Jambulance lights UT skies
Published: Monday, October 29, 2007
Updated: Monday, February 2, 2009 12:02
It's the Saturday centerpiece of Lot 10, and as the biggest tailgating breakthrough since the game of corn hole, the "Jambulance" rarely goes unnoticed.
And to think Jambulance owner Pat Ryan almost bought a fire truck with a Jacuzzi in the back before his friends talked him out of it.
A 1978 UT alum and diehard Rocket fan, Ryan chose an old ambulance three years ago when looking for the raw materials to make an ultimate tailgating vehicle. Since then, he's transformed the 1993 Ford E-350 ambulance into the Jambulance, a high-tech hangout for Rocket fanatics.
At every home game, the Jambulance sits in Lot 10 by the Glass Bowl Stadium. It also hits the road for most away games.
Ryan retired as Lt. Col. from the U.S. Army in 1998 after 20 years of service. Now a project manager at Dana Corp, Ryan pours his spare time and money into the Jambulance, and he says the investment is worth it.
"Our motto is, 'It's time well wasted,'" Ryan said.
Football is an all-day event for Ryan, who thinks the Jambulance is a great central gathering point for the more fanatical Rocket fans. Beyond that, he's glad the Jambulance can represent UT in a positive way.
"It's kind of an unofficial goodwill ambassador when we travel to other schools," Ryan said. "Sometimes we're the only contact the other fans have with UT, particularly when we're dealing with bigger schools like Kansas. They might not expect something like the Jambulance coming from Toledo."
Mike Rains, UT alum and member of the unofficial "Jambulance Crew," added that it's a matter of pride for a Mid-American Conference school.
"Being part of the MAC, we get looked down on," he said. "This is [Ryan's] way of venting on that. He draws a huge crowd at those bigger schools because they've never seen anything like this."
The Jambulance has a 32-inch flat-screen TV in the back connected to satellite. The TV is on a swivel pole, so it can turn inside during drives and outside while tailgating.
A massive sound system, controlled by an onboard touch screen computer loaded with iTunes, pumps out classic rock before and after the game. The computer also controls a scrolling marquee, which is mounted on the back of the vehicle.
Rocket decals adorn the exterior, and the emergency lights are now blue and gold. A full-sized grill is hooked to the hitch on the back. The grill even has a custom UT logo engraved into it, allowing Ryan to sear the logo into a steak. The list goes on. The ambulance itself cost Ryan about $8,000, but he said he's put another $20,000 into it since then. And his pocket book hasn't closed yet - the Jambulance is a work in progress.
He's not building it alone, though. Ryan has met friends through shared Rocket fandom who have been glad to help him on the project.
Steve Tecza, a 2006 UT alum and technical whiz, wired most of the Jambulance's electronics. One of his next big projects is linking all functions of the vehicle to the onboard computer.
He'll even write custom software to automate the Jamublace's operations - everything from the scrolling marquee to the sirens and lights.
"Everything's going to be on that computer, but that's going to take a lot of wiring," Tecza said.
Another core member of the crew, 1999 UT alum Dan Miller, designed the Rocket decals that cover the Jambulance's exterior.
"I wanted there to be no doubt this was a Rocket vehicle, so I thought, 'How about a 20-foot rocket on the side?'" said Miller, who is also the university photographer.
The abundance of Rocket decals and decorations certainly gets the Jambulance noticed.
"When going to Kansas, we had cars do the doe-see-doe around us - checking it out from all sides," Rains said.
"People have actually pulled onto the rest stop after us just to talk to us and tell us how cool it is," Miller said.
He also noted another advantage the Jambulance crew has had when getting noticed on the road.
"There were some girls behind us, and somebody put one of the guy's numbers up on the marquee," Miller said. "They actually called."
"Yea, and it turned out they were some feisty 40-year-olds," Tecza added.
The Jambulance has certainly had enough time on the road to get noticed. It headed 1,000 miles to Mobile, Ala., in 2005 for Toledo's showing in the GMAC Bowl. Ryan also took it to games in Kansas, Iowa and Pennsylvania. That's loads of hours on the road for the Jambulance crew, but Ryan said it's not so bad.
"It's not like being stuck in the back of a regular car," Ryan said.
"You pack a bunch of people in here talking football, watching football and playing football," he said. "Either that or you take a nap. The time passes pretty quickly."
Ryan thinks that someday he will feel the Jambulance is finished, but he and his friends agree he'll probably start another bigger and better project.
Rains thinks the Jambulance might be a hard one to top, though.
"We're probably one of the top tailgating vehicles in the country," Rains said. "This is a first-class operation."