I interviewed Erik Tunison, drummer for Die Kreuzen, Killdozer, Paul K, Fuckface, and D-Minus, about his experiences touring in vans.
What was the catalyst, motivation, or inspiration for getting a van
in the first place, specifically?
We knew we wanted to tour, and my 1969 Pontiac Catalina- while roomy enough for the whole band, all of our equipment, and even an extra friend or two- wasn’t going to cut it.
Where/from whom did you get it? Did you know the background
of this van when you purchased it?
The job I was working at was selling their service truck.
I bid $400 and we got it. I never found out if anyone else bid on it, but I was pretty vocal about wanting it, and everyone knew I was in a band. It’s possible they held back so we could get it.
Tell us about the van, year, make, model, color – did it need work,
and did you do any DIY, build a loft, etc.? Did you give it a name?
It was a 1975 Ford E-150. It had about 100,000 miles and was powered by the classic 300 cu. in. straight 6 cylinder engine. It was faded business white with a sporty blue racing stripe and rust. Lots of rust. I spray painted over the name of the company, but left the “Emergency Service” tag up. We told ourselves it meant we could park anywhere, and who knows, it may have helped. We got a lot of parking tickets in San Francisco and never paid any of them. Sometimes I worry about that.
We built a loft in the back, of course, but kind of threw it together without a plan so it was a bit overbuilt and pretty heavy. The van definitely felt a little top heavy afterwards. Later lofts were structured with aluminum angle and a lighter grade plywood.
We hardly had to do any work to this truck, except for an alignment, which on these trucks was not a procedure just anyone could do. It involved (apparently) heating up the “Twin I- Beam” parts in the front and banging them in to place. This also meant that the alignment lasted a long time so we never had to do it again. Other than that I think I had to replace the water pump and maybe a starter or two and probably some brake pads. That is about it on that truck.
Later on, after several tours and 100,000 miles we sold it for $450 so I was pretty happy with the deal.
Any funny or unique features?
A friend worked at a van conversion company (this was the end of the 70’s still) and an auxiliary heater fell off the loading dock or something and landed in our hands. We installed it in the back, on top of the loft. This needed to be plumbed into the radiator system and then a control cable could be snaked to the driver’s position with a multi speed switch.
Glorious heat was then piped into the back of the van, which for a band from Wisconsin was wonderful and got used from October through May or any time it got cold at night. This device stayed with us and was installed in all four of our trucks.
At one point we bought a coffee percolator that ran on the cigar lighter.
That was a great addition to touring. It took a while to perk, but so what? On the road you got nothing but time, and when the truck starts to smell of fresh coffee it will definitely lift your spirits.
Also we bought a Sanyo cassette player and speakers. I ran wiring into the back with quick disconnects for the speakers, and also quick disconnects for the player itself. I didn’t want to install it into the dash, and couldn’t think of an easy way to build a case for it until I hit on the idea of just using the box it came in. So we reinforced the cardboard with duct tape and just used it that way for years. Open the back to access the connectors for the wiring, and open the front to feed it with cassettes. It was easy to carry into the gig that way, or even if stashed under a seat it just looked like a box of junk. I liked that style so much I did the same thing for a friend’s truck.
What’s the longest drive you ever did between shows? What was the first trip you took with it?
I don’t know if we took it out for even one shakedown trip before we went out on our first tour down towards New Orleans, Texas, Arizona, California, and then back through Nevada, Kansas, Missouri and home.
Our longest trip to get to a show was later on with a different van- another Ford, this time a stretch E- 350 with dual fuel tanks. We started that tour in Seattle so had to drive from Milwaukee through to Seattle. We gave it a few extra days but it performed flawlessly and so arrived over a day early.
The longest between shows is a little hard to know, but Seattle through to Gilman St. in Berkeley overnight was a tough one. We left right after the show and arrived exhausted only to find out there was no backstage or dressing room, because dressing rooms were for rock stars.
Did you sleep in the van, people’s houses, or motels/hotels?
We went for many, many years before we ever stayed in a motel. Generally someone would offer a place to stay, or we would sleep in the truck. If we had a night off and the weather was nice we would consult the Rand McNally and find a state or national park with camping and shower facilities. We didn’t have a tent, but sleeping under the stars on a picnic table- or on the truck itself was just fine. Rain meant we were in the truck, but a $7 a night who cares?
These are some of the finest memories I have of touring- climbing a mountain in New Mexico, watching dolphins swim in the surf off Virginia Beach, having a friend join us and play music around the campfire outside of Atlanta. We took a gas cooker and a small kitchen kit with us and so could save money and have dinner and breakfast anywhere.
Eventually, we did graduate to getting one motel room for the 4, 5, or 6 of us. One would sleep in the truck to guard the gear.
Were there any van rules you had? Or band rules in general?
Not really. We were okay with having guests in the truck.
The only time we had much trouble was if someone decided to drive somewhere with someone else. Then there could be difficulty getting the show back on the road.
Maybe just the Ken Kesey inspired rule “Don’t get off the bus”.
Do you have any classic nightmare van/police/mechanical/crash/fire stories from tour or any other shows?
We never had any real police trouble. We got pulled over a few times, but then were always allowed to go on our way.
The only real crash was when we got rear ended while stopped for road work. Some over- tired GI towing an over- stuffed trailer with his under- powered Chevy didn’t see the parked traffic and smashed pretty hard into the car right behind us. That poor guy took it pretty hard and was taken away in an ambulance. Inside our truck (a 1970 bread truck by this time) one of the many flying Anvil briefcases cracked one of our guys in the skull pretty hard. Probably he had a concussion, but in the spirit of the times he mostly shook it off with a day’s long migraine and we continued on our way. Oh yeah that became a rule: Put every briefcase under the seat.
Or rather we tried to continue on our way. The shock of the crash damaged the engine and after a few hours of steadily decreasing power we limped into Baltimore for a show. The next day we found a place to put in a replacement motor, but it took the better part of a week and we went from having a good supply of money and a bunch of shows up the East Coast to spending most of that money, hanging around Baltimore at some awful semi- squat and missing what would have been some great shows.
We never went back to Baltimore.
As for regular breakdowns, I was reasonably handy and owned a decent set of Sears Craftsman tools (thanks mom!) so I did my best to fix things myself as they broke.
There is a long list of places where I replaced starter motors.
I dropped the transmission on the roadside in Detroit to replace the throwout bearing.
Several water pumps blew spectacularly, as they do (once a helpful member of the Cajun community pushed us off the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and only had to replace the gasket on the water pump. This was very helpful as a water pump on a V-8 is more of a chore to get at. Thanks Calvin!).
Brake master cylinders and brake drums and brake calipers and brake lines galore.
Various wiring gremlins. Once the magic smoke gets out it’s hard to get it back in.
I wasn’t often defeated by a repair. A frozen wheel bearing once just would not let go, no matter how much I swung on it with what I called my Ford Tool. We limped into a shop where they both rented us a truck, and also fixed our repair.
Where did the van end up?
We had four trucks over the years. The first I was able to sell for $50 more than we paid for it, so that was a win.
The bread truck apparently went to a farm where it is probably still being used as a chicken coop to this day.
The other two gave good service, and were then resold to other unsuspecting civilians although not at a specific financial profit.
I will say to bands just starting out, go with a Ford Econoline. An E-350 will give you the best service, and the stretch version gives you lots of room. We loved the dual tanks, and if they still offer that Straight 6 300 cu inch engine grab it. They are bullet proof.
|Sahan Jayasuriya is writing a book about Die Kreuzen called The Crossing: The Oral History of Die Kreuzen. Stay connected regarding its forthcoming release on Instagram and Facebook|