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…