in December 2001 (no GM chrome step rails yet). I was made a great offer on the Avalanche, well below sticker, a $1,000 rebate, 0.0% interest, and a fat trade-in on the Montana. Done and done. Signed papers on December 21, 2001 and took delivery on December 23, 2001. General Motors even tossed in a pair of season passes for the local yokel ski areas for my trouble.

After buying my truck I got on the internet and did some research and found it was hard to do. There wasn’t a lot of information outside of General Motors. What was available was largely wrong; things about Midgate operation, cargo area use and operation, capacities, abilities, etc. On the Edmunds.Com site the Avalanche forum was probably the most active on the web. There were maybe 50 to 100 Avalanche fans or owners trying to rise about the noise of about 500 to 1000 Avalanche detractors who ranted on and on about the cladding and how it wasn’t a “real” truck (this was prior to the Avalanche selling just under 100K units in its first year and the Motor Trend 2002 Truck of the Year Award and the Consumer Reports Off-Road Round Up where the Avalanche came in second place ahead of 32 other vehicles).

At the time I had a web business and was involved heavily in e-commerce and web design. I saw CAFCNA as a chance to stretch my skills on something fun, that interested me. In addition, and in hindsight, only a handful of members know, but I was involved in a very abusive marriage. CAFCNA became my escape from that for me and my son in particular. Something that was important in my life, outside of the scope of control of my wife at the time, and where I could reach out to others and build a network virtually.

I contacted General Motors in early January of 2002. I did a WhoIs search and found that some of the “better” links like, “AvalancheClub, MyAvalanche, etc. etc.” had been taken, so I settled on the long but accurate ChevyAvalancheFanClub.Com. I requested permission from General Motors to use the URL and set up an enthusiast site for the Avalanche out of personal interest. The grant of permission was approved. On January 10, 2002 I bought the URL. On January 12, 2002 I pushed up the first version of the site and started testing. On January 15, 2002 I posted on Edmunds that there was an Avalanche website people could go to discuss the Avalanche. There was no membership requirement, no ads, no nothing. Just come check it out, if you don’t like it fine.

In the internet world, “if you build it they will come,” typically does not apply. This was not the case for CAFCNA. They came and boy did they come. Frustrated from the noise on Edmunds and to a lesser extent Yahoo word spread quickly virally about the site and in less than 45 days we had over 100 members. Edmunds had sent me a polite e-mail asking me to please stop posting in their forums. The Edmund’s forum for the Avalanche had died a death and new people to Edmunds would beg to find out where this other site was. I respected Edmunds request and stopped posting on their forums with no whining or crying, or complaining or calling them evil. I took it as a huge complement that this tiny member site of 100 or so people had become a big enough thorn in the side of Edmunds to say, “cut it out.”

However as growth exploded over the first 12 months of CAFCNA life so did a number of issues that I simply never planned. The CGI based YaBB engine I installed as freeware for the forums crashed as we pushed over 1,000 members. It simply could not take the activity. We would max out our allotted server traffic each month and I was hit with crushing bills from out hosting provider. I believe we changed hosting providers three times, including where we started in 2002 alone. Each transition brought a 3 to 10 day downtime as servers reconfigured our new IP addresses.

Additionally work on the site to add new features and change the design happened steadily through 2002. The first home page was very light, and lasted less than 60 days. A new home page went up that was based on a similar design from a popular travel site. That lasted about nine months and then either in late 2002 or early 2003 the site UI basically as you see it today was born.