In Feb. 1996, RJ Evans bought a new Ford F-150 XL 4X4 pickup with a custom bed interior. RJ "customized" it even further with his big array of communications equipment and weather instruments, and most notably, nice guest accomodations in the rear. While it may not have given the executives at Motel-6 or Super-8 much of a headache, their rooms can't move down the road at 65 mph toward the inflow notch! After putting 74,000 miles on his truck in 3 years, RJ plans to get a different chase vehicle in '99. [Anyone want to buy the Chase Hotel? send him an e-mail inquiry.] But in just a few short years, his truck has earned its place in storm lore -- from the amazing comfort it has afforded its rear occupants. RJ himself describes some of the most memorable experiences of the guests who checked in...
Early spring '98. Charles Edwards and I along with Mark Herndon met at Charles' apartment to embark on a pre-season squall fest. Mark arrived at Charles apartment and a discussion ensued as to what vehicle to take. I suggested my truck. Mark initially balked at the idea until I opened the back of the vehicle up to display the plush contents. Mark took one look at it, said, "O.K. I think I can deal with this," and crawled in. Shortly after our departure we hit the first of several linear squalls while heading south on I-35. Mark was enthusiastic at first, looking through the pass- thru of the truck to the front. He was jubilant about the prospects of getting an early season tornado bonus. The first storm passed to our east with nothing much to talk about. This continued for two more storms and soon Charles and I realizes that Mark has disapeared from between the pass-thru. Charles looked into the back of the truck and noticed that Mark fell asleep on the comfortable bench-bed, snoring away. We could hear his snoozing quite clearly above the din of wind noise and rain.
A little while later we came upon a really nice cell while headed up the Arbuckle Mountains. Hail began to fall and it became quite large (quarter to half-dollar). Charles and I took an exit for the scenic outlook and begin to plan our positioning, so as not to lose the windshield should the hail enlarge. The noise was quite loud from the hail beating on the metal of the vehicle and the fiberglass of the pickup shell. As we enjoyed the spectacle, Mark remained strangely absent. Charles and I both looked back to find Mark still sound asleep. The snoring noises coming from the back were deafening; and to our amazement Mark wasn't stirring! After several "Tornado on the ground!" screams from Charles and I, Mark looked up quickly, bleary eyed and completely oblivious to the hail. He suddenly realized what was happening and grabbed his camera.
On the same trip, Charles decided to get out of the truck to retrieve some hailstones to photograph. As he returned to the vehicle he slipped on the hail and fell on his butt. He managed to get himself up and climb back in, hailstones intact. While Charles was holding the hail with one hand and videotaping it with the other, I noticed what appeared to be blood stains on his hands. I was worried about him and inquired as to his health. He calmed my fears by explaining that the "red" coloring on his hands was the result of overspray while painting the "Dillo Cam". Later, after we returned to Charles's place, Mark quipped that I should name the truck the "Chase Hotel" because he had never slept better in his life on a chase.
It was a spring day in '98 when Charles, Casey Crosbie and I headed for the Oklahoma panhandle. Casey was a bit excited about the potential for storms that day, spending a great deal of time on the cellphone with Matt Engelbrecht, who was nowcasting for us. It turned into a bust day but not for Casey. After several hours of driving and blinking; he fell sound asleep as we passed Slapout, OK. He had been keeping such a hectic schedule at school that he was exhausted. He had plans of driving to Michigan when we got back that night and found the "Chase Hotel" to be the perfect place for a nap. The only problem was that the "nap" turned into a full night's sleep, as he snoozed all the way to Clinton over back roads that were very curvy and rough. All the jostling would surely wake him up, right? Nope. Once again the sounds of snoring could be heard over the din of road noise and wind. With lightning to our west, Charles and I drank in the beautiful evening while Casey visited the land of virtual tornadoes. Later Casey commented on how well he'd slept and how comfortable the "Chase Hotel" was. He insisted I make every effort to post a "rate sheet" in the back so that all those who checked in knew the checkout time and room cost.
As many folks know, Matt Biddle is a fine individual and a lot of fun to chase with. He enjoys the chase and is privy to all the secrets of chase forecasting. He also hates to ride with anyone.
Charles, Matt and I had decided to chase "Georges" and accompany a team from OU to the great Southeast. The day of our departure had Matt "waffling" on whether or not to ride in the "Chase Hotel". His concerns were legitimate -- lack of seat belts and ease of entry and exit. It's not easy for anyone, let alone Matt, to get in and out of the back of the truck. After much prodding and reassurances that he was safe, Matt reluctantly manuvered himself into the truck. After Matt got comfortable he looked back at me and said; "Don't kill me or I'll never speak to you again. " He did this with a very serious and straight face.
A few hundred miles passed and it was obvious to Charles and I that Matt had succumbed to the charms of the "Chase Hotel". He had practically set up his own apartment in the back and was sitting quietly, reading, listening to his radio and generally enjoying the ride.
During the storm, Matt insisted on riding on the tailgate with the cap open, so he could see better and get in and out easier. I had to put an end to that for safety and legal reasons. It was a loud and interesting exchange; but Matt capitulated and all was settled. Matt is a great person to argue with. He is thunderous and bold but he also has the ability to charm and soothe. For the most part he seemed to have a great time and even in the most precarious postions (physically) he made the "Chase Hotel" home. After returning to Norman Matt commented on the comfort of his room by saying "Thanks for not killing me."
Jim LaDue and I decided to chase one day during the latter part of the year. The prospects were promising on paper; but, as most chasers know, nature has a way of recycling that paper.
Jim is not a big techno fan -- but instead a chaser of few gadgets and lots of talent. After getting into the vehicle, which he had seen a few times before, he commented on the "excess" of equipment. I responded: "But you seem to be enjoying it." He smiled and a brief but spirited argument (in fun) ensued. He did find the GPS and radio information useful; and when we reached a lake in the SW part of Oklahoma, he was amazed at the wind measurements (45-55 mph) recorded by the anemometer mounted on a 7 ft. retractable mast. The lightning detector also enabled him to know there were no t-storms within a hundred miles of our target area.
What made RJ's truck the Chase Hotel: built-in couches so comfortable a drowsy occupant once slept through a raging hailstorm. (Photo © 1998 by RJ Evans).