We Do It For The Love: Shapeshifting

I love music.

From the gym, to the shower, then in my car.  To relax, to energize, to deal with issues, to trigger memories, to relate to others dealing with similar emotions; I find solace in tunes.

As I watch the music industry struggle to evolve and save itself from itself, I find it increasingly difficult to find music I’m truly passionate about. In many ways the music industry is a reflection of what’s happening in our society. There’s a few at the top, an ever shrinking middle class, and a wealth of talent struggling to make ends meet/meat. Career musicians are meeting the teachings of Darwin in what has become an ‘adapt or die’ industry.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As the casualties continue to mount, Lorie Beth and I were set to see a band at the pinnacle of the music food chain. We were on the VIP list for a sold out TOOL show at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, and we were part of a Q & A with Adam Jones. It turned out that this topic weighed heavily on Adam’s mind as well, at least that evening. As the event unfolded, it was fascinating and chilling to hear Adam talk about how the industry is on life support. His band was in the middle of a sold out arena tour generating huge dollars. However, even at their level he mentioned funding issues for several projects, and talked about distribution and production woes. The Q & A wasn’t all doom and gloom. He talked about a wide range of topics, but the industry stuff really hit home for me. As he was talking, quotes from his bandmate Maynard James Keenan and recollections of my personal experiences with J Loren played like an 8mm film in my head. Quotes like:

“There’s a disconnect between people not buying music and not understanding why [bands] go away. There are people who are like monkeys in a cage just hitting the coke button. They don’t really get that for [musicians and artists] to do these things, they have to fund them. They have to have something to pay the rent.” -Maynard James Keenan from Nobody’s Tool interview.

Tool at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville TN

Tool at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville TN

Exactly three weeks later, I was enjoying shooting toothpicks from a straw into the ceiling of a popular burger joint in Memphis with my kids, when the phone rang. It was none other than J Loren. He was on the “Music with Friends” tour with Sean Danielsen from Smile Empty Soul. They were set to play a gig in Texas that night, but the venue closed down in the days leading up to the show. Another industry casualty. J told me he was looking to do Sean ‘a solid’ for doing this tour with him, and he knew I’d be just the guy to call.

No tour bus is complete without a cup holder full of sharpies for autographs.

No tour bus is complete without a cup holder full of sharpies for autographs.

Their tour bus was essentially running 24 hours a day. The guys were living out of it, but it didn’t have sure power. Sure power allows the electronics in the living space of the bus to be used without the engine running. Sure power conserves fuel and prolongs engine life by preventing excessive wear and tear to the engine and other vehicle components by alleviating the need to constantly run. It’s simply more economical. I told the guys to give me a few days and I’d get back to them.

I sent Brandon Wheeler, owner of Hotwired Car Audio, a text to see if he’d be interested in doing this project. “Hell yeah we will do it!” was the text I received back. Things were in motion before dinner was done. Over the next week, Brandon, Lorie Beth, and I went back and forth with J and Sean to hash out the details of our plan. Finally, Lorie Beth and I set up a date to meet up with J and Sean on the bookends of their Johnson City Show to talk about the project face to face and to get our first look at Sean’s current set up.

Ironically, in traditional rock and roll tour fashion, there’s a predictable level of unpredictability that accompanies tours. This tour proved to be no different. At 2:00 am, the morning of the show, J called. A couple of phone calls later, a grocery list of sorts was made. The guys needed:

This was J playing Lorie's violin in a parking lot near the Johnson City Venue.

This was J playing Lorie’s violin in a parking lot near the Johnson City Venue.

  • a headlight for the tour bus
  • a violin [so J could play ‘Fighting Tao’ for me without having to tune his violin differently from what the rest of his set required]
  • the name and phone number for the Programming Director at the Johnson City rock station
  • some healthy greens for Sean [if you follow him, or Smile, you know that eating REAL food even while touring is important to him]
  • a straight razor or dog groomer

Over the course of the day we rounded up the needed items, minus the razor, and drove to the show.

Upon arriving, Sean welcomed us into their home. It was clear, this was no ambulance. It is much better equipped for tour life. His 3500 Mercedes Sprinter is a scaled down version of much larger tour buses. It has all the essentials covered and it’s nice, but to call it anything other than cramped for a full band on tour would be a mistake.

The stage was set for Sean to put on a great show.

The stage was set for Sean to put on a great show.

Sean explained to us that he wanted to be taught everything from general maintenance to electrical wiring. Over the course of the evening the conversation shifted to a wide range of stories and topics including the state of music. Sean talked about how the industry had evolved from the days of MTV, and bands having handlers that would prop musicians up on stage so they could perform, to bands like his constantly fighting to find ways to continue to make a living doing what they love.

It was a fascinating discussion that would have felt at home in a college level economics or business course. This is a man who has evolved and adapted to the environmental changes around him. He’s found ways to succeed where many others have failed for that reason. He’s willing to listen, learn, be humble, and develop new skill sets to continue to produce music for a living. Over the years, he and his bandmates have learned to do much of their own marketing and management. They’ve shifted from record deals to producing the albums they want to make and taking the finished product to the labels for distribution deals. Along with that, the guys from Smile Empty Soul are just really good people. I’ve hung out with them several times in the past during HURT tours. They never really had any clue who I was, but they were always incredibly nice to me… the random guy hanging out on their bus or back stage at venues. This is the kind of band I want to support in any way I can.

Lorie Beth and I came away from that night with a game plan. The next day I contacted Austin Kelley, one of the diesel mechanics who helped us with the ambulance. Austin was excited and willing to be part of this, but scheduling conflicts wouldn’t allow it.  So I contacted Jeff Stevens next. I met Jeff several years ago when I was recruiting for an automotive technical college. He graduated at the top of his class and does vehicle maintenance and mechanical work for a large municipal government.

Jeff quickly joined, and our team was set for this project.

This was going to happen quickly. We had Saturday afternoon, March 5th, at Hotwired Car Audio in Jonesboro Arkansas to install sure power, repair a torn seat, service the vehicle for the next Smile Empty Soul tour, take care of a few other small issues, and teach Sean how to do all of it in the process.

Over the next two weeks, we hammered a plan, gathered parts, and developed a timeline for how the day would flow.

Then, in the words of our buddy J Loren, “everything just fell apart.”

Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but even the best laid plans are still just plans.

Hotwired Car Audio specializes in custom car audio installations, but they also work on a wide range of other projects as well. On the day we were there they had projects ranging from an RV to a boat, and of course, the Smile Empty Soul Sprinter Van. With each job being different, it’s tough to predict exactly how long a job will take, and what exactly will be needed until it’s time to start doing the work.

Sean, Brandon, and Justin going over the plan.

Sean, Brandon, and Justin going over the plan.

Shortly after Sean arrived, our team sprang to action.

The view under the driver's seat.

The view under the driver’s seat.

Lorie Beth grabbed the couch cushion, stripped it, and began prep for her repair work.

Brandon and Justin Letson got their first look at the Sprinter van.

Jeff popped the hood to give everything a quick look.

I did what I do best: I took pictures with my phone, and made sure everyone was going to be able to complete their part of the project.

Justin and Brandon quickly realized that this appeared to be a much simpler job than they had anticipated. However, that meant gathering a different set of supplies than they had planned on. Our team split up. Brandon and Justin went on an electrical parts run, while Lorie Beth, Sean, Jeff and I went on a lunch and mechanical parts and tool run.

Jeff teaching Sean how to change oil.

Jeff teaching Sean how to change oil.

Jeff’s goal was to set Sean up with a list of tools he would need to do routine maintenance on his van and then teach him how to do basic maintenance. Jeff was able to walk him through changing the oil and filters and give him a quick crash course on diesel maintenance. Jeff and I were able to give him several pointers on how to save money on maintenance while touring.

Next up was Lorie Beth’s sewing work. Sean and I walked to our hotel room so Lorie Beth could talk to him about the material used for his seats. Once she finished the seat we walked back to the shop so we could say goodbye to Jeff, who had driven a couple of hours to spend the afternoon helping us.

A seat that smells like gig ass is nothing compared to the smells that lurk in a 25 year old ambulance.

A seat that smells like gig ass is nothing compared to the smells that lurk in a 25 year old ambulance.

With the mechanical and cosmetic aspects of the project completed and the rest of our team still hunting down parts, it was play time for Lorie’s dog, Willow.

Sean and Willow taking a break.

Sean and Willow taking a break.

Once the guys arrived, they quickly installed the sure power, and ran the line to a switch they installed beside the inverter. It was time to test the set up…

After installing the sure power, a switch was added to toggle between power sources.

After installing the sure power, a switch was added to toggle between power sources.

What first looked like a simple job quickly turned into ghost chasing, reminiscent of the final hours of J’s ambulance. For some reason, even with everything installed correctly, the electronics weren’t receiving power like they should. I could see Sean getting a little nervous. This was his baby, his source of income, his home. It simply had to function properly.

What we planned on taking an afternoon turned into a night. As the guys ran through a process of elimination, they decided it could be a faulty battery isolator. Once it was suspected, Sean confirmed that he’d been having issues with the controls for the rear power not working at times. The battery isolator was going to fail on them and it needed to be replaced. Failing on the road could leave the band without any amenities, including air flow or lighting. With living space already tight and the interior an almost exclusively black color scheme with blacked out windows, it didn’t need to fail on them while touring. There wasn’t a replacement to be found after business hours on a Saturday. Keeping the van until the following Monday wasn’t a practical option. With a Smile Empty Soul tour set to start in just a few weeks, we needed to quickly find a solution.

This was the ghost we were chasing.

This was the ghost we were chasing.

Once again, Brandon and Justin found a way. They removed the electronic battery isolator and installed a manual switch. Taking out the mechanical battery isolator leaves one less part to fail on these guys. Everything worked properly! The van was quickly reassembled and Sean presented the crew with signed copies of all of his music. It was time for a group photo and to send the rock star on his way home.

The manual switch the guys installed in place of the battery isolator.

The manual switch the guys installed in place of the battery isolator.

This was a great success. For less than the price Sean had been paying for an oil change, we were able to teach him how to service his vehicle and give his band a set up that will save them money and prolong the life of their vehicle and hopefully career. Ultimately, as this industry evolves and the people in it struggle to find their footing, those that become Shapeshifters will eventually find away to thrive once again.

To quote Maynard James Keenan:

“It’s going to default back to people who want to do this and are willing to do this. Once people find their own way and find their own audience, they might kind of peek their head up over the crowd long enough to see that there’s an entire movement happening, and we did it individually. It’s critical mass; it all disseminates in a way that you go, ‘Oh, this is the new thing now.’ People just did it naturally, and people just did it in their own ways, in their lines and their mediums and surroundings. They’ll all step back and realize they’ve all come to the same place.” –Nobody’s Tool

As always, and until our next project… Thank you for reading.

Smile Empty Soul, Shapeshifter pre-order page!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

smile empty soul

Hot Wired

Thank You For Helping

From Left to Right: Me, Brandon, Lorie, J, Austin, Justin

From Left to Right: Me, Brandon, Lorie, J, Austin, Justin

It doesn’t seem real. None of it. This was such a wild project from start to finish, and now that it’s over, we’ve finished, but wish we could start again. This wasn’t just a build. There was so much love and emotion in this from everyone involved. Our blog has viewers from over 60 countries, and we received donations from all over the place. Everyone that contributed anything helped give the project life support.

I can’t begin to express to you how much doing this meant to me. (So much emotion.) The group I’m about to thank worked tirelessly and without ego. As much stress and pressure as we were under at the end, and as hot as it was, and as late as it was every time we got together, there was never any bickering, infighting, or ego. This is an amazing team, and their heart can’t be matched.


Brandon Wheeler, owner of HotWired Car Audio in Jonesboro Arkansas, THANK YOU. Your team didn’t just under promise, over deliver… you saved the project. I’m forever indebted to you guys for your hard work. People like you are EXACTLY what the world needs more of. I asked for very little from you at the start, and I asked for something nearly impossible at the end. Each time you didn’t just come through, you exceeded expectations with an unmatched level of quality and professionalism.

Lorie (we took full advantage of Sonic Happy Hour)

Lorie (we took full advantage of Sonic Happy Hour)

Lorie Beth, bunk and interior designer, and all around hard worker. THANK YOU. I recruited you for this because I knew you were a brilliant furniture maker, artist, and loyal fan of the band. I challenged you to do something no one had ever done before and you delivered. You drove countless hours, slept in your car, in the ambulance, and in sleazy motels while working around the clock on numerous occasions to pull this off. You were able to design and build our bunk set up from seven hours away with measurements and photos mostly taken over the phone. Your amazing attitude and work ethic will take you far in life, wherever you decide to go. You’ll always have a special place in my heart because I don’t think another person exists that would make the sacrifices you made to see this through.

Austin and Justin working hard

Austin and Justin working hard

Austin Kelley, diesel mechanic and fabricator, THANK YOU. Several people contacted me about doing the job I asked you to do. I chose you because of your training and I could tell by Facebook stalking you what kind of person you were. You showed up and busted your butt for us. You gelled with our group perfectly, and you had the same passion for this project the rest of us did. At the end, per J’s request for a gauge, you pulled the gauge we needed out of your own car and professionally installed it in minutes. Everything about that sums up what you brought to this project.


Justin Letson, carpenter, THANK YOU. You finished gutting Pandora’s Box for us, and built any and everything we asked you to. Your attention to detail is why this project looks as good as it does. The trim pieces and other details you added to the fundamental components you built really make her look first class.

Jackie Yee Grau, the legal team, THANK YOU. You’re such a positive and intelligent inspiration and a great friend to everyone. Every challenge we threw at you from local ordinance laws to blog editing you delivered quickly on. Thanks for representing me against the Jackson shop going forward. (And for those reading this, she was secretly included in our group photo by Lorie Beth. Lorie’s is holding a card from Jackie in her left hand in the group shot.)

Anonymous donor from the East Coast- THANK YOU. This project would not have happened without your donation. The transmission alone was more than the budget we had to start with. It’s tough to count on people to do what they say they’re going to do, you certainly did just that.

Anonymous donor from the Northeastern US- THANK YOU. I loved the inspirational stories about HURT you shared with me. You didn’t just deliver on the bedding, you delivered six fold, and got us EXACTLY what we were asking for.

Rickie Lindsey, hardworking support, THANK YOU. I shared with J the video of you and me tearing apart the driver’s side wall. You busted your butt doing the grunt work on this project on numerous occasions, and your work largely went unheralded in blog posts. I promise you, I do NOT group you with the shop in Jackson, and I apologize my frustrations with their management frequently seemed to filter its way back to you. You’re a good guy, and you have the work ethic to go as far in life as you want to go.

Trevor Arnold, lead mechanic to start the project, THANK YOU. Seriously, THANK YOU. This project would have ended up being done at a technical college if you hadn’t agreed to take it on. But since you did, I was able to assemble an amazing team and spend my summer working on such a cool and unique project. You were put in really bad places at the end by your boss, and I apologize you had to be the middle man at times, and deal with the frustration from both sides. You’re a gifted mechanic, and that’s why I chose you for this project. Hone your skills and grow your career.

Rose Haley, graphic design, THANK YOU. You did a great job with your artwork and designs. You drove hours out of your way to work on this, and stuck around to meet me, and never got the chance to. Thanks for your contributions to this project.

Donnie Tipton, hardworking nice guy, THANK YOU. I don’t think I’d ever met you until the last hours of our time with Pandora’s Box, but you showed up with an awesome work ethic and energy. You busted your butt for us when we really needed it. THANK YOU.

Barry Martin and Jessica Yarbro at Sign Design Graphics, graphic design, THANK YOU. I don’t know anyone else who would put vinyl on for free at 3:00 am. Your artwork really helped make the exterior look good.

Josh Fischer, Antoine Nihart, Jessie Henry, James Merritt, and Adam Morris… THANK YOU. You guys supported us in a variety of different ways and rolls. You guys frequently came at crazy hours with no notice, and helped make this happen for us. You guys are all great friends.

Karla Fisher, editor and blog street teamer, THANK YOU. You’ve been a good friend to me for years, and your editing skills and feedback came in handy throughout this project. Thanks for continuously promoting the blog on your Facebook page and in all the other ways you helped me.

Cain LaVelle, Pete Tellez, Brad Covey, Chad Hardin, and anyone else that donated gear and equipment. (IF I’m leaving your name off, please shoot me a quick message and I will edit this.) Thank you! This blog was titled Life Support, and you guys gave us the exact support we needed to help make this possible.

The rest of the HotWired Crew I didn’t name… THANK YOU guys for all your support. We tore your shop up, and you responded by buying us food, letting us use your tools, and be in your way. Thank you.

THANK YOU to every last person that read this blog. You guys kept us on track, and kept everyone motivated. You guys were awesome support.

I hope I’m not leaving anyone off this list. There were so many people that helped in so many ways.

Finally I want to thank J Loren.

What it took to build him, wasn't enough to kill him.

What it took to build him, wasn’t enough to kill him.

Your music has been an inspiration to countless people from around the world. The trust and faith you put in me to deliver this for you was greatly appreciated. You handled a really negative looking situation at the end beautifully. I hope you’re able to get exactly what you need out of Pandora’s Box, and I hope she truly serves you well. Somehow you find your way into some of the most bizarre moments of my life, and you’ve become a true friend through those experiences. THANK YOU.


Thank you to everyone that read this until the end, you were my support… until the rapture should come to meet us.



What It Took To Build Her Was Almost Enough To Kill Her (And Us) Part 3: Chasing Ghosts

From Left to Right: Me, Brandon, Lorie, J, Austin, Justin

From Left to Right: Me, Brandon, Lorie, J, Austin, Justin (In Lorie’s left hand is a birthday card from Jackie, the legal team, who was a tremendous help with several aspects of this.)

I coach my oldest son’s football team, and we had practice Saturday morning. I let J know the night before that he’d have the house to himself until about lunch time, then I’d clean up and we’d head down to Jonesboro just before dinner. Instead, he decided to join me for practice. That was a lot of fun for me. I didn’t introduce him to anyone, and I gave him a solid black folding chair to sit on that matched his solid black wardrobe perfectly. He sat for a good chunk of practice and cheered on my team. I kept waiting to hear, “I command you to move!” from his direction, but I guess he was pleased enough with my team’s execution to only yell positive comments. After practice, his cover was blown. A kid came up to him and said that one of my kids called him a ‘rock star’ and he wanted to know who he was. Before J could respond, the majority of my football team’s parents had him swarmed.

Brandon and Justin are heroes to HURT fans everywhere.

Brandon and Justin are heroes to HURT fans everywhere.

A few hours later, it was time to take J to Jonesboro and meet our worn out crew.

The owner of the Jackson shop decided to send two techs down, late Saturday to ‘work’ on the ambulance. I put that in quotes, because one of the guys told me later that afternoon he doesn’t work weekends, and his boss didn’t tell him until 1:00 pm that he had to head two and a half hours to Jonesboro immediately to work on this. I explained to J on the way to Jonesboro that things may get heated with the Jackson crew because they basically killed what was set to be such a beautiful project.

Sure enough, his guys weren’t there very long before they “had done all that they could do, and just needed to collect money.” They explained that everything was good, but the overdrive. I gave them a check for half of the ‘bill’ per my verbal and written communication with the shop owner. He called me and tried to cuss me about it and tell me I’m stealing from him. The voice of a half dozen hurricanes came out, and I proceeded to once again put him back in his place for about twenty minutes. He tried to tell me we would burn up the transmission if he didn’t haul it back to Jackson. I told him, his own mechanics and Austin, all agreed it was safe to drive. He hung up, called his crew, called me back and told me he sees things differently than his mechanics do. I agreed that he probably did. They were looking at reality, and he was looking to collect money for a job he didn’t finish and a project he sabotaged. I marched over to the two men he sent down, and gave them my perspective of the situation very bluntly. I concluded with, “If he doesn’t feel like the check I’m giving him is fair, then he doesn’t have to cash it.” They fully agreed that what I was saying was more than fair.

Our version of a set list.

Now that they were out of the way for good, we had an ambulance to finish, and a dinner to eat. J had planned to go out with everyone who had worked on this project and get to know them before he left. There was no longer time for a fun night of drinks, but I made sure we kept our dinner reservation because everyone there had already given so much to this project. They earned much more than what they got, and deserved an extended night out, but unfortunately there wasn’t time anymore.

On the way to dinner we stopped at a hardware store to pick up supplies. J treated us to an impromptu Tool cover using a large piece of aluminum. It was beautifully done, and sounded brilliant. On the way out of the store, I managed to cut my finger on the same piece of aluminum. That’s why he’s the rock star, and I’m the guy frantically trying to pull a miracle out of nowhere.

After dinner we quickly went back to work. The crew was already extremely tired from working all night Friday. It didn’t matter though.

J, Lorie, and I talking shortly after dinner.

J and I talking to Lorie (not pictured) shortly after dinner.

We were determined to make it happen, and we damn sure weren’t going to let the Jackson shop ruin our project.

As we worked through the night, tears were shed by just about everyone there. It was bittersweet to see something that we put so much of ourselves into, getting set to go away. It was difficult for us that J had to see it before it was ready to be delivered to him. It was a shot in the stomach to all of us that we were having to do so much at the last moment, since we had been working on this all summer. We thought we were finished by about 9:30 or so Sunday morning, just minutes before J came around the corner. I think J was surprised by how much different she looked in just a matter of hours, and that none of us had been to sleep. He still didn’t have a transmission with overdrive, but he had three solid gears that could get him back in time for his prior arrangements.

We backed her out of the shop, and J took her to the same gas station where she broke down on July 4th. It turned out the instrument cluster wasn’t working. We scurried back to HotWired and rounded the mechanics up. She had a host of electrical problems now that weren’t issues last time I drove her. The guys worked throughout the morning going through checklists of potential solutions we found on the internet.

The floors went in early Sunday morning.

Austin Kelley told the team he had to leave in an hour because he couldn’t miss work. J had to cancel his Monday plans. We failed him. It was Sunday afternoon and his ambulance only had three gears, and a plethora of issues we hadn’t even begun to diagnose because they didn’t exist the last time I drove it. J began researching flight plans. He was getting set to leave without the ambulance.

Not only did I fail him, I cost him a bunch of money, and wasted countless other people’s time and money. It was a devastatingly brutal feeling.

Everyone at HotWired had gone above and beyond what I asked them to do. They worked overnights after work over the course of several months making this happen with me. Austin and Lorie traveled from out of state to work on this. They slept in their vehicles, camp sites, and cheap motels. They worked hard, and they didn’t ask for anything in return. Everyone there just wanted the same thing I did. They didn’t want the music to die.

This wasn’t their fault, it was mine, but we all had to feel the pain of being there at the moment where it felt like it was going to end in disaster.

Justin putting the finishing touches on the AC and fridge area.

Justin putting the finishing touches on the AC and fridge area.

I grabbed my phone and began looking for a mechanic to replace Austin. I know countless mechanics, but finding a diesel mechanic on a Sunday, who’s able to come on a moment’s notice to a car audio shop, and repair a transmission and chase electrical ghosts for no money is basically impossible. I made two phone calls, one to James Merritt and the other to Adam Morris. Both guys picked up their phones and came within minutes.

They weren’t diesel mechanics by trade like Austin, but they were all I could come up with. They got to work with Brandon and crew and got almost everything working within an hour.

The final victory came when Brandon discovered a faulty fusable link that restored enough of the systems to give J a fighting chance to make it home. A quick test drive revealed the same relay was also what was preventing the overdrive from kicking in.


J now had a vehicle he could at least get home in. It shifted really rough, and will need some adjusting. The cruise didn’t work, although we were told it was fixed. It didn’t have a muffler, but the shop in Jackson told me it was put on.

J was able to make it home Monday about 14 hours after he planned to be there. The money I haven’t paid the shop in Jackson is going to be used to pay people near J to finish the job they started.

Ultimately this project ended up not being the overwhelming success I thought it was going to be, even as late as early August. However, it wasn’t the ultimate failure it almost became at the last second either. I will continue to update this blog with the work J has done to Pandora’s Box and as he records and tours with her.

I have an enormous amount of love for the crew that worked on this project so tirelessly in Jonesboro.

Thank you for listening,


Pandora's Box is filled with subtle and not so subtle reminders of J's music. This is a replica of the window art outside of the music store J group up with. The last four digits of the phone number should give fans some insight into it's importance in his life and music.

Pandora’s Box is filled with subtle and not so subtle reminders of J’s music. This is a replica of the window art outside of the music store J grew up with. The last four digits of the phone number should give fans some insight into its importance in his life and music.

Microwave and Safe

Microwave and Safe (The safe was graciously donated by Cain LaVelle)


The four sliding bunks with curtains.


Finished view from the rear. The boxes on the right contain the bedding that was donated by an anonymous donor from the Northern US.


Reads “HURTBAND.COM” in your rear view mirror.


Voltage gauge for battery array that Austin took from his car and installed for J.


Fold up bunk and bench in couch mode.


Vinyl work


Please use these guys if you’re in the market for anything they provide. They are the reason this project got done.


Rear speakers


Couch in Bunk Mode with curtains closed

Fold up bunk

Couch in Bunk Mode with curtains open


View from the monitor.




Load lights ON


Bunk view from side entrance


Bedding that was graciously donated by an anonymous donor. THANK YOU AGAIN!


Fridge, AC, and Monitor


Donnie Tipton worked his rear end off all night and gave it one last wipe down before J takes her away.


View from just outside of the back doors.


The other side.



Barry Martin and Jessica Yarbro doing final touches on vinyl

What It Took To Build Her Was Almost Enough To Kill Her (And Us) Part 2: Wars


Art by Rose Haley.

Art by Rose Haley.

Come Thursday, Pandora’s Box HAD to be moved to Jonesboro. (It’s not like the Jackson shop gave a fuck about her.) And while J Loren has the voice of a thousand hurricanes, I’m much bigger than he is and I’d like to think I can muster up the voice of at least a half dozen hurricanes.

Seriously, there simply wasn’t any more time. She had to be moved to HotWired in Jonesboro or she wasn’t going to be finished before J needed to be home. The Jackson shop agreed to move her to Jonesboro for us at the close of business on Thursday. Rose Haley ended up driving from Little Rock, Arkansas (almost 5 hours) to join Lorie Beth, Rickie, and Trevor to do as much as could be done with the ambulance stuck in Jackson.

Linens, safe, and SOME of  the other goodies donated by HURT fans stacked at my house, waiting to be put in Pandora's Box.

Linens, safe, and SOME of the other goodies donated by HURT fans stacked at my house, waiting to be put in Pandora’s Box.

I asked Lorie Beth to stay with Pandora’s Box until she left, to make sure the ambulance made her way to HotWired. The shop owner in Jackson agreed to send his mechanic to Jonesboro on Friday to finish the job for us. It took until just after midnight, Friday morning, for the driver to load up and begin to move Pandora’s Box back to Jonesboro. The last thing the shop owner told the driver who was hauling her back was, “Do NOT unload it without payment in full.” He asked if their shop was going to send a mechanic to work on it on Friday, and the owner responded with “probably not.” Lorie Beth overheard this and let me know. This should have given me barely enough time to formulate a plan, but because the shop suffers from a severe case of incompetence, they actually ended up giving me much more time –

Their truck lost a cylinder while pulling it, so the ambulance didn’t arrive in Jonesboro until 5:06 am, only six hours from when J’s flight was landing.

So if you’re keeping score on this blog:

  1. The truck the Jackson shop used to pick up the ambulance, broke down on the way back.
  2. They couldn’t repair the ambulance, or even diagnose the exact issue in three weeks of working on it.
  3. The truck they used to bring the ambulance back to Jonesboro, broke down.

I was told they had to collect payment in full before they would unload the ambulance. The guy reached into his pocket and handed me a folded up post-it note, and said, “Here’s your bill.” I opened it up, and it was a thousand dollars more than our maximum budget. I loudly used multiple explicative words as I described the utter incompetence I was dealing with. Not only did these guys NOT deliver even remotely close to on time, they didn’t fix the issue, they continued to act like they knew exactly what was wrong, they came in a grand over the maximum that I told them I was willing to pay, and they never gave me a quote until I got the bill on a hand written post-it note.

The hand written post-it note ironically included sales tax.

I had to fight to get her back, I wasn't about to lose her again.

I had to fight to get her back, I wasn’t about to lose her again.

I asked if they were sending their guy to come finish the transmission job in the morning. They assured me they were. That was the last lie I was taking. I wrote them a check that read “Void Void Void” across the currency line in cursive, and filled the rest of the check out as they requested. On the memo line I put a note to the shop owner that read, “Please do the right thing, send your guy here and finish the job.” I handed it to them and thanked them for delivering Pandora’s Box to us at 5:06 am. I parked the ambulance behind a utility truck and a dumpster — the exact fashion the Jackson shop used to keep me from getting her before — just in case they decided a voided check wasn’t sufficient for the job they didn’t do. My intent wasn’t to steal from them, or avoid paying what was owed. However, I couldn’t risk paying them all of our money and them not finish the job. Giving them a voided check would force them to either finish the job or agree to take less than what they were attempting to bill me for since they didn’t actually finish the job, and were almost a month behind schedule.

On Thursday, I had a sneaking suspicion things might go down that way, so I made a quick call to Austin Kelley, and asked him to be ready to go Friday morning on the transmission. Austin is a diesel mechanic, but isn’t a transmission guy. However, at this point he was my only hope. I needed a trained and competent mechanic that might be able to get the job done at the HotWired shop, while teams worked around him repairing the damage from the Jackson shop and finishing her up.

Over the next several hours Friday morning, my calls to the shop in Jackson went unreturned. It wasn’t until shortly before I picked up J that the shop owner called and accused me of check fraud. I quickly unloaded a month’s worth of built up frustration with him as I went into detail explaining their lack of professionalism, inability to do the job asked, and how they fucked us over on being able to do this job at all. I also told him that in NO WAY was that check given to him in any fraudulent manner. It clearly said VOID on it THREE times, and had a note written to him on it. I let him know that if his guy fixed it today [Friday] as agreed, I would pay him his extremely high bill, in full, IN CASH. I explained if his guy was able to get it fixed Saturday, I would pay him my original maximum, and he could deal with the rest because he never gave me an estimate or a quote, and just demanded a grand more at the end. I concluded my conversation by saying if he was unable to fix it by Saturday night, I’d give them exactly half to cover the parts, and I would have to pay the rest to someone else to cover their labor.

I hung up the phone and sent him a recap of our conversation via text message, including the amounts and the time frames to make sure there was NO misunderstanding.

He didn’t respond, and they never sent a mechanic.

Within minutes of talking to the Jackson shop owner, I picked up J Loren from the airport. He hadn’t slept the entire night before, and he felt terrible. I was equally as grouchy and sleep deprived, but slightly more stressed.

I took him for energy drinks and BBQ. Once we sat down, I explained to him what was going on with the transmission, and that the entire project might not be 100% as advertised because I simply fucked up by not getting the ambulance moved sooner. He acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but I’m not sure he fully understood the gravity of the situation. I didn’t want to stress him out anymore and ruin a weekend he had been looking forward to, and I had faith in team HotWired, Lorie Beth, and Austin Kelley. They have as much heart as I do.

Alana made J an awesome birthday cake.

Alana made J an awesome birthday cake.

Friday night was scheduled to be the night J would hang out with the Jackson team and thank them for their efforts. However, I knew if I was around any of them I would lose my cool. So instead, we had a quiet evening at my house. My kids gave J a Paper Jamz guitar and asked him to play for us, so he did some stunning renditions of the preprogramed rock/pop songs. After dinner, we relaxed and had a few drinks. I had to ask J his opinion of his songs being put into Gizoogle and posted on the HURT Forum. He wasn’t sure what I was talking about, so I read him the lyrics to ‘Rapture.’ He laughed, and quickly asked me to pull up ‘Role Martyr X.’ I did, and had him sing us the “Gizoogle” version. I can still hear him singing “since I be da most thugged-out humble playa up in tha ghetto. Right back up in yo muthafuckin ass” as I type this.

The HotWired team grew dramatically Friday night. Brandon, the store owner, put out an “all hands on deck” post on Facebook. They worked throughout the night and made tremendous progress. I felt very guilty hanging out with J while everyone else worked their rear ends off tirelessly all night.

To be continued…


What It Took To Build Her Was Almost Enough to Kill Her (And Us) Part 1: Stonewalled in Jackson

This is what was left of the transmission after 280,000 miles

This is what was left of the transmission after 280,000 miles

On August 5th, I made the last blog post that ended with a live status update of Trevor and Pandora’s Box stuck on I40. It was a light hearted post because we were in really good shape. The ambulance only needed another day or two’s worth of interior work. The Jackson crew told me their part would only take two days. J was planning on coming August 15th. We were in great shape to not only be finished early, but to be able to do significant road testing to work out the quirks and bugs that are sure to show up on a one off build of a 23 year old vehicle with 280,000 miles on it.

This little relay almost burned everything up. It was stuck ‘on’ and gave constant power to the transmission, frying everything around it.

And… we were basically on budget. Which is vital when you’re working with other people’s money. J decided to book a flight for August 22nd to give us an extra week just in case things ran behind.

Then everything just fell apart for me.

Planning the transmission work was the hardest part of this entire project. I know countless mechanics and car dealers across the country; this was the most critical part of the project. We had to find a shop that had the proper equipment to do this job, and I wanted to find a place that had experience doing the kind of custom transmission a project like ours required. The shop in Jackson, TN seemed to be the perfect fit. They came recommended to us, I knew a mechanic that worked there, and they specialized in upgrading light and medium duty diesels. I asked them for a quote and was told there would be no way to give a quote without tearing into the transmission and figuring out what needed to be repaired or replaced first. I felt like that was fair, so I let them know our MAXIMUM budget. I asked them to do it as cheaply as possible and explained that we didn’t need overkill, we just needed a transmission that was designed for hauling the weight we needed to haul, daily, across the country.

Part of my day job is recognizing fraud in automobile dealerships. As the warning signs started to mount with this particular shop, our team was pushed to the breaking point, and my stress level began to rise. The first sign of trouble was the date they picked up Pandora’s Box. She was supposed to be picked up a week prior to that, and every day I would get a phone call telling me they would come get her the next day. After consulting with the rest of our team, we decided it was best to not have the Jackson shop do the work, so I lined up another shop instead. We just didn’t feel like they were motivated to do the project. When I called the Jackson shop to let them know I was going to take the ambulance to an alternate shop, I was told they were less than 30 minutes from being in Jonesboro to pick her up. Sure enough, they were, so they got to keep the job.

Transmissions for a project like ours can run upwards of $6,000-$8,000. We didn’t have that kind of money and we still needed to spend a bunch more on the creature comfort elements. They called me after she was picked up, and agreed to have a quote for me first thing Wednesday morning. A quote on Wednesday and having the work done on Friday turned into a quote on Thursday, with work done on Saturday. My phone calls on Thursday, August 7th, and Friday, August 8th, weren’t returned. On Saturday, I was told she would be finished Monday, that I could pick her up, and the work would be “well under my budget.” Monday, August 11th, I drove almost two hours to get her, only to be turned away because she wasn’t shifting properly. Every day from August 12th through the 14th I was told she would be ready the next day, that they couldn’t get me a quote, but they knew what my budget was and wouldn’t be over it. Finally, on August 15th, I was told I could pick her up at the end up the day. I drove there, and waited almost two hours before the shop owner came to talk to me. He assured me that she would be done before I left Jackson that night, even if his guys had to stay until midnight. He told me he was going to donate about $500 of the labor in exchange for throwing a logo on the side of her, and I told him that’s great. I explained to him again exactly what our time frame was, told him exactly what we planned to do to her, and I let him know what J’s flight plans were.

I told him I’d stay in Jackson until she was done, and to call me ASAP so I could go home. I got in my car and immediately drove home. I knew I wasn’t going to get a phone call from him. I’m trained to spot liars, and I knew I was being lied to. Phone calls to the shop that night went unanswered. At this point, panic started to set in for me. J was flying here in a week. We still had plenty of time to get everything done, but I didn’t know how much I could spend on everything else we needed to order, and I no longer had any confidence in the Jackson shop’s ability or intent to get the job done.

The Hot Wired Crew moved this safely to the inside.

The Hot Wired Crew moved this safely to the inside.

By Monday, August 18th, I couldn’t wait any longer. I told them I would have to pick up Pandora’s Box by close of business even if she wasn’t done. I explained that if she wasn’t safe to drive, I’d need to tow her back to Jonesboro because there was just enough time left to do everything else we needed to do. I drove there to pick her up — they had moved her between a fence and the building, then parked a truck behind her to trap her there. I’ve seen dealers use this tactic before with customers. I took it as a battle move. They wanted to make sure I’d pay before I had a chance of driving away with her. They knew my budget upfront, but to this point they’d refused to give me a quote. I sent a mass text message to our team to let them know that the Jackson shop was about to try and screw us out of money.

The owner seemed nice enough about the situation. He agreed to donate the hours of a couple of his crew guys and give them a list of odd jobs to be done on the ambulance. He also agreed to install a donated muffler for us, since the delay was entirely on them. We agreed that if the transmission wasn’t 100% ready to go by the end of the day on Wednesday, that he would truck her to us Thursday morning and finish the job in Jonesboro.

His crew honestly ended up making things harder on us. Vinyl was torn, everything got over spray on it and our fridge was dropped and scuffed up.  The wiring for the solar panel was installed outside of the ambulance and was not protected from the elements in any way. They did help us paint, and said that they fixed the cruise and got the muffler on.

This was her final coat of paint. Hours before she left Jackson.

Pictured are Rickie and Lorie working their asses off in what was a difficult situation.


Thursday, Pandora’s Box was in shambles. It was too late for me to have J get a later flight, and almost everything was going to have to be redone on her. All of our hard work was crumbling away.

Epic failure was certain. … And everything just fell apart.



At War with Summers Lost

Lights InstalledI think of all the days this summer where we could have done something more. There was never a day that went by that she wasn’t on my mind, but now we are rushing to get everything done. I’m smiling though. As the team’s leader, it’s my job to make sure everyone buys into the mission, has clearly defined objectives, and understands when things must be done. All this must be done under budget and it must be built to last.

The flurry of texts messages and late night emails I’m getting from our team members lets me know our group is as focused on our goal as I am. At this point I’d say Pandora’s Box is about 80-85% of the way done. However, the remaining 15-20% is without a doubt some of the most critical parts.

Justin looking fantastic!

Justin looking fantastic!

The bunks are installed and the monitor is in. All the lights work, including remote controlled interior color changing LED’s (click to check out the vid!). She’s had one coat of paint on the interior, and the floors ripped out. She’ll need another coat or two before we install the flooring and trim. She still needs the main AC fixed, auxiliary AC installed, mini-fridge, microwave, safe, locks fixed, cruise control repaired, solar panel installed, and a TRANSMISSION.

J and Victor have been adamant about me field testing her after she gets finished. Trust me, I want to as well. We need to make sure there are no bugs or quirks with her before she sets out to tour the country. Victor sent me a text this week that read, “Have you been driving it around? Getting a feel for the engine? Do you think it will tour well pulling a trailer for long periods of time?”

I guess a loaded set of questions deserves a loaded answer:

Q: Have you been driving it around? A. Well, my last time driving it I took it from Jackson, TN to Jonesboro, AR with no tags, or working lights or signals of any kind, and the torque converter failed a block away from HotWired, leaving it un-drivable since July 4th. At the time I thought it ran out of gas, but it turned out to be much worse.

All the bunks slid back in place.

All the bunks slid back in place.

Q: Are you getting a feel for the engine? A. Trevor Arnold, one of our Jackson TN mechanics, did a pretty thorough inspection of the engine and concluded it’s in great shape. Austin Kelley, who came down from Missouri, looked at it a few weeks ago, and gave me the same report without any knowledge of what Trevor had told me. I don’t know much about diesel engines, but a couple of guys that work on them for a living have given me assurance that everything’s going to be fine.

Q: Do you think it will tour well pulling a trailer for long periods of time? A. We’ll find out very soon. I’ve given Trevor and his crew our budget and specifications. It’s up to them to make it happen, and make it happen quickly. I asked him to do it, because I know he can do it well.

Brandon, Justin, and the HotWired team have spent several late nights and countless hours working on this project now. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I asked these guys to do some simple wiring and help me out with a head unit. So far, they’ve had Pandora’s Box for a month and have feasted on her. Ripping apart her insides, installing new walls, lights, wires, the stereo, speakers, and helping us install the bunks. It’s unbelievable how much work they have done. I’m incredibly thankful for their work, and humbled by the passion and commitment they’ve shown to this project.

Today she started to make the move back to Jackson for the transmission work, but then I guess it was just a twist of fate, or irony, or just plain dumb luck. As I’m posting this, Trevor is stuck on I-40 at the same spot where I broke down with Pandora’s Box and Uncle Pervy. This time they weren’t even driving the ambulance, she was on the back of a truck. God speed Trevor, god speed, and I feel your pain.

Been there... done that... I'll send you a t-shirt.

Been there… done that… I’ll send you a t-shirt.


Thank you for listening.



Bunks In

Side door view of the bunks.

Bunks Out

Bunks Out

All the bunks slid back in place.

All the bunks slid back in place.

Fold Up, Down

Couch Mode


Getting set for her trip to Jackson.

Rear Sound

Your first shot of the rear sound system.

Fold Up, Up

Bunk Mode.

Fold up bunk in down position

Fold up bunk in down position.


The chair on the left is removable.


In couch mode.


With the bottom bunks out.

On the way to get stuck on I 40 near Jackson!

On the way to get stuck on I 40 near Jackson!

Intervene Her

Front Hood Up“You’d have to see it with my eyes, cause it sure was quite a sight, just the way she looked with men like me surrounding…”

The anticipation for last weekend couldn’t have been bigger. We planned to have the entire crew together for a weekend campout in Jackson to do the bulk of the work on the ambulance. The planning for last weekend started almost two months ago. Perhaps I’m not the seer I thought I was. We had to shift our trip to Jonesboro, Arkansas because of the transmission issues. In my last post, I mentioned we’ve had a mild summer to this point. Mother Nature decided she wasn’t going to let that continue.

She needed brake lights, head lights, tail lights, turn signals, and a TRANSMISSION.

She needed brake lights, head lights, tail lights, turn signals, and a TRANSMISSION.

Our weekend started with a drive to Nashville to have a laptop configured by Pete Tellez.  This computer will serve as the hub for the rear electronics. Pete works in IT at the corporate office of Logan’s Roadhouse. His office is located on the third floor of a corporate office building, which looks just like every other corporate office building in America until the elevator doors open on the third floor. That floor looks just like a Logan’s Roadhouse, complete with neon lights and all the décor you’d find in the restaurant wrapped around the desks. Pete was able to fix up our laptop and as a bonus, he provided us with a second monitor and other equipment for the numerous devices J and crew will be using in the ambulance. It was the perfect start to the weekend.

Lorie (we took full advantage of Sonic Happy Hour)

Lorie (we took full advantage of Sonic Happy Hour)

I met Lorie Beth [who designed and built the bunks at her house] while I was in Nashville, and she followed me all the way to Jonesboro in the blazing heat with no air conditioning. When we arrived, Austin Kelley, who had already made the drive down from Missouri, was hard at work in the Hotwired shop. He was quick to point out that I drove the ambulance from Jackson TN through Memphis, to Jonesboro with no head lights, no brake lights, no turn signals, no tags, and a torque converter that failed a block away from the Hotwired shop. I had already thought my trip from Jackson was an extreme trip, all I could do was laugh when I found out a week later exactly how crazy it was.

The Hotwired team continued to gut and clean up the ambulance over the course of the last week.  They didn’t want to install anything until our entire crew arrived in order to make sure everything was done right the first time. Now that we were all finally in the same place at the same time with the ambulance, we were able to have a production meeting to create a final plan for the weekend.

Friday night ended with the crew going to visit a local bar for dinner and a few drinks with some friends of mine from high school. Our tab was graciously picked up for us. It was the first of many times that our tab was picked up when we ate. I made sure to relay to J how well everyone treated us while we were in town, and told him he had to do a show in Jonesboro on a future tour. I’m insisting on it.


Justin being Justin (building shit)

Saturday, everyone was fired up. The crew quickly jumped into action. Justin,

from Hotwired, framed out the walls for the driver’s side bunks. As we removed the vinyl from the passenger side rear wall, we were all grossly reminded of Pandora’s gruesome past. The padding on the wall hid over two decades of dried fluids that had never been cleaned. With not so subtle hints like that and the music of HURT playing in the background while we worked, it was impossible to not feel emotion from every aspect of every part of this project.

A quarter century of bio-hazardous fluid build up was found behind the padding.

A quarter century of bio-hazardous fluid build up was found behind the padding.

The vinyl surfaces were dyed black, the flooring was removed, and parts of the interior and bunks were painted. Austin was able to get all the lights working. We only paused briefly for meals and worked until just past 3:00 am Sunday morning. Everything was starting to come together now. It felt like we made more progress between Friday and Saturday night than we had in the months leading up to this. It was finally taking shape.

By Sunday everyone was showing signs of being drained from the long hours, but the energy level was still high. Austin began the day installing a brace to support the passenger side fold up bunk, then did the remaining fabrication work for the bunks. Lorie worked to prepare the bunks for installation and painted a second coat on everything we had painted the night before while I purchased supplies. Brandon, from Hot Wired, joined us after dinner to install the bunks.

Austin's mount for the fold up bunk.

Austin’s mount for the fold up bunk.

The bunks have been the most expensive element of this project so far, and there simply wasn’t another project we could find to copy from or a kit to use. Every aspect of them was custom designed and built by Lorie, 9 hours away. I think everyone involved in this project so far was somewhere on a range from ‘cautiously optimistic’ to ‘not understanding at all how this would work, even with sketches and measurements.’ I was on the cautiously optimistic side. I recruited Lorie for this because she owns a business building furniture. I knew the designs would be sound and the craftsmanship would be top notch. By 3:00 am Sunday we were able to install the passenger side folding bunk and test fit the four driver’s side sliding bunks. SUCCESS! The bunks wouldn’t need any modifications and the ambulance would only need a couple of adjustments for everything to work perfectly.

At 3:30 am early Monday morning we were all in the back of the ambulance

Brandon, passionate music fan and Hot Wired owner.

Brandon, passionate music fan and Hot Wired owner.

reflecting on the work we’d just done. I looked around at a worn out crew and couldn’t hold back from smiling. Austin, Brandon, Justin, and Lorie all share a passion for being the absolute best at their craft. All weekend I kept having to remind them that this didn’t have to be flawless because we don’t have the budget for flawless. It just needed to function well and be durable. Despite intense heat, twenty hours days, and the obstacles that come from truly doing something that’s never been done before; we were actually making this thing happen! In that moment “The Seer” popped in my head. It just seemed fitting the way we all converged on her because we all wanted the same thing, and we all saw her true beauty.

Pandora’s Box is going to stay in Jonesboro until the Hotwired crew finishes with her. They are doing some more cosmetic work, installing interior and exterior lighting, and installing the AV components. By the time you are reading this I’ll be hard at work installing the flooring. Then, she’ll have to be towed back to Jackson for a new transmission, solar panel install, air conditioning work, cruise control repair, and the modifications made for her to run on biodiesel.

She’s had a hell of run so far, but I’d like to think her best days are just ahead of her.

Thank You For Listening


(More photos can be found here. Compliments of Austin Kelley.)

Removing the vinyl on the rear doors.

Removing the vinyl on the rear doors.



When Atlas slips, she won't lose her grip.

When Atlas slips, she won’t lose her grip.

The inverter

The inverter

J's roof mounted stripper pole and rear wiring.

J’s roof mounted stripper pole and rear wiring.

The vinyl was died black

This vinyl was dyed black.

Prepped for paint

Prepped for paint (and newly dyed black door panel).

Justin putting in the new wall.

Justin putting in the new wall.

We'll shine up the chrome and these doors will look great.

We’ll shine up the chrome and these doors will look great.

Custom fitting made by Austin to repair the passenger side rear door.

Custom fitting made by Austin to repair the passenger side rear door.

Passenger side bunks in couch mode.

Passenger side bunks in couch mode.

Austin and Lorie raising the bunk into place for the first time.

Austin and Lorie raising the bunk into place for the first time with Brandon watching.

They are in!

Bunk up and secure! (Bo and Lorie pictured).

Lorie adding slides to the bunk rails

Lorie adding slides to the bunk rails.

Both braces in and ready for sliding bunks

Both braces in and ready for sliding bunks.

3 bunks in, with the bottom bunk slid out.

3 bunks in, with the bottom bunk slid out.

Bunks 2 and 4 slid out.

Bunks 2 and 4 slid out.

Letters are no where to be seen anymore.

Letters are no where to be seen anymore.

Fighting the Ride That Takes Me Home

The view from the gas pump. Hot Wired is RIGHT THERE!

The view from the gas pump. Hot Wired is RIGHT THERE!

For the third time in fifteen months I was stuck in a J. Loren touring vehicle. But this time was different. I felt like Tantalus. I was back in my home town and I could see our destination from inside the lifeless Pandora’s Box. A hundred yards away, Hot Wired awaited us. But because Pandora’s Box weighs tons, it may as well have been miles. And this time I don’t mind saying, “I’m to blame.”

Almost two weeks ago, we were ahead of schedule. We had most of our supplies ordered.  The various teams that I’d organized were each hard at work fulfilling their portions of the project. The plan was to finish gutting Pandora by June 30th and have her transmission shy of being road-ready so that she could make the two and a half hour trip to Jonesboro for the electrical work and AV installation.

Then, the [Mississippi] river met us. Eight straight days of downpours. Flooding and daily power outages. This took away our ability to get any significant work done. Rickie was able to squeeze in several hours of breaking her down, but we were basically at a standstill until the weather broke.

However, I believe when you give someone your word, you deliver on it, ‘come hell or high water.’ In this case, we’ve had a mild summer, so we only had to deal with the second half of that cliché. Floods will not stop us from being done on time! She was gutted enough to get her to the Hotwired team; she just needed a new exhaust system and some tires to safely make the trip.

The tires were acquired at cost, straight from a wholesaler, and purchased mafia style. I was told to drive to a car dealership in Mississippi and pick up an unmarked dealership truck.  Drive it to a warehouse at the Memphis International Airport where the tires were located.  Pay with cash only, of course. The transaction went down smoothly.  The tires were shuffled into my vehicle and transported to Jackson to be put on Pandora’s Box.

They used a forklift to change the back tires.

They used a forklift to change the back tires.

A simple carjack wasn’t enough to safely get her off the ground, so a forklift was used to change the tires. While she was off the ground, the existing muffler was cut-off to allow me to get her to the Hotwired guys quickly, so they would have enough time to do their job before the bunks will be installed.

Before I set off to Jonesboro, Trevor advised me to manually shift the gears.  This way we could stretch every last mile out of the existing transmission. So I made away with what we’d made… but I didn’t make it very far.

At almost the same spot where I wasn’t sure if Uncle Pervy was going to make it, Pandora decided she didn’t want to go any further. I dropped her into first gear… nothing. Second… nothing. Overdrive… nothing. At this point I decided I better throw her in reverse and at least get off the highway… but reverse wouldn’t work either. I couldn’t help but smile. Seriously, I thought the entire situation was incredibly humorous. What were the odds of the same thing happening to me twice, in practically the exact same spot? I called Trevor and told him to come get me. About five minutes later I put her in first gear; it caught, and I was off and running. I called Trevor and told him that unless something crazy happened, I would at least make it to Memphis and try to get the rest of the way to Jonesboro the next morning. When the time came, I charted my route carefully. Her turn signals don’t work and she’s not properly tagged.  I wanted to avoid as many turns as possible and make it without stopping. I figured I had just enough fuel to get there, and that I’d put a little gas in her at the gas station located next to the Hotwired building.

They call the stretch of I-40 between Memphis and Nashville Music Highway

They call the stretch of I-40 between Memphis and Nashville the ‘Music Highway’

As I started coming into Jonesboro, I was getting really nervous. The fuel gauge looked painfully low, but I was minutes away from being at the gas station. I tried to think if a closer option was available, but there wasn’t one. As I exited the interstate, the traffic light at the end of the ramp was green…PERFECT! I was able to cruise up to the pump. I put her in park, and she died before I could turn the key off. I smiled really big at this point. I made it! I filled her up, bought a green tea, and went back to crank her up.  Instead of her cranking, I began to learn a valuable lesson. Once a diesel runs out of fuel, air gets in the lines. You can’t just simply start it back up. After a couple of cranks, I looked up and saw Jim Frigo, a local radio DJ I know casually from doing several remotes together over the years [I also went to the same high school as his daughter]. He offered to give me a jump, and I explained that it wasn’t a battery issue. Before he even left the gas station parking lot, two diesel mechanics walked over and offered to help. THIS is what I love about my hometown. Jim had no idea who I was when he first walked over, and I offered no explanation as to why I was in an ambulance, he just wanted to help. These two guys didn’t know me either, but they were eager to get me going again.

Keep Calm and Chive On! (Duke of Randy and Duke)

Keep Calm and Chive On! (Duke of Randy and Duke)

After a few shots of starting fluid and several attempts to get her running again, we determined it just wasn’t going to happen. Pandora’s Box needed a lot more work than what could be done on the 4th of July in a gas station parking lot. The two men (Randy and Duke) dropped the trailer they were pulling and quickly hooked up a chain to tow me into the Hotwired lot.

The Hotwired guys blew me away with their plans. I hadn’t asked much from them because I was asking them to either donate or do the work at very little cost. Hotwired is doing much more than I could have ever asked for. I can’t wait to show everyone what these guys are doing, and why I picked this crew to help us on this project.

But until then, I’ll see you where the river meets us.


It's tough to drive this thing and not play with all the buttons.

It’s tough to drive this thing and not play with all the buttons.

Goodbye to (the Insides of) the Machine

Inside of the BoxIt seems fitting that an ambulance would be built with the mumblings of Charles Darwin dancing in the back of the designers’ minds. After all, it takes an incredibly evolved vehicle to be able to sustain life that’s on the brink of death while transporting it. Maybe it’s from the vein of Darwin’s words that Friedrich Nietzsche derived his quote “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” If not, then perhaps the quote could trace its origins back to the story of the Phoenix.

According to folklore, the Phoenix was a beautiful immortal bird who spent her days happily singing songs until she became old, tired, and weak. The Phoenix didn’t want to continue living this way, so she made the long journey back to her home and rested on top of a palm tree. Shortly after landing, the Phoenix loudly sang a song to the sun asking for it to make her young and strong once more. The sun immediately shone down with all its might directly onto the Phoenix, causing her to burn brightly.

Once the flames died down, all that was left of the Phoenix was a pile of ashes. From those ashes the Phoenix began to form and rise again. This time she rose with renewed grace, strength, and power. The Phoenix had new life and began to sing her beautiful melodies once more. She was brought to the brink of death and emerged stronger.

Pandora’s Box is much like the Phoenix. She’s tired and weak, and yearns to sing a different tune. She returned to an area, just a short drive from where she was originally born, to be born again. She needs to be completely broken down and ripped apart.  We’ll then carefully craft her to make sure she’s strong enough to enjoy her new life delivering melodies to the world.

Can't make this stuff up. That's a nomadic evangelical electrician who sells solar panels from a van.

Can’t make this stuff up. That’s a nomadic evangelical electrician who sells solar panels from a van.

It’s time for her to evolve, but this time she’ll be equipped with the power of the sun — not destroyed by it. Solar panels can be pricy, so the hunt for the perfect panel was not something we would take lightly. A Craigslist ad sent to me by Austin Kelley proved to be a great start. Two weeks later, I found myself buying our panel from a nomadic evangelical electrician who was hocking them from an I-40 truck stop about an hour away from the shop. Sadly, the panel wouldn’t fit in my car.  The guy drove about 45 minutes back towards the shop before he dropped the panel off with me at another I-40 truck stop. I had to wait about half an hour for a ride. It was easy to pass the time though. I made direct eye contact for as long as possible with anyone pumping gas. My goal was to confuse them more than anything. Was I a bum with a solar panel? Was I trying to sell it? Was I looking to kill someone? Was I hitchhiking and expecting someone to let me take my five-foot-tall panel along for the ride? Well, that one was partially true.

Once we got the solar panel, it was time to start focusing on other items. Thanks to your generous support, bunk sheets have arrived, batteries were located, comforters are being hunted down and most of the critical interior components have been ordered or pledged to the cause. I’m keeping the parts list up to date with what we need, so please check back frequently if you’re interested in donating or sponsoring. Every little bit helps!

Next, it was time to turn her into the ashes from which our lovely Pandora will soon rise. Removing the shelving from the rear passenger side was simple. The driver’s side, however, pitted us against Pandora in a Darwinist style battle.

We planned to remove each piece very carefully.

We planned to remove each piece very carefully.

We started with screwdrivers and a plan to repurpose as much of the wood as possible. Once we removed the screws, we upgraded to claw hammers to remove as many of the nails as possible. Then, we learned the 1.5 inch thick plywood boards were glued together, making the shelving components three inches thick. We traded our small hammers for crowbars and sledge hammers. It was only at that point Pandora began to crack.  Sledge hammers made way for saws.  Finally, the testosterone laden youth and rage from our team of three proved to be too much for her.

We knew there was transmission wear when we got her, but Trevor was able to diagnosis the extent of the damage. First gear is basically gone. (We have a video describing the transmission issues. I couldn’t get it to post on YouTube, but if enough people really want to see it, I’ll try to load it again.)

Progress is being made, slowly but surely, one weekend at a time. We are determined to deliver this to J by the summer’s end. To quote Friedrich Nietzsche again, “without muSmashingsic, life would be a mistake.”

As always, thank you for listening.






We cut off a piece to make sure we weren't going to cut into any wires.

We cut off a piece to make sure we weren’t going to cut into any wires.

After we realized what we were up against, we had to be a little more aggressive.

After we realized what we were up against, we had to be a little more aggressive.

What it took to build her, wasn't enough to kill her.

What it takes to build her, wasn’t enough to kill her.

How We End Up… With An Awkward Photo of Kayla Riley and An Extended Visit from Uncle Pervy (Part 2)

Part 2: An Extended Visit from Uncle Pervy

(If you haven’t read part 1 yet, go here.)

Once Kayla left the room to introduce the first band, the conversation shifted back to the van. I learned they lovingly called it, ‘Uncle Pervy’ because it looked like a van your creepy, perverted uncle would drive. They had all kinds of jokes and stories about Uncle Pervy’s misadventures.

Smile's Set

Smile’s Set

During the show, I sent texts to a cousin who lived nearby. I asked her if she had a spot where I could park a large van for a day or two. I didn’t give her any more information than that. She gave me the address for her church. That seemed like a perfectly fitting spot to hide a church van for a few days.

HURT's Set

HURT’s Set

After the show, I grabbed the spare set of keys for Uncle Pervy, gave the guys the address to drop off the van, and made the drive from Nashville to Chattanooga. I was only going to be able to grab an hour of sleep before I needed to be at work, but it was okay. I hadn’t had a significant amount of caffeine in months, so I stopped at a gas station before I got to my hotel and loaded up on energy drinks and Starbucks.

Morning After Pills

Morning After Pills

As soon as I woke up, I was incredibly thirsty.  So I downed everything in the picture within minutes. That proved to be a great move because between a sugar rush, caffeine high, and pure adrenaline, I delivered high energy presentations all day. Since I recruit for a technical college, I was traveling with a PA, folding tables, and several boxes of DVDs and other swag. A few kids helped me tear down my gear when the event was over and load up my car. They thought it would be funny to put a giant fake mustache on the front of my Hyundai. It was perfect. Uncle Pervy’s mustache was found! I put the mustache on him as soon as I got to him, and it was a match made in heaven.

When it came time to bring Uncle Pervy home, I verified with the guys that he was safe to drive, and they assured me he was. When I first opened his old rusty door, I honestly got a little depressed. I couldn’t believe a band that had so much talent, such a large fan base, and could be heard on radio stations from coast to coast was touring out of that van. At that moment, I gained so much more respect for this band that I already loved.

I jumped in, started him up, and began to take Uncle Pervy to my place. We were just outside of Nashville before I realized that he basically tops out at 65 mph. I stopped for gas and as I started to merge back onto the interstate, I was nearly killed trying to get up to speed. The speedometer seemed to lock in place at just over 35 mph and I couldn’t get out of the way of the fast approaching traffic. When I realized he wasn’t going to get any faster I hit the shoulder and stopped. Suddenly all the jokes and comments about J doing 35 on the interstate made sense. I turned the van off, called my wife, explained what was happening, and told her to be ready to come get me if I couldn’t get him up to speed. After about ten minutes, I started him up and this time I had no problems getting up to speed.

My friend Cat housed Pervy for a bit at her place, she referred to him as "Creepy Rape Van"

My friend Cat housed Pervy for a bit at her place, she referred to him as “Creepy Rape Van”

Once I got Uncle Pervy home, I was able to show him a good time. I took him to the mall, the playground, gravel roads, and Midtown Memphis. Each time he drew a lot of attention. He was camera friendly so I took plenty of photos of him to send back to the band so they could see their old pal was having a good time.

After several discussions the band decided it was time to part ways with their much loved family member. I cleaned up Uncle

Blood and Grease from Bringing Uncle Pervy Back to Life!

Blood and Grease from Bringing Uncle Pervy Back to Life!

Pervy and made a few necessary repairs.  I sold him before the tour ended for more than what the band had originally paid! Uncle Pervy was sold to a man who was taking a youth group to church camp. He was finally home again.

When the tour rolled through Memphis, I had a heart-to-heart with the band about their touring conditions. I explained to them that I had access to dealers-only auto auctions and sent students to school to learn how to do custom vehicles. I told them that when they were ready to purchase another vehicle to let me get involved. I had all the necessary connections to provide a much better set up than what they were using. When I got the phone call about the ambulance, it was déjà vu. I still had the connections, I still had the desire to help, and most importantly… I still had the mustache. As soon as the ambulance arrived, the first thing I did was put the mustache on her and sent the guys a picture. She didn’t have a name, so I referred to her as Pervy 2.0 until we came up with her name. She will NOT have the mustache when we are done. I will save it for the next HURT touring vehicle.

THANK YOU FOR LISTENING, I would love to see comments in the thread below sharing YOUR HURT stories. The crazier the better.


The Tour Schedule Posted Inside of the Van

The Tour Schedule Posted Inside of the Van

Uncle Pervy's Day Off

Uncle Pervy’s Day Off

Junk in Trunk



Driver’s Seat and Engine

Passanger Side Drivers Side Backside

All cleaned up and ready for a new beginning

All cleaned up and ready for a new beginning