CASPER, Wyo. - Not many people thought the ambulance was a good idea.
Naysayers said driving one around the country wouldn't be economical, or were just plain "negative," said Sam Houston State senior Jeremy Melancon.
But at 12 miles per gallon and enough sleeping room to waive the cost of hotel accommodations for three-plus people, Melancon thought otherwise.
Now he and fellow cowboy Sterling Crawley practically live in the refurbished emergency vehicle throughout the summer months. Melancon said it has delivered the rodeo travel partners to about 100 competitions since they acquired it in October 2010. This past week they brought it to the Casper Events Center, where the two competed in the College National Finals Rodeo.
Melancon said he was inspired by the functional ambulances lurking around every rodeo.
"When you're kicking around in your saddle, you start to think, 'There's some storage compartments on them. Seems real convenient.' Better than my truck and camper."
So he and Crawley flew up to Pennsylvania to purchase the old, greenstriped vehicle sight unseen. They drove it straight home to Texas - a 27-hour tour - to make it back in time for their next competition.
Shortly thereafter, the 1993 has-been got a makeover.
The boys took the ambulance to a body shop and a specialized trailer conversion shop, where they spent an undisclosed amount of money elegantly pimping their ride. Abunk bed, foldout couch and shower were installed; the outside was painted a sharp, solid black and the siren was removed. The lights remain, but Melancon said that it's rare to see them flash like it's 1993.
"I heard that the cops take impersonating public service vehicles pretty seriously," he said. Still, the ride has afforded the saddle bronc riders relative notoriety inside the rodeo community. On their way to Garden City, Kan., recently, the vehicle's fuel filter broke down. A good Samaritan who recognized the black ambulance scooped the two off the side of the road and drove them to and from an auto-parts store to replace it.
"We got there by the third event," Melancon said. "We were the fifth."
To this day, the only bling that can be found on the outside are glossy sticker cutouts of the boys' signatures, donated by Hooey, a sponsor that also helps out with fuel costs.
A third signature denotes the usual presence of a third cowboy, Crawley's brother Jacobs.
The inside sleeps the three comfortably: Melancon on the top bunk, Sterling on bottom and Jacobs on the fold-out couch. It's not hard to imagine you are in a typical college dorm room - beds unmade, clothes unfolded, shower used for storage. Boots, however, have a special home on the stairs.
Jacobs is still a competitor on the professional circuit, but graduated last year and is no longer eligible for the CNFR.