Al Van Duyne enters 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,” he says of the stereo system’s potential volume.
He’s driving a former hospital van for last Saturday’s divisional playoffs between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Van Duyne and her neighbor Preston Howerton turned it into a tailgating party bus 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 at a hospital auction. But it had been well maintained and only had about 50,000 miles on it. It comes out to about 9 miles to the gallon.
Once they got their hands on the vessel, the duo paid to have it wrapped in vinyl wrap featuring Chiefs logos, colors and other graphics.
“If you (saw) it before it was wrapped, it was plain, shady,” says Van Duyne. “The moment it’s finished, you’re like, ‘Oh, that thing is great.’ It made a huge difference.”
Their vinyl design includes a Vince Lombardi trophy on the back door, placed there even before the Chiefs won the 2020 Super Bowl.
“We were worried,” admits Van Duyne. “‘Man, we have to win one, so it looks like it should be there,'” he recalls thinking at the time.
The van attracts a lot of attention.
“Someone is always honking, especially when it comes to big things like the playoffs,” says Van Duyne. “People always stop to take pictures while tailgating. It’s not just Chiefs fans, it’s opposing fans.
Van Duyne and Howerton have sunk about $6,000 into modifications thus far, including a stereo system that plays in and out. The van also got new chrome wheels, a trailer hitch for a barbecue and bright red synthetic turf for the interior carpeting. The vanity plaque reads “KC LOUD”.
They add something new every year. The next item Van Duyne wants to install is a large outdoor TV stand.
Van Duyne says they often receive unsolicited offers for the vehicle, but aren’t ready to part with their labor of love. They missed last season to COVID-19 and say they’re having too much fun now to let it go.
“For us who always go, it never gets old,” Howerton says. “It’s always something good. Bring joy to us, our children and our friends. We like it.”
It took a while for their wives to accept: Kerri Howerton grew up a Green Bay Packer fan and Nichole Van Duyne grew up a Broncos fan in Wyoming.
Once his wife saw the bus wrapped up, though, Howerton says “the skepticism turned to excitement.”
Nichole Van Duyne learned after a while that the bus makes it easier to tailgate with friends.
“We always tailgated, 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 package it? Whose car takes what? How do you park next to each other?
Having the bus allows them to pack a tent, game of cornhole, ice chests, food, portable power supply and other necessities in one place.
They store the vehicle in a storage cave in Independence during the off-season and between games. But families bring it out for other occasions like trunks or treats, Boy Scout events, and even Royals games.
“Keeping it in the controlled humidity, where it won’t run all the time, is good for the engine and good for the casing,” Howerton says. “Those bandages… the red color in particular, when it gets a lot of sun exposure over time, will fade.”
They usually take the bus from the caves on a Friday and pack it early on the morning of game day. They will pick up friends in the neighborhood, or others will drive to their cul-de-sac at Lee’s Summit to get on the bus.
“It’s not just about winning and losing,” says Van Duyne. “It’s just about going and having fun, you know, and bringing people — people we don’t see all the time.”
Another tailgate this year
Van Duyne is thrilled to have another outing with it this season.
Since the location of the next Chiefs game depended on the outcome of last Sunday’s Bills-Bengals game, “we weren’t sure if we were going to put it in storage and mothballs for the rest of the year, or would have to pick it up again for this Sunday,” he says.
Now that the Chiefs’ final home game of the season is assured, the two are mopping up carpet and other equipment that got soaked by rain and snow this past weekend.
Once the Chiefs’ campaign is done, they’ll scrub the van, vacuum and scrub it as best they can before returning it to the cave storage for the off-season.
But Van Duyne hopes it won’t be mothballed for long. Neighbors have their eyes on the NFL Draft, coming to Kansas City in April. They don’t yet know what options there might be for tailgating.
“We’re brainstorming ideas,” says Van Duyne. “We’ll probably find something.”