Resourceful Tailgaters

Orange Julie


Dear Knoxonomist:

I’ve been a Vol fan my entire life, and my blood runs orange! But I grew up with parents from a non-football town, and we didn’t attend the games. As a freshman last year, I fell in love with everything about going to the game—particularly the tailgaters. One group used an old washing machine as a cooler! Have they always been this resourceful?

–Alcoa, TN

Dear Orange Julie:
The Knoxonomist hadn’t before considered the washing machine as a portable or economic answer to the problem of keeping beer cold at a tailgate. As a younger man, however, he employed that very solution when hosting a poker night. Sadly, the party achieved a level of bacchanalia so pronounced that the Knoxonomist neglected his duty to empty the machine; the return of Mrs. K the following day caused no small amount of distress.

That anxiety-inducing memory aside, and after wondering how those inventive Tennesseans installed the drain, and whether or not they’re supplying power to the washing machine (and to what end), the Knoxonomist dove into answering your question—and in that quest, dug deeply into his own past.

On one occasion in the early 90’s, after a fair amount of lubrication, the Knoxonomist embarked on cataloguing in a small notebook the various types and configurations of tailgating paraphernalia, small to large. It was a hopeless mission from the start, if coming up with a proper tally was the goal. However, as a purely non-scientific exercise, pursued mostly by visiting as many tailgaters as possible, it was both educational and inspirational.

Before his scrawl becomes illegible five pages in (tailgate research is thirsty business), it seems our younger Knoxonomist detailed a menagerie of customized vehicles: travel trailers, RV’s, pickups, custom vans, mini-vans, VW vans of uncertain vintage, ambulances, fire trucks, tour busses, school busses (both full and half-sized), and a variety of mutant vehicles that defied identification. The standout was a camper van jury rigged to the frame of a Chevrolet Citation, painted in PMS 151 orange, and manned by a couple of face-painted boys from LaFollette. It was as inventive as a modified flat-top house in Oak Ridge.

The tailgating gear was as custom as the rigs themselves. Of particular note were a grill, handcrafted out of bed rails and a 55-gallon drum, and designed to slide on lubricated ball bearings out of the back of an Econoline; and a blender powered by an old Stihl chainsaw. The margaritas were as fast as the women blending them, or at least that’s what it says in the notebook. It was at this point that the Knoxonomist stopped, his handwriting failing as he slid into a hammock suspended from the roof by custom-rigged steel tubing in its natural, recently welded state.

Walking around game day now, it’s obvious that, while there has been a certain amount of incursion by professionals, the heart of the eclectic and inventive tailgater is still beating. We’re talking about homemade modifications here, not the kind of things where someone else makes you a trailer with four flat-panel TV’s, surround sound, and a private bathroom.

These are the people who can, in a half hour, make a cornhole game with two shipping pallets, a survival knife, and an old pair of blue jeans. They are the stuff of legend. Have they always been resourceful? Yes, Julie. They have always been genius.

The Knoxonomist welcomes your questions—although he will answer only those that interest him. Send your inquiries to, and include your name, address, and daytime phone.

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