To some Americans, football is practically a religion. For Geoff McCollom, his mecca is Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, where he’s watched every home game for the past 21 years. After tailgating underneath a tarp strung between two minivans for some time, he decided that he was long overdue for an upgrade. That’s when he found the trailer.
When he bought it four years ago, it wasn’t anything special – just a six-foot-by-10-foot white cargo trailer. But McCollom, owner of Dutch Valley Auto Body in Lancaster, Pa., saw its potential to become a work of art.
“It was just a big canvas,” he said.
He recruited one of his body techs, Matt Remick, to give the trailer a makeover two summers ago – a task that Remick didn’t take lightly. He spent the entire summer devising designs and then airbrushing them onto the trailer, and after 400 hours of work and a few all-nighters, the tailgater was finally ready to make its debut the day before the first game of the season. And McCollom couldn’t have been more proud.
"Just seeing the reaction of all my peers and the people who would tailgate there, it was just amazing,” he recalled.
The Lion Roars
One side of the trailer features an enormous Penn State Nittany Lion crawling down a series of boulders. Nestled in the background among mountains is Beaver Stadium, which was painted to replicate the first “whiteout” game against rival Notre Dame.
“You can superimpose the trailer design [with the mountains] and it matches up,” said McCollom. “[Matt] did it in such detail that each one of those boulders took about eight hours to do.”
The other side showcases another Lion, but this one’s a bit more menacing. He’s airbrushed so that it appears he’s clawed his way out of the trailer, and his left paw is clutching the Notre Dame Leprechaun.
“There’s just something about when Penn State and Notre Dame play that’s special,” said McCollom. “I remember a lot of great games in the ’90s between those two schools, so that’s why we did the whole Notre Dame theme.”
The amount of detail that Remick put into the design is astounding – and sometimes hard to spot. For example, he painted “PSU” inside the Lion’s eyes, and the stadium’s scoreboard displays the final score of the Penn State-Notre Dame whiteout game. McCollom looked at the mural for months and didn’t notice the little details until Remick pointed them out.
The artwork isn’t the only remarkable feature. When it’s time to set up, McCollom connects a huge tarp between the trailer and the car towing it, creating an enclosure that’s raintight and spacious. Heaters provide warmth during the chillier games, and there’s a 40-inch high-definition TV with satellite and a gas grill. The two 8D truck batteries that are built into the trailer’s floor provide enough power to run a 40-hour tailgate.
“There is all electric power with battery, so there’s no fumes and no fuss,” said McCollom.
Despite some inclement weather, the tailgater’s durability stands against even the toughest conditions.
“We’ve [tailgated] through six inches of snow to 30-mile-per-hour wind,” said McCollom. “And that’s part of the fun, just the challenge of the weather up there.”
The tailgater brings a sense of unity to Beaver Stadium. One of McCollom’s traditions is to invite the competition inside for some warmth and game day spirit. He recalls a game against Oregon State when a limo filled with 20 people pulled up to the tailgater.
“They liked what they saw and jumped out and became our best friends,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. You meet strangers and sometimes you make friends for life out of them.”
During the off-season, the tailgater mainly serves as an artsy billboard as it rests on display at Dutch Valley. But despite weighing 3,000 lbs., McCollom tries to take it out as much as possible.
“We do a big pig roast for employees and vendors every year, which gets about 300 people,” he said.
He also totes it to the annual Pike County Penn State Club golf outing, where Nittany Lion fans pose for photos beside it.
Penn State fans can count on seeing the tailgating sanctuary for years to come. It’s rarely had any maintenance issues, and despite its hefty size and large amount of features, McCollom says it’s easy to set up and tear down.
“Like anything else in life, you make improvements incrementally. It’s like a business. You get better at it, and now we could do this in our sleep.”