These Kansas City Chiefs fans tricked out a hospital van to create their dream tailgate
Four years ago, Al Van Duyne and his Lee's Summit neighbor Preston Howerton each pitched in $2,000 for a sealed bid to win a used hospital transport van. They've transformed it into a tailgating staple and draw for curious fans.
Al Van Duyne steers into Arrowhead Stadium blaring Tech N9ne’s “Red Kingdom” to his 10 passengers, and anyone else within earshot.
“You can make your ears bleed, if you want to,” he says of the stereo system’s potential volume.
He’s driving a former hospital transport van to last Saturday’s divisional playoff between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Van Duyne and his neighbor, Preston Howerton, converted it into a party bus for tailgating four years ago.
They say the 2008 Ford E-350, with a V-10 engine, didn’t look great when they bought it for $4,000 in a hospital auction. But it had been maintained well and only had about 50,000 miles on it. It gets around 9 miles to the gallon.
Once they got their hands on the vessel, the duo paid to have it wrapped in a vinyl covering with Chiefs logos, colors and other graphics.
“If you (saw) it before it was wrapped, it was plain, dodgy,” Van Duyne says. “The moment it was wrapped, you’re like: ‘Oh, that thing’s awesome.’ It made a huge difference.”
Their vinyl design includes a Vince Lombardi trophy across the rear door, placed there even before the Chiefs won the 2020 Super Bowl.
“We were worried,” Van Duyne admits. "'Man, we’ve got to win one so it looks like it’s supposed to be there,'" he remembers thinking at the time.
The van draws a lot of attention.
“Somebody always honks, especially when it’s big stuff going on like the playoffs,” Van Duyne says. “People always stop by to take pictures while tailgating. It’s not just Chiefs fans, it’s the opposing fans.”
Van Duyne and Howerton have sunk about $6,000 into modifications so far, including a stereo system that plays inside and out. The van’s also got new chrome rims, a trailer hitch for a barbecue grill and bright red synthetic turf for carpet inside. The vanity license plate reads “KC LOUD.”
They add something new each year. The next item Van Duyne wants to install is a large TV mount for the exterior.
Van Duyne says they get unsolicited offers for the vehicle frequently, but they’re not ready to part ways with their labor of love. They missed last season because of COVID-19, and say they are having too much fun with it now to let it go.
“For us that go all the time, it never gets old,” Howerton says. “It’s always something good. It brings joy to us and our kids and our friends. We love it.”
It took a while for their wives to buy in — Kerri Howerton grew up a Green Bay Packer fan, and Nichole Van Duyne was raised among Broncos fans in Wyoming.
Once his wife saw the bus wrapped, though, Howerton says “the skepticism turned to excitement.”
Logistics of tailgating
Nichole Van Duyne learned after a while that the bus makes it easier to tailgate with friends.
“We've always done tailgating, even before we had the bus,” she says. “It was like: How many vehicles do you have to take, and where are you, and how do you pack it? Who's whose car gets what? How do you get parked next to each other?”
Having the bus allows them to pack a tent, cornhole game, ice chests, food, portable power supply and other necessities in one place.
They stow the vehicle in a storage cave in Independence during the offseason and between games. But the families haul it out for other occasions like trunk or treats, Boy Scout events and even Royals games.
“Having it in the humidity-controlled, where it’s not gonna run all the time, is good for the engine and good for the wrap,” Howerton says. “Those wraps … the color red in particular, when it gets a lot of sun exposure over time, will fade.”
They usually pick up the bus from the caves on a Friday, and pack it early the morning of game day. They will pick up friends in the neighborhood, or others will drive to their Lee’s Summit cul-de-sac to hop on the bus.
“It's more than just the winning and the losing,” Van Duyne says. “It's about just going and having fun, you know, and bringing people — people we don't see all the time.”
One more tailgate this year
Van Duyne is thrilled to have one more outing with it this season.
Because the location of the Chiefs’ next game depended on the outcome of the Bills-Bengals game last Sunday, “we weren’t sure if we were going to put it into storage and mothball it for the rest of the year, or need to take it again for this Sunday,” he says.
Now that the Chiefs' final home game of the season is secured, the pair are drying out the carpet and other equipment that got drenched in the rain and snow last weekend.
Once the Chiefs' campaign has ended, they’ll clean the van out, vacuum it and scrub it as best as they can before they return it to cave storage for the offseason.
But Van Duyne hopes it won’t be mothballed for long. The neighbors have their sights set on the NFL Draft, coming to Kansas City in April. They don’t yet know what options there might be for tailgating.
“We’re kicking around ideas,” Van Duyne says. “We’ll probably come up with something.”