Mar 31, 2009

The Power of the Internet (for Good)...

One of my perennial haunts on the Internet is the H.A.M.B. I am what is known as a HAMB'r. For those of you who are uninitiated, it stands for "Hokey Ass Message Board." And it's part of the larger world of The Jalopy Journal ( A little history is in order...

In the words of Ryan Cochrane, the founder:
"It’s December of 1994 and I’m at home for Christmas break. I had taken up HTML and decided to build a hot rod website. I obsessed over the site for weeks, but by January I was ready to “launch.” While sitting in my dorm room at the University of Oklahoma, I hit the “publish button” in my HTML editor and started what would become one of the biggest obsessions and passions of my life.

Amazingly, it’s now 15 years later and The Jalopy Journal is the world’s most read hot rod publication - online or off. In 2008 alone, we hosted over 170 million pageviews. Maybe even more amazing is that I love writing, building and creating this site even more than I did when I first began. Very few people are as lucky as I am - to be able to do what they truly aspire to do in life."

What Ryan created was a Web location now populated by over 68,000 HAMB'rs, all exchanging ideas, opinions, designs, advertising, insults, and whatever else these pages can transport, all relating to custom cars and hot rods. I feel certain that even Ryan has been surprised at the directions it has taken.

Consider for example the Friday night art shows, where automobile artists post their latest creative works. Or perhaps you might look at the social groups that have grown up around locations, or interests, or marques. I'm a member of the HAMB Plymouth Club, the MOPAR Builders Group, the North Alabama and Tennessee HAMB Members, and the Hemi Connection.

There are message threads on every concievable notion having to do with cars. Recently, I was able to take some pictures of details in the construction of my 1932 Plymouth roadster and send them to a builder in Michigan whose car was much more deteriorated than mine. I loaned a couple of parts to a gent in Oregon to make duplicates for his 1932 DeSoto. The power of this medium for connecting people has always impressed me, but the power to do good has revealed itself more among HAMBers than any other Web community with which I have gotten involved.

I saw a great example a few weeks ago. An active duty member of the U.S. Army had recently gotten transferred from Arizona to Kentucky. With all the disruption and expense of moving his family to his new duty station, he couldn't afford to move the car he had been working on for several months. He left it in Arizona and was paying to store it. One of the HAMB members knew of the situation and started an online campaign to move the car. Veterans and non veterans joined the fray. In a matter of a few hours, a PayPal account had been set up, money had been raised to defray expenses, and a retired truck driver from Oklahoma was on his way to Arizona with his own truck and trailer to move the car.

More recently, a sadder event demonstrated the generous heart of this collective body of car folks. A young man named Andy Dunn had joined the HAMB a few years ago. Andy had a rare form of bone cancer and was not expected to live. A few of the guys on the H.A.M.B. were inspired to support him and his family. Plans to get Andy to the H.A.M.B. Drags (all expenses paid) were thwarted by more health complications. Undaunted, the fellows just put that money toward a hot rod for Andy. Their generosity inspired the community and the next thing they knew, people from all over the country were donating parts and services. The resulting Model A Ford was Andy's pride and joy.

Andy was known to thousands as HAMBANDY, and updates on the state of his health and his car were followed by a vast army of interested members. There were literally hundreds of message threads on the HAMB with thousands of messages following Andy Dunn's progress.

Andy Dunn and his Model A

This story would be incredible enough if it ended there. It didn’t. At one point, Andy was in Washington state getting medical help for a few weeks. Sensing an opportunity to uplift Andy, a few HAMB'rs in the area gathered their hot rods and customs and headed to the hospital to give Andy an impromptu car show. The rain and cold couldn’t stop them… They were determined to have a good time and to support their pal. From all accounts, the little car show in the hospital parking lot was the best event of the year.

Andy at his personal car show

Sadly, on St. Patrick's Day, a member named MOVINGVIOLATION posted the following message:
"On behalf of the Dunn family and with a heavy heart, I must tell you that HAMBANDY has left us today. This past weekend Andy asked to leave the hospital and go home. And with his family at his side he peacefully passed for a better life. Andy fought chordoma for 3 years and was adopted by the HAMB members and quickly became HAMBANDY. In those 3 years he became friends with many people here, some cruised him while in hospital in the States... others he visited at their shops. He was taken to car shows and toured places with HAMB'rs that most of us would only wish to see. Andy as said in an earlier post became a legend. And you reached out to him with cards, letters, gifts, parts and money for the once in a lifetime build of HAMBANDY's model A. This brought people from around the world together to become friends and help Andy... A project that Andy's family will be forever thankful for. It renewed faith in mankind for many of us. You could always count on Andy to tell you something about Hot Rods that you didn't know and this past week while watching American Graffitti he said to his dad that he would have loved to live back in the day that the movie portrayed. He also was quick to tell you real hot rods don't have valve covers or to crack you a quick grin or smile. Andy was the real meaning of Hot Rodding in our town and I feel on this site. Andy's fight with chordoma never got him down, he never complained about being sick and always put on a brave face when "the boys" were around. He gave you a true appreciation of life and what it really means. On behalf of the Dunns I would like to thank you all for being a friend to Andy. He would spend hours here lurking to see who was doing what and to dream your dreams of Hot Rodding. This friendship was priceless to Andy and his family. "

It was after the loss of HAMBANDY that the most magnanimous spirit of the group blossomed. A murmur was heard -- How about some kind of memorial for Andy Dunn? It grew into a groundswell of creativity and an outpouring of love. There are now going to be memorial brass plaques in Andy Dunn's memory to grace the dashboards of thousands of hot rods, T-shirts with original art by some of the HAMB's most creative graphic artists, graphic stickers in Andy's memory.

And what might be happening to the money from all those sales? First, a sum will be used to purchase an appropriate gravestone for this courageous young man. He lived in Newfoundland and his family is overwhelmed with grief and funeral expenses. They have gratefully accepted the assistance of HAMB'rs in honoring Andy. Even more inspiring, they have asked that all other funds raised by this effort be donated to the hospital that cared for Andy. You can learn more about this amazing tribute at this thread about the Official HAMBAndy Memorial Fund.

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