Chances are you've seen it, and maybe even chatted with the proprietors. But probably also like you, I wanted to know more about the former ambulance turned TAILGATING COMMAND UNIT that shows up at all TCU home games and many away games. So, I called up co-owner, Tom Gibbons, who filled me in on the crazy creation he and co-owner/brother, Tim, dreamed up. It's a great story. Pull up to the screen, grab a beer and a plate of ribs, wish you were actually doing that at the Tailgating Command Unit itself, and listen to their tale...
Tom and Tim were both born and raised in Fort Worth, and attended TCU. Tom, Class of '84, and Tim, Class of '95, both studied business and finance at TCU. I reckon this was a useful skill set when they started looking into purchasing, renovating, and maintaining "The T-C-U," which also goes by the nickname "The Frogmobile." Tom has worked his entire career for Allstate Insurance, and Tim has been involved in the development of CPA software as well as quality assurance in the oil and gas industry. To let off a little steam, they have long attended TCU games, and are also big NASCAR race fans. After many years of dragging all their tailgating paraphernalia to games and races in the back of pickup trucks, and loading, unloading, loading, and unloading tables, tents, cookers, etc. for each event, they started to dream of something more permanent to store and haul all of their gear in. (Tom says it was at one particular NASCAR race where they got really serious about it.) They considered and looked at several options, including a short bus and a used U-Haul van.
Then they heard about a group of tailgaters from Nebraska who had converted a used ambulance (now called the Big Red Meat Wagon - see what they did there). Tom and Tim realized that was the perfect answer, with all of the already built in storage needed, and they began looking for an ambulance to purchase. In fall of 2006, they found a car dealership that was selling a fleet of ambulances from Denton TX being replaced with newer models, and Tom and Tim bought one of them. To be precise, they bought a 1997 Ford F450 with a 7.3L power stroke diesel engine (for you gear heads). A frequent question they get is "Is it a real ambulance?" to which the answer is, "Well, it was." That was near the end of football season, so they used it as purchased at the last couple of home games that year.
The following spring, they began their renovation work in earnest. The Frogmobile was outfitted with a satellite dish and large screen TV, a serious stereo system including speaker towers for both TV and music, and storage compartments were set up for all those aforementioned tables, chairs, tents, and cookers. Tom came up with the fabulous "Tailgating Command Unit" name, and Tim came up with the vehicle's awesome logo that includes the Fighting Frog from TCU Athletics. When all was said and done, they had spent -- well only Tom knows. He says this is the most frequent question he gets asked when people see it for the first time. "That's a secret I'm taking to my grave. Not even my wife knows. She recognizes that this is my ‘mid-life crisis,' but also perhaps that another woman might have been cheaper," Tom says.
I asked Tom if he has a regular group of (very LUCKY) friends who tailgate with him, and he said the home game group is usually 20-30 people, and the number at away games of course depends on where it is and who can get there.
Its longest trips have been to the 2010 Fiesta Bowl (where I personally first saw it), the 2011 Rose Bowl (where I personally didn't see it because it was apparently on the other side of the stadium), and last year's Kansas game. The Frogmobile always goes to Baylor and SMU away games, and will travel to Norman this season.
The reason I missed it at the Rose Bowl is that when Tom and Tim went to park on the golf course where most of us parked, officials were concerned about its weight on the turf, and had them take it over by the main entrance instead. The beauty of this, Tom says, is "it was right in front of the Wisconsin busses," where Tom and Tim made a point of firing up the purple lights as the vanquished boarded after the game.
The TCU Frogmobile is also featured in a display about tailgating in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. When the new hall was being built there, Tom was approached by display designers and provided them with a few pictures, with no assurances any would be used. He assumed "even if one was, it would be a little snapshot in a collage, or something." A little before the Peach Bowl last year, Tom started hearing from friends that they had seen, not a little snapshot, but this!....
This is a picture I took when I got to go see the display there about a month AFTER the Peach Bowl (my timing going to Atlanta was not good - I also missed the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Phoenix by TWO DAYS) Tom did make the trip - sans Frogmobile - to the Peach Bowl, and got to see the Hall of Fame tailgating display for himself as well.
While there are tentative plans to give the Frogmobile a new "wrap" and upgrade to high-def TV, Tom and Tim dream of hitting the lottery and being able to actually purchase a new ambulance and do it all over again, bigger and better! Beside TCU Athletics events, The Tailgating Command Unit attends some baseball games, "Touch A Truck" events, and has been to two Jimmy Buffet concerts - Tom is a self-admitted "Parrot Head." Everywhere it goes, Tom says, "people always want to get their picture taken with it." I told him that would be me and my wife at the West Virginia game in October - I have always regretted not doing that in Phoenix in 2010. Tom also has a fun Facebook page, "TCU Frogmobile," which I have followed for some time. Check that out! If you want to see the Tailgating Command Unit, and get your picture taken with it at a TCU home game, Tom and Tim park it in Lot 13 near the baseball field.
I'm hoping, when my wife and I walk up and introduce ourselves on October 29, maybe they'll let us work the lights and siren - even MORE Horned Frog Heaven for the Warrior!
Fiesta Bowl and College Football Hall of Fame photos by Warrior Horned Frog. All other photos courtesy of Tom Robbins.