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She's a 1973 born, 10,000lb Midwestern behemoth who spent nearly all her life in a service role supporting the Gilson County, Illinois Fire Department. But that's what she WAS. She has a new life now... and what she's become is a unifying Tailgating force affectionately known as Big Red.
Long before Big Red came to be, the original Tailgating gang (known as the Funday Sunday Crew) were throwing some kick-ass, attention getting, not to be missed Tailgates. From the back of a couple of cars and SUV's, we concocted a morning full of good looking girls, delicious food, booze of choice and heated competition with flip cup, quarters and cornhole. It was an Event by all accounts and everyone looked forward to it.
But we knew something was missing. We knew we needed that "Free Agent Signing"... and it came in the form of a believed to be outdated Step Van that would push us to the next level of Tailgating perfection.
The initial focus was on finding an RV that could be re-tooled to our needs. But with minimal budget, limited resources and more ideas than know-how, we quickly realized this was gonna be more difficult than first thought. But then one day while sitting at a stop-light a big Merita bread truck pulled alongside and the idea for the ultimate utilitarian Tailgate vehicle was born. These types of vehicles have everything! It's big, plenty of room and easily customized. So now the search began and at first...Nothing. Everything was beat to hell or too expensive. After a few weeks of frustrating, dead end searches someone suggested Ebay. So one evening while enjoying a couple of beers I ventured to the Ebay website and only two pages into a "USED STEP VAN" keyword search......there she was. "Recently decommissioned Fire/Rescue vehicle servicing Gillson County, Illinois Fire/Rescue Department. Great Shape, motor been rebuilt with 32k miles. Pick up only." She was PERFECT!!!
With absolutely NO Ebay etiquette, the bidding began immediately. In hindsight, this only served to drive up the price way to early in a week long auction. As luck would have it, we were outbid in the final seconds of a back and forth bidding. We had her in our grasp and she slipped away.
The next several weeks were a repeat of the previous...nothing even came close to the pageantry and spectacle of what we almost had in this retired fire/rescue vehicle. She was gonna need some work and retro-fitting but she was firehouse red, with the old school flashing light bar, the spotlights off the back, the big swinging barn doors...it was torture.
But just when we thought all was lost the ‘ole girl was back on Ebay and by the same guy who outbid us.
Initial feelings of excitement quickly turned to those of relief. Clearly, the truck was much worse than advertised for it to be back up for sale so quickly, and this time with no Reserve price... just a request for an opening bid which was less than half of the previous actual winning bid . Although his description of the truck was even more glowing than what the firehouse had listed, we were certain this guy got burned and we weren't going to bail him out.
We put in the initial requested bid since it was so low and we were certain someone would pick it up for parts if nothing else. I paid no more attention until I received an email three days later informing me I was the proud new owner of a Fire/Rescue vehicle. SHIT!!!!
After a conversation with the owner (Bob), who was a complete moron, we decided the potential loss was well worth the risk. He assured us we could drive it, with no issue, from Grand Rapids, MI back to Charlotte, NC. So...with no planning, no insurance, no tags...and no sense of what the potential reality would be...we fly to Grand Rapids to pick up the ‘ole girl and bring her to her new home.
After being stood up at the airport, encounters with Bob's shit house crazy niece who lived out of her car and collected shot glasses, long waits in obscure trailer parks waiting on someone to bring us truck keys, a trip down a very long dirt road with undeniable felonious repeat offenders, receiving less than veiled threats for more money ...we were happy to get under way on our fifteen hour trip back home in a rusted out 1973, 3 speed step van that posted an environmental friendly 11miles per gallon at a death defying maximum speed of 65Pmph, where if you're not driving your standing, all the while roaring down the open highway with the calamity of being in an all out thunderstorm.
When we finally rolled into Charlotte on Saturday evening....we were fearful she had given us all she had to get us home and wouldn't start again for the tailgate on Sunday morning. But when we climbed in at 7:00am, she fired up with no reservation.
After a half season of Tailgating "as is" we sent her to the shop to be re-tooled. The initial body shop and fabricator we worked with was an absolute butcher......leaving her in far worse shape than when we brought her in. But then we found some true artists. And after a new engine, paint job, complete rewiring, all new interior fabrication with custom built kegerator, 32" swing out satellite TV, wrap around seating, 5500watt generator, fog machine, siren, intercom, storage and shinny "fire pole", she was a force to be reckoned with.
She loves her new life. She'll Tailgate anything - birthdays, weddings, funerals, work...she doesn't care. If people get together for it...she'll Tailgate it. Big Red is a labor of love (and money) but the return is well worth the investment!
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