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The Mystery Machine
To many people, their vehicle means much more than just a way to get from Point A to Point B. For some, the vehicle they drive may give them confidence, for others, status, and others, security. It may even simply remind them of a time when life was good. For Sandy and Gary Butterfield, a 1988 Chevy Astro Van, called “Mystery Machine”, is worth more than anything. It means they are able to keep the memory of their youngest son alive.
The Butterfields did not stray far from their roots. Gary was born and raised in Mitchell and Sandy a short drive away in Parkston. The pair fell in love and married in 1972. They had two sons, Brian and Chad. Cars, especially Tri-5 Chevys (1955-6-7), have always been a passion for the couple. They owned several Chevy’s before the boys were born. They sold them when the boys were born to focus more on the family. The couple started Sun Gold Trophies in 1979, the same year their youngest son, Chad, was born. “Both of us loved cars and we thought we had a good niche in this business,” recalls Sandy.
As the boys grew, they shared their love for cars with their parents. When Brian turned 14, he purchased his first car, a red 1977 Camaro. Chad, who was five years younger followed with his first vehicle, a 1982 Chevy C10 pickup. Brian kept the ’77 for a long time but later purchased a 1987 Camaro. He later sold it to his brother when he went to school at SD School of Mines in Rapid City. “The brothers were five years apart in age but they shared the same passion for cars,” remembers their dad.
When Brian went to college, Chad really got interested in stereo installations. He put a stereo system in a 1982 Chevy Pickup and the 1987 Camaro (as he would later do with the Astro van). He was self-taught in the installation of stereos. “We had kids around the house all the time working on stereos,” recalls Sandy with a smile. “We had an oversize double garage but I never got to put my car in the garage because the kids were always working on something,” according to Gary. Sandy adds, “Terry Reimnitz from Music and Sound in Mitchell really helped teach Chad about stereos. Terry and Chad did the installation of the stereo equipment in the van along with Chad’s friends.”
Gary and Sandy started another business in 2002 called Firesteel Classic Cars where they buy and sell classic cars, plus sell new and used restoration parts for Tri-5 Chevys. The store is located next to the Sun Gold Trophies business. “We also sell Chevrolet apparel and other restoration products including POR 15 and Eastwood products,” adds Gary. “We are re-working our website so we can sell directly from the web but most of our business comes from the region,” says Gary. We have a large customer list of very nice Tri-5 Chevy owners that like to do business locally. “We have sold cars all over the United States and Canada. We have even sold cars in Sweden. We have sold at least 40 Tri-5 Chevy’s since we started plus another 10 or so other classic cars. We will buy them, do a little work on them and then sell them.”
The Butterfields sold their Sun Gold Trophy business last summer and are helping the new owners as they transition into the business. New owners are Deryk and Cody Thomsen and their parents Jerry and Pam Thomsen.
Our son, Brian and his wife, Alisha, live in Rapid City and have two sons- Michael age 11 and Alec age 9. “We have two ‘55 Chevys that we are restoring for them in a ‘few years’”, says Gary with a smile. “They used to be interested in ‘55’s but now they are really interested in exotic cars, even naming their cat Enzo after Enzo Ferrari. Jerry Thomsen has a Ferrari and they got a ride in it, they loved it.”
The Mystery Machine is a cargo van that the Butterfield family purchased wrecked from Porter’s Body Shop in Rapid City in 1996. “We were out to see Brian at school when Chad noticed it and said, ‘I want that van’,” remembers Sandy. “He was into stereo equipment and he wanted a panel van to install a system in. At the time Burger King came out with a kids meal with the Scooby Doo characters. One of the toys was the Mystery Machine van. He told us he wanted to build a full size Mystery Machine.” It was just a wrecked tan cargo van and Gary thought they wanted too much for the van but they eventually purchased it. One of Brian’s friends tried to drive it back to Mitchell and 10 miles out of Rapid the motor blew up. The family had some friends that were out deer hunting a month or so later and they trailered it back to Mitchell.
Chad and his friends started working on it in January 1997 when Chad was a junior. He drove it every day to school before starting to work on it. The van only had one seat in it but Chad found an old davenport sitting outside of Unclaimed Freight Furniture and put that in the back of the van. He added a lawn chair for his girlfriend to sit on also. Chad and his friends worked on the van every night. The van had one big wall of speakers covering the back door. A major project was building the wall for those speakers. Chad worked at Mueller Lumber (and also at Sunshine grocery store and Country Kitchen restaurant) to pay for the restoration. He used lumber from Mueller to build the wall. The batteries and four 18” sub woofers took up that space. They put two seats up front and added seats in the back that they could slide in and out of the van. We found seats that matched front and back.
Chad also played goalie for the Mitchell Marlins Hockey team and joined the National Guard in December of 1996. Working on the van and the National Guard experience helped Chad get through those tough ages of 16 and 17 years old.
He left in June of 1997 for National Guard Camp at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. At that time, the van went to Jerry Gebels (Jerry’s Paint and Body in Mitchell). Jerry put in 150 hours of bodywork into the van and all he had to go from was the Burger King model of the Mystery Machine. Jerry did all of the bodywork and paintwork and also did the ground effects on the van. He returned the van after a couple of months and then it went to B&B Upholstery (Bob Weber) who did the headliner and recovered all of the seating. Then it went down to Music and Sound, where they started the stereo installation. Chad and his friends had started some of the stereo installation prior to leaving for Guard Camp. Chad came back and Terry was still working on the stereo installation. Sandy took photos of the Mystery Machine to Chad’s National Guard Basic Training graduation because his friends at guard camp did not believe him that he was building one. When Chad returned in the middle of August, he and Terry put the finishing touches on the stereo system. The van was pretty well finished by the beginning of September when school started. He drove it to school everyday. He also drove it out to Rapid City to spend a weekend with his brother and they enjoyed showing it off to Brian’s friends.
September 26, a Friday Night
Chad was a senior and was still uncertain what he wanted to do for his future. “The day of the accident Gary talked to the hockey coach at Gustavus Adolphus in St Peter, Minnesota about setting up an interview with him,” remembers Gary. “When Chad got home from school we told him we set up the interview. He was excited about the interview and didn’t eat supper that night, opting to eat at Burger King, his favorite restaurant. He drove the van to the football game that night. There were a lot of kids hanging around it. After the game, he brought the van home and left with a friend.” “He called me about 10:30 to ask if his girlfriend had called,” recalls Sandy. “That’s the last time we talked to him.”
The accident happened just after midnight. Sandy kept calling his cell phone that evening but they found out later it was in the highway patrol car. It took several hours to identify the kids and the parents were not notified of the accident until 3:30 a.m. the following morning. It wasn’t until years later that the parents learned what happened. “It was dust from the car ahead of them that settled on the gravel road, with poor visibility they missed a curve south of town,” according to Gary. “There were two kids in the back seat and two in the front. Chad’s best friend Dustin Durst was driving and another friend Kevin Boik was in the back seat with Chad. All three of the boys were killed and one girl survived but suffered brain damage from the accident.”
“The van helped us through our grief,” said Sandy. “The funeral was held at the Corn Palace and friends of Chad’s drove the van during the funeral procession, several other stereo equipped vans joined in. Winter came quickly but the grief never left. “As we tried to deal with our grief, we wanted to do something to remember Chad,” said Gary. We both knew it was the Mystery Machine that would be that link to Chad to help us get through this. We also had plenty of help from family and friends. Terry, from Music and Sound, paid to have life-sized photos of Scooby and Shaggy drawn in our garage. We went to work on the van and one of the projects was to rebuild the floor council where the TV sat and added the words ‘Chad’s Dream Machine’ with a photo of Scooby Doo.
“The van provides healing for all of our family,” say the Butterfields. “It makes kids eyes light up when they see it in a parade. They recognize the Mystery Machine and expect Scooby Doo to be driving. We get request to show the van at kids birthday parties. We drive the van in parades. It means a lot to the people in Mitchell because they associate it with remembering Chad. The support from family, friends and Mitchell Community was unbelievable. In the summer of 1998 together with Terry we put on a ‘sound off’ stereo competition in Memory of Chad. We also took the Mystery Machine out to our grandsons fourth birthday in Rapid City.”
Fifteen years later, the stereo equipment that is in the van still works fine. “It is nothing compared to today’s stereo but at the time it was state-of-the-art,” according to Gary. “We are so happy that we have the van to remember our son.”
Sandy helped find some of the original equipment they put on the van, including tires, wheels, ground effects and batteries. Sandy used to be a purchasing manager at Trail-Eze and used her talent and experience as a purchasing agent to help her find the best deals.
“Today when we look at the Mystery Machine we are so proud of it. It was Chad’s passion that built the van. We just like turning up the stereo. It is never too loud for us. On Chad’s birthday we will drive the van and crank the stereo in his memory. We love the Mystery Machine and it is our therapy. We moved out of the house with the painting in the garage and it has had two owners since then and the paintings are still on the garage wall. We have a Mystery Machine bedroom in our new house and the grandkids usually fight over who gets to sleep in that room.”
We always encourage anyone that if they have a dream, fulfill that dream, because any dream is worth it, like Chad’s Dream Machine.
Check out additional photos on Facebook at www.facebook.com/themotormarket. TMM