Month: July 2014

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

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

Bo

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

Removing the vinyl on the rear doors.

Removing the vinyl on the rear doors.

Shop

 

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.

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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.

-Bo

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.