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These Kansas City Chiefs fans tricked out a hospital van to create their dream tailgate

A man wearing a red jacket and red ball cap sets down a yellow and red ice chest from a large, colorful van that has Kansas City Chiefs wording and logos printed on it.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Al Van Duyne unloads an ice chest from a former hospital transport van that he and neighbor Preston Howerton, left, have spent four years crafting into a tailgating party bus.

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.

The interior of a small van shows people sitting and a woman about to sit in the first passenger seat. They are bundled in cold weather gear.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Nichole Van Duyne, standing center, takes her seat in the party bus last Saturday with friends and neighbors headed to the Kansas City Chiefs divisional playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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.

A row of red buttons on a black dashboard read from left to right: "Radio, Outside, Inside, Battery."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A row of switches that Van Duyne and Howerton added to the party bus control its sound system inside and out, and can connect to a spare battery when needed.

“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.”

A man wearing a warm cap and red football jersey with the number 15 pulls on a strap to fasten down a red tent adjoining a red, black and yellow van in a large parking lot.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
At the Kansas City Chiefs' divisional playoff against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Saturday, Preston Howerton fastens a strap to the tent he and Al Van Duyne attach to their party bus for tailgating.

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.

Robert St. John, from St. Augustine, Fla., makes a snapshot of the Chiefs party van owned by Al Van Duyne and Preston Howerton last Saturday. St. John is a Jacksonville Jaguars fan who was in town for their playoff game against the Chiefs. He owns a long bus that he's decorated in Panthers colors and takes to games for tailgating.
Carlos Moreno
Robert St. John, from St. Augustine, Fla., makes a snapshot of Van Duyne and Howerton's Chiefs party van last Saturday. St. John is a Jacksonville Jaguars fan who was in town for their playoff game against the Chiefs. He owns a long bus that he's decorated in Panthers colors and takes to games for tailgating.

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

A man wearing a read football jersey with the number 15 printed on it vacuums inside a small bus. The seats are blue and the carpet is red.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Preston Howerton gives the party bus' synthetic turf a quick vacuuming before loading up in Lee's Summit for last Saturday's playoff against Jacksonville.

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.

The backside of a yellow, red and black printed bus reads, "This is Chiefs Kingdom." It shows a silver trophy featuring a football on top.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
An image of the Vince Lombardi trophy, awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl, was installed before the Chiefs' Super Bowl 54 victory.

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.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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