First my thanks to the forum for their many ideas and guidance...I have been doing tons of research this past week and actually drove a few sub $15k "beauties" this weekend. Here are my findings:
1. If you were ever looking for a cosmetic gem that drove very, very nicely with TONS of available power, then you have got to check out the Suburban 8.1L V8 for sale at my hometown Chevy dealer. Cars for Sale: 2002 Chevrolet Suburban 4x4 2500 in Gainesville, GA 30501: Sport Utility Details - 274706338 - AutoTrader.com
Again I would take the advice of the Airforum member finalcutjoe and have it thoroughly checked out by a qualified mechanic. If anyone would like my opinion of the service department at that Chevy dealer you may PM me. As far as my choice - this one is still on the list but my heart is yelling DIESEL...we'll see - it really is a very nice 3/4 ton suburban.
2. I drove a 2001 7.3L Excursion Diesel with 330k miles. The power plant was in very nice shape. The interior was understandably NOT in decent shape, but hey, this was for pulling MELODY and not for going to church as it were. Unfortunatley the rear differential started missing/grinding once I got the vehicle "warmed up" and the replacement cost combined with wondering "what else might be wrong with it" took this off the list. Still, it coulda been had for $8000 IMHO.
3. Drove a 2001 F250 SuperCab 7.3L Diesel and man oh man did my heart skip a beat...this powerplant and transmission were in MUCH nicer shape than the EXC above...I may be set on finding the perfect, used F250 7.3L but in a crew cab...the back seat of the super cab was just not quite big enough and I hate the idea of the kids' heads being right up against the rear window glass (no headrests in the SuperCabs)...wonder if I could buy replacement bucket seats with rests for the F250 SuperCab...?
4. I have ONE more 7.3L EXC to drive that seems to be in nice shape - I'll get to see it on Thursday. Wife is concerned that we need "covered space" in the back for our junk and if we had a third row seat she can hold out hope that I will allow for a third kid (now THAT's funny!!!!). So, for that reason alone, maybe I SHOULD go with the pickup?
So I'm encouraged by what I've seen only looking in North GA. I'll expand the search now that I know what I'm looking for...and my mechanic is on CALL!!! I can't stress enough that having someone you trust look at a used vehicle is SO SO critical.
Thanks for all your help!!