It's a warm, sunny afternoon and Chad Armalius, of Hebron, is standing in the Cedar Lake Town Grounds at a car show. He has long hair that's out of its typical ponytail, tattoos spread across his torso and a mug in his hand.

In front of him people occasionally stop by his black Chevrolet K20 pickup truck. They curiously examine it, then take to drawing on its body with chalk. But Armalius isn't making a fuss about it; in fact, he's encouraging it. He purposely invites the passers-by to add their personal touch of graffiti to what he calls "The Chalk Truck."

"It's guaranteed to make people smile every time," Armalius said. "I get people from ages 5 to 80 to draw on this thing."

He takes the vehicle to different car shows in Northwest Indiana, calling on those who attend to smother it with their creative drawings as long as there's no profanity or obscenity.

"I have a 5-year-old," he said. "I don't want her asking, 'Hey dad, what's that?' " he said.

Although he's had the pickup truck for five years, he's supervised the chalking for a little more than a year. Armalius has a job cleaning portable toilets that he's had since March. He worked for another company a year ago doing the same thing, but was laid off.

In the downtime between jobs, one day he and his wife, Mandi, and daughter, Tabitha, were relaxing with friends by the boat launch at Cedar Lake with the truck. Chad and Mandi had given Tabitha chalk to draw with in the parking lot. Before they knew it, she had sketched a stick figure on the body of the truck. Mandi said Tabitha called the stick figure "Daddy."

"Chad and I were about to tell her 'no more,' but I told him it wouldn't harm anything," Mandi said. "So we all colored on it. And the next day, the rain washed it all off."

Soon afterward, friend Jim "Remi" La Tulip was killed in a motorcycle accident. Chad and Mandi included his name on the truck's side when they attended the wake and funeral. They also allowed their friends to write farewells on the truck.

"(It) ended up being a really neat experience seeing the truck covering in drawings from all the people who knew him," Mandi said. "And from then on it sort of stuck."

Armalius joined up with the Head Hunters Car Club, a group that gets its name from gray, shrunken heads hung from rear view mirrors that were popular hotrod ornaments in the 20th century. While at the Cougar Classic Car Show in DeMotte, Armalius allowed the attendees to contribute their creativity.

He's since taken it to Cedar Lake, Hebron, Winfield and Wheatfield for other shows. Prior to each one, he'll wash the body and apply new black spray paint.

"My goal is just to get everyone to color on it," he said. "And they always leave with a smile, which makes me happy."

Armalius only makes three contributions to the truck: "Nom Nom" written on the grille, "Rust Hole" by a gaping section in a side mirror and "Danger Zone" on the bottom side. The rest is an open canvas.

Brian Nelson, of Hebron, one of the founding members of the Head Hunters, feels the truck is an excellent activity for kids who may not be thrilled by vehicles they themselves won't be able to use for several years.

"They get bored because its cars," Nelson said. "It's something they can do besides sit there being bored or on their phones and tablets. They can do something constructive."

When the day comes for Armalius to retire the current Chalk Truck, he vows the next one also will be spray painted black and chalked all over. Although, he does add he intends to one day acquire a tall, shiny monster truck.

But at a hard time in his life, the unexpected activity "helped bring a new excitement" to Armalius, his wife said.

"It kept me from losing my cool," he said. "It's a great stress relief. Draw whatever you want, say whatever you want, know it'll wash away. With the rain comes a new day."


Kale is a digital producer with the Times. He is a Region native, hailing from Schererville. He writes feature stories, shoots photos, and co-produces Byline, a Times podcast. He is a graduate of Indiana University.