survey says? where do you pee? what's inside? do you use drugs? that's not a house!

Man tours country in bread truck

From The News & Observer
Angel Hess, 29, has been living in his 1953 Ford truck with about 85 square feet since July 2006.

By Josh Shaffer,
News & Observer Staff Writer
March 3, 2008

WAKE FOREST — Two years ago, Angel Hess bought a purple 1953 bread truck with a grizzly bear painted on the back.

He installed a bamboo floor, cut a mattress out of foam, set up a wood stove and rigged a humble toilet of the chamber-pot variety. Then he moved inside, permanently, touring the country in a gas-powered version of Walden Pond.

This week, the curly-haired adventurer landed on a Wake Forest farm, where the owner let him stay rent-free among her emus and goats.

At age 29, Hess tells the familiar story of a modern misfit, fed up with bills, rent, college, conventional life.

But he does it in a soft-spoken way that inspires both envy and generosity in strangers. The very American idea that you can chuck everything endures inside Hess' purple truck.

"He reminds me of my first true love in college," said Mary Droessler, his host in Wake Forest. "I think it's great that he's just throwing himself out there."

The idea hit Hess in 2006. He'd gone to design school in Arizona but scratched the idea after a year and a half. So he tried his luck as a photographer in New York, where all his cash went to pay rent.

He wanted his own house, his own space. So he started thinking outside the down payment and beyond the mortgage. A boxcar? A military vehicle? A cargo container? Anything with walls would do.

Then he spotted a posting on eBay: one 1953 bread truck, purple, $2,500. He flew to California and bought it.

"It was a little funny at first," said Hess, who had never driven anything with a stick shift, let alone a 16-foot truck. "And it was pretty nasty inside."

A drywall expert helped complete the wall finishings. Hess got more help with the wiring.

He managed to pull people into the project, said Hess' father, Larry, in Arizona. People would hear about it and want to contribute.

"He just attracts people who admire what he's doing," his father said. "I wish I could do it."

For most of the past year, Hess has parked his purple truck in a Brooklyn lot, fighting snow and cold with the wood stove and an electrical heat panel running off the solar-powered battery.

This trip is Hess' second, and two weeks into it, Hess guesses he might head to Georgia next. If he cut west across the Smokies, the truck would putter along at 10 mph, if it managed the climb at all. It only gets about 10 miles to the gallon.

Hess takes pictures along the way and posts them on his Web site, along with observations he keeps in a blog.

"I have had a really good day today," Hess wrote last week."I think the first best things was I got some really good French Frys from a place in NC called Snoopy's Hot Dogs."

He survives mostly on savings, donations and simple living. A box of oats, a jar of peanuts and a jug of orange juice sit by the wood stove.

One thing Hess hasn't mastered is company. Sometimes, it gets lonely inside the purple truck. For a while in New York, he shared the space with a girlfriend.

"She's not here," Hess says, "so it didn't work out."

He figures the truck will last at least two more years, but decisions beyond that come day to day. He might spend the summer in the mountains, taking landscape and animal pictures. He might go back out West, where the solar power is more reliable.

Either way, he'll do it a mile at a time, living on bread and raspberry jam, looking at the road over his bright purple hood.

Josh Shaffer