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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)