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Bears Fans Trick Out Reclaimed RVs, Hearses and Ambulances

By Erica Demarest | November 17, 2013 3:41pm
 Fans braved severe storm warnings to show off their rides Sunday.
Bears Tailgating Vehicles
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SOUTH LOOP — Not even tornado warnings could keep die-hard Bears fans from a good tailgate.

"Some people define Sundays as church. I define Sundays as Bears and tailgates," said Ronnie Lundin, as he stood outside "The Shufflin' Crew," his tricked-out tailgate van.

Lundin was one of the thousands of fans who braved severe weather warnings Sunday to tailgate outside Soldier Field before the Bears battled the Baltimore Ravens.

The game was eventually postponed for nearly two hours as rain, lightning and wind pounded Chicago. But not before these shrines to Beardom were put to work.

About six years ago, Lundin joined the longstanding tradition of owning his own tailgate-specific "Bears truck." Lundin, who owns a towing company, dropped $600 on paint and repairs for an old service truck.

Inside sits a bright orange arm chair. Posters and memorabilia line the van's walls. And there's plenty of room to tote a grill.

Lundin says he only uses the van three or four times a year. It mostly "sits in my shop and takes up space." But as a fan comes up and asks for a photograph, Lundin beams with pride and says "it was worth it."

For most Bears truck owners, being part of a tailgate is about community.

"It's a big family tradition," said Beverly native Rick Paterra, who owns "Bear Force 1," a loud ambulance-cum-party bus.

Paterra, who donned orange sunglasses and a fuzzy Bears hat Sunday, said 50 to 75 friends and relatives gather with him for every home game. Long folding tables around the van hold trays of catered food and dozens of liquor bottles.

Two buzzing generators keep food warm and hip hop blasting from a sound system. On some weeks, there's also a 60-inch flat-screen TV.

Paterra said he bought the ambulance for $3,000 at a government auction and had a buddy handle the paint and rehab.

Paterra picked up the Bears love from his dad and grandfather, who've held season tickets since the 1960s.

"It's just so much fun" to tailgate, explained Bill Vik, who owns another "The Shufflin' Crew" — evidently a popular name for the vans. "You see the same faces every year. We get together every season and have a blast."

Vik dropped about $1,400 on his van (on eBay, "sight unseen"), which features a fully stocked bar, two beer taps, flat-screen TV and turf carpet.

"It looked like sh--" when we bought it seven years ago, Vik said. "We just gutted it."

Rehab costs and parking permits can be expensive, so some fans take an economical approach: sharing a ride.

Six friends own "Six Guys LLC," a lengthy motor home complete with a bathroom, card table and custom couch cushions.

"We were always going with friends, so we thought: Let's go ahead," said Ed Pavlich, one of the Joliet-based owners.

The RV set the guys back about $12,000 in 2006 and only gets an estimated 12 miles to the gallon. Its owners tend to stick with home games.

While most Bears mobile owners went with flash, one arrived in a hearse.

"I just like to be different," said Otto Know, a northwest Indiana native who drives his hearse to White Sox and Bears games. Know only uses the hearse for tailgating, and said there's plenty of room to store his grill.