One of my co-workers happens to have a Chevy HHR in the Panel Van configuration. Being a fire fighter, he got it in a nice bright red color. When my young son saw it, he noted that it looks like a big version of a kid's ride-on fire truck. An idea was born.....
Step 1: The Planning Stage.
As noted, it looks a bit like a toy fire truck, but there's something missing, something...ladder-like. And lettering, it needs some lettering.
Luckily, CPT Long is a good guy. He likes kids and quickly befriended my son when I brought The Boy to the office. With a tradition of pranks and jokes on and by the fire inspectors in the office, I felt comfortable decorating the shiny car parked out front of the Building Department. But how to do it in a non-destructive manner was the first puzzle.
Here you can see the wide expanse of panel that needs some "sprucing up". A nice little white ladder would be perfect! Conveniently located above is a luggage rack. Could a ladder be tied to this? Maybe two ladders, tied together and strung over the car like saddlebags.
For lettering, a static cling vinyl sign would be just the thing. All I need to do is find a sign maker that can do the work for a nominal fee.
Step 2: Shopping for Supplies.
The ladders are the easy part. Some PVC pipe and tees pushed together worked perfectly. The question remained of how to secure it to the car. A couple of strings would look a bit tacky (like a PVC ladder isn't?) so I wanted something less visible. While shopping for the signage, I came across some good strong magnets. A dab of hot glue to secure it to the ladder and I was golden! Until I tried it out on the side of the fridge and it just slid to the floor. No problem! Add two more magnets for a total of 6 per ladder for extra attraction and a thin smear of hot glue on the car side of the magnet for extra traction and we were in business. For the next month my refridgerator had 2 3-step ladders stuck to the side.
Step 3: Budget Trouble.
Imagine my suprise when I started getting prices on the signs. What I thought would be about $20-$30 dollars was actually being quoted at more than twice that. It seems that for most of the signmakers I was talking to, static cling material is a special order item. While my Long-suffering Wife has put up with my silliness for some time, she usually has some strenuous objections when I propose spending money on things like this. So, Plan B would require development.
I was going to have to make the sign myself. I picked up a couple of pieces of red posterboard with the idea that I would use that and more magnets to attach the sign to the car, but I don't hand letter worth a darn. I'll need stencils. And paint. And brushes. The vinyl sign cost is looking more reasonable now.....
I was unable to find stencils in a size and font that seemed appropriate, so I hit the 'nets. Searches for a traditional font used on fire apparatus turned up several suggestions, but they all cost money again. And how would I create a stencil from that anyway? Soon it occured to me that there are a wide variety of fonts in PowerPoint and the WordArt tool would let me configure things just right. I got this flash as my Long-suffering Wife was working on a presentation for her public speaking class. Thanks Honey! But again, how does it get to the signboard? Print it out and piece it together, then go from there.
Again, it's my Long-suffering Wife to the rescue. She pointed out that if I traced the letters with enough pressure, there would be an impression on the cardboard that I could use as a guide. She was right, and it worked like a charm. I used a pen to fill in the impression and then painted the letters with gold paint and outlined them in black. It took about an hour and a half, but I got the first one done and it looked good. The sign for the other side would have to wait until the next night.
Once the paint was dry, a few more magnets were taped to the back to hold the sign to the car. Have you noticed the flaw in my magnetic plan yet?
Step 4: The Accomplice.
I brought some help into the fold because I like to be anonymous when doing these things. Any time you can divert suspicion do so. When people suspect you future projects become more difficult. I don't like difficult; I'm lazy.
A few weeks before the planned execution (of the prank, not me) Bill's HHR stopped showing up at the office when he did. Now, fire fighters are in good shape as a rule, but I don't see him walking or biking to work, especially when his job requires him to travel throughout the city, and usually in his own car. So I needed to make some quiet inquiries. Enter: The Accomplice.
Drew has worked with these guys longer than I so he is the ideal informant. He asked around and found that some bureaucrat had decided that the Fire Inspectors should be driving City vehicles while performing their duties. Makes sense, really. It gives them a bit more credibility when they pull up in an official vehicle instead of the more comfortable pedal-car look-alike. But that's quite a hitch for my plan. I can't go to his house and decorate the car. No one would see it, and I don't know where he lives. Lucky for the plan, the bureaucrat was constrained by a competing City policy. It seems that during Sweeps Week the local Eyewitless News crew had sniffed out abuses by City employees who took City cars home as part of their work. In typical kneejerk political reactionary fashion, the policy was revised to require that anyone assigned a City vehicle would have to leave it at work at the end of the day. No biggie unless you are prone to midnight responses to actions in the field. Editiorializing aside, this is good news for me. Bill has to drive to the fleet garage, pick up a City vehicle, then come across town to the office. I now know where to find the target vehicle.
Step 5: The Execution
Finally, it's April Fool's Day! Bill has shown up for work, the sun is shining, the birds are signing and all is right with the world. The Accomplice and I take a ride at lunch to seek and decorate the target HHR. But before we leave, some due caution must be exercised. This is The Accomplice's idea, and another example of why you never act alone. See, the target vehicle is parked at the Fire Department's fleet garage. This also happens to be an active fire house. It is located on the municipal airport. Security has become an issue. Should two random individuals be tampering with a car parked at the same airport that has been used by Presidents and presidential candidates? Probably not, in modern times. So, we cover our butts. Another Fire Captain is in the office when we are preparing to leave. We describe the mission and ask him to give the heads up at the fire house. He laughs, then agrees. We're off!
There is still one glaring "what if" in this saga. I never thought to check that the panels intended to receive the ladders are actually steel! My god, what if it's all fibeglass or plastic in the area normaly occupied by windows? I have no string to implement the original saddlebag concept, but if we're lucky, we can get some sort of cord from the fire fighters at the scene.
The rain moved off early this morning and the wind has died down so there is no meteorlogical threat to the signs. When we get there, the news is even better - he's parked in plain view of the road! Everyone will see the handiwork! We park, retrieve our materials and get to work. Luckily, the panels are all steel and the ladder magnets stick perfectly. The signs require a bit of finagling to get arranged just right, and while we play with it, one of the fire trucks is brought out of the station for washing. The guys do nothing more than smile and wave, so we know we're in the clear.
Mission accomplished, we head back to the office. Bill has returned for some lunch between jobs and I have to avoid him so I don't tip my hand. Anticlimatic as it is, I won't know his reaction until I see him the next morning. But we have pictures, and they will be "leaked" to the rest of the office.
I would be more satisfied with the prank if I could have done proper signs, but this will have to do. Once I get that $2M from the Nigerian Secretary of the Treasury I'll be in a better position to do this sort of thing with a bit more material finess. Until then, I'll just keep plugging away. I hope you enjoyed this little adventure and are inspired to try your own variations on it.