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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.

 

Bo

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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.

Bo

 

 

 

 

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.

The Inner Workings of Pandora’s Box

Just about every day I get a message from someone asking me for details on what we are doing. I’ve given just about everyone pretty detailed information and some insight into our plan. The most notable exceptions to this are J and Victor.

It’s amusing to me to keep these guys slightly on edge and waiting for updates. They’re used to it being the other way around. As they record their albums, people haunt the various HURT sites combing for updates and snippets of what’s to come. I’m sure it’s got to be a rewarding feeling for them to know that so many people care so much about something they put so much of themselves into when they are recording an album. Similarly, we are taking great pride in all the attention our build is getting and hopefully giving J and Victor a slight taste of the curiosity and eager anticipation we go through during the long waits between albums.

So what exactly is the plan anyway?

Honestly, a lot of what we have planned is going to depend on how much we’re able to get donated. So things will probably change over the course of this build depending on our budget and what’s sent to us.

The most critical aspect of this project is making sure this thing runs safely and runs well. Before we spend any of our resources on anything else, all mechanical issues must be resolved.

The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any major issues with the engine. The bad news is that the transmission is showing signs of wear and, if at all possible, we plan to replace it. The four rear tires must be replaced (one of them is already blown). The heat and air need some work, and the ambulance is full of electrical issues. From what we’ve been able to discern at this point, it appears most of the electrical issues stem from a previous owner ripping out the inverter and trying to direct-wire all electrical systems to the battery. We are going to basically rip out ALL the wiring and start again.  Depending on time and budget we may not hook back up most of the lights and siren because they aren’t needed.

The next phase involves gutting most of the insides. Once it’s gutted and the mechanical issues have been addressed, Pandora’s Box will be taking a 2 ½ hour trip to Hot Wired Car Audio in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Hot Wired has agreed to donate several days worth of shop time and labor to the project. They will be installing the electrical, audio and video equipment that will be used for both entertainment purposes and as a functioning mobile recording studio. J has mentioned AC plug-ins are prized in the band world, so we plan to run AC outlets to each bunk to provide life support for their phones and laptops.

Once the wiring is complete, Pandora’s Box will make the trip back to Jackson to be fitted for bunks. Lorie Haynes did an amazing job on designing them. We plan to install three permanent bunks, one bunk that when folded down will form the back part of a couch, and two bunks on a locking slide system that can be removed for additional head room. Austin Kelly, whom I met through this blog, will be helping us out on this part.

Four Bunk Set up

This is a model of our four bunk set up, with bunks locked in travel mode.

Four Bunk Set Up Extended

Model of how the four bunks on the driver’s side will look when extended.

Pandora’s Box will be equipped with a kitchenette and a separate cooler so the guys aren’t forced to eat fried gas station and bar food.  We plan to install an auxiliary heat and air system that can be used for extended hours without the engine running so the guys can stay comfortable and not burn gas.

Speaking of not burning gas, sustainability for the guys has been a running theme on this blog and sustainable energy is both functional and practical for a project like this. We plan to make the necessary modifications to allow Pandora’s Box to use biodiesel. She’ll be equipped with an on-board filtration system to process used cooking oil and convert it to fuel. Even using this option only occasionally will drastically cut down their fuel cost. In addition, the battery array that will power the recording studio and auxiliary heat and air will be hooked up to roof-mounted solar panels as well as the main engine.

She’ll give them life support, and it never has to end.

As always, Thank You For Listening.

Bo

Meet the House Carpenters: Our Mechanics

“There is a feeling that anything can happen in HURT’s music” –Brett Hickman of Static Multimedia

The same sentiment is easily applied to our team and machines.

These guys aren’t just country boys. They are highly skilled mechanics with a creative edge that most people lack.

It creates power, and a WTF moment when people see it work.

It creates power and a WTF moment when people see it work

They call this the “WTF Machine.” It was built by Trevor and Kyle as teenagers with scraps, but it was built with purpose. They used it to jump start cars until it was sold out of the back of their truck to a stranger in the Lowes parking lot for $150. They called it the “WTF Machine” because everyone that looked at it had a “WTF moment.”

My first run-in with these guys came just after they converted this El Camino to run on hydrogen for their school science fair. By the way, that hydrogen was produced from solar energy. It was a set-up they came up with after learning about making solar panels and hydrogen conversions on the internet.

Powered by hydrogen that was produced by solar power.

Powered by hydrogen that was produced by solar power

These guys were mostly self-taught creative geniuses. My role was to get them formal training and enhanced skill development at the college level.

So off to tech school they went. Their course work included classes like Drivetrain Systems, Advanced Street Rod Building, and Motorsports Chassis Fabrication. These guys were trained to work on all of the mechanical and electrical systems in a wide range of vehicles. Advanced sheet metal shaping, custom body modifications, custom painting, roll cage construction, and structural welding were just part of what rounded out their time in school.

While in school, they were part of a team that built a 1967 Mustang for the Armed Services that is used as a show car at events all over the country.

Rickie, the third mechanic on the team, won his District SkillsUSA competition for High Performance Engine Building.

These guys are the perfect combination of youth, creative minds, and formal training to bring to life Pandora’s Box.

There will be several others helping us out along the way, and I’ll introduce you to them as well in time.

As always, Thank You For Listening

Bo

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To help us with the project fill out the form below or click here.

METAL fan!

Trevor- METAL fan!

Kyle

Kyle

Rickie

Rickie

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