Vern Ball and a dedicated gang of fans of the “Back to the Future” film trilogy are working late nights in the shop at Ball’s Tint Factory business in Billings to prepare a time-traveling machine that will be unveiled during Friday’s holiday parade.
One of the crew members, Isaac Horn of Billings, joked Tuesday evening that “if we don’t get it done in time, we’ll just go back in time and grab some hours.”
The group is transforming a DeLorean owned by Nick Lambert, of Billings, into a screen-accurate replica of Emmett “Doc” Brown’s iconic — but, sadly, imaginary — time-traveling machine made famous in the films starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as the eccentric Doc Brown.
Screen-accurate, Ball said, means that volunteers have had to spend many hours over the past eight weeks studying photos and film clips of the DeLorean used in the film in order to realistically reproduce all its memorable features, including the flux capacitor, programmable time circuits, the Mr. Fusion home energy reactor — and even a plutonium gauge.
Horn, whose 7-year-old son is a fan of the films, has gone frame by frame to view every detail he can of the DeLorean time machine.
That level of scrutiny has paid off, and shaved a few dollars in expenses: he transformed an old car speaker into a nearly perfect copy of the time machine’s wormhole emitter.
“Growing up during the 1980s, this car is iconic,” Horn said. “I have been posting pictures on Facebook as the build has gone on, and it’s amazing how many people can’t wait to see it.”
Futuristic in the 1st place
With their gull-wing doors and unpainted stainless steel body panels, DeLoreans were popular during the early 1980s — until the DeLorean Motor Company went out of business.
The 1985 release of “Back to the Future” meant that the DeLorean DMC-12 — the car originally retailed for $12,000 — would be long treasured by movie-goers.
Making the time machine a virtual copy of the original has cost thousands of dollars, Ball said — but it’s going to be well worth it when the public gets its first gander at the project on Friday.
“There are two important dreams in life — flying and time travel,” he said. “Everyone is going to want to get in and change the date (on the programmable time circuits, which in the first film set the course for McFly to travel back to the year 1955 to ensure that his parents fall in love).”
Ball began collecting parts about two months ago, even driving to Portland, Ore., to pick up a bunch.
Others he fashioned closer to home. Mr. Fusion, for example, is a redone Krups coffee grinder that Ball found for $144.
The base for the plutonium chamber was even less expensive — it’s a painted hubcap off a 1967 Dodge Charger.
During the holiday parade, the time machine will emit fog, and a speaker system will belt out memorable lines from the films, including this exchange between McFly and Brown. McFly: “Hey Doc, we better back up. We don’t have enough road to get up to 88 (miles per hour, the threshold for time travel).” Brown: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
The 29th annual holiday parade, which begins at 7 p.m. Friday downtown, is just the first opportunity for residents to take in the time machine.
Available for events
According to Ball, the Yellowstone Time Machine, as it’s being billed, will be ready, probably after Jan. 1, 2014, to be rented for birthday and anniversary celebrations, weddings, trade shows and the like.
Lambert, the car’s owner, got his first chance to sit in the time machine Monday.
“We turned the time circuits on and asked him to put in his birthday,” Ball said. “He got so excited he couldn’t even remember his own birthday. He was that overwhelmed that his dream was coming true.”
But first things first. The guys — who have numbered about a dozen some nights as the deadline draws near — have to finish their work before 7 on Friday evening.
“It’s going to be like one of those reality shows on television, with somebody hanging on the side wrenching just before the parade starts,” Ball said. “We want to get it done so that we can debut it in a big way.”