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

Breaking bread in a housing crisis

The Wake Weekly
New York artist crossing the country in a purple van, defying convention.

By Leslie Rudd,
Wake Weekly Staff Writer
March 6, 2008

WAKE FOREST — Everyone wants a home they can call their own — it's the American dream.

Angel Hess, a New York photographer and graphic artist, found his home in a purple bread truck. He and his rolling home were in Wake Forest last week.

Since 2004, Hess had been caught up in the hustle and bustle of Manhattan life and in 2006 he had an epiphany.

"I began thinking about the future. I wanted a house, but I couldn't get a home loan," said the 29-year-old. "So I tried to think of something I could buy: a box car, a bus, anything."

Hess found the answer to his housing problems on E-Bay: a 1953 Ford bread truck at the price of $2,500.

His on-line discovery and the idea to convert the truck into a home seemed like destiny.

"The previous owner (from California) never went into great detail about the history of the truck except that a family member was converting it into a motor home and work on it had been suspended because of a death in the family," explained Hess.

July 3, 2006, he declared his independence from leases and landlords and began his journey from the West Coast back to New York.

The bold transition from stationary to mobile alarmed Hess' family and the driver himself.

"I was freaked out at first. It was nasty inside; I‘d never driven a stick shift," he said. "My parents didn't ask why I was doing it, they're just supportive."

Larry Hess, Angel's dad, thought the idea was insanely complicated.

"I kinda thought it was crazy. There's a lot of easier ways to go — finished cars, a regular apartment. But he's creative like that," he said.

The inaugural trip required some repairs before burning rubber at 50-mph across the midwest.

Stopping in Arizona and Arkansas to stay with family, the 100- square-foot apartment began its transformation.

His father loaned him tools and helped him tear out the rotted wood panels, replacing them with oak.

"It looked pretty rough when he brought it into Arizona to see me," said Larry. "He didn't know much about vintage cars and it's a pretty amazing truck."

Rotting wood and leaking windows didn't deter him. This truck became Angel Hess' piéce-de-résistance in art and in life.

Looks can be deceiving and, from a practical standpoint, a bread truck seems cramped compared to today's "Mc-Mansions." But to him, it's cozy.

Creating his home in an unlikely place is part of Hess' ideology.

"A lot of people get caught up in making house payments, paying rent, wanting more stuff. Some people think they need more space than they really do," he said.

Once back in New York, Hess continued renovations: bamboo floors, insulation, a sky light, solar panels, batteries and a generator provide electricity; a full bed in the back, a storage shelf and a wood-burning stove help to make the classic car a home.

And — yes — the Purple '53 does have a bathroom.

Part of the truck was already purple, Hess said. He felt he should stay with the original color.

Late-night hoodlums of New York contributed to additional graffiti now seen on the truck's hood and sides.

Since work began in 2006 and word got out about his vehicle and lifestyle, individuals and businesses alike are donating to his cause.

Businesses and dozens of individuals have offered food, equipment, a place to park and the occasional shower to the Bohemian road warrior.

In February, Hess felt the call of the road once again. "It was the stress of New York. The weather was bad on the truck and I needed a new challenge," he said.

Kind supporters have responded to his online requests for a place to park for a few days.

He spent two days with a family in Richmond before making it to his latest destination, the Winter Past Farm in Wake Forest.

Life on the farm is a far cry from the streets of New York. "It's beautiful out here. I'm not used to the animals running around, but the area's really pretty," Hess said.

He plans to head to Atlanta before turning west to see family in Texas and Arizona.

Life on the road gets lonely, he said. "But I'm thinking about getting a pet."

Hess said the experience and the lifestyle have changed him for the better.

"I've learned how to become more self-sufficient, how to live without spending money and it's not easy to do."

But the response is encouraging. "When people start asking you, ‘How did you do that?' You're getting good," Larry Hess said of his son. "We have a lot of people ask that, not just of the truck, but about his photography too."

The reactions from others who hear of his story are as varied as the truck's history. Hess even received letters from soldiers stationed in Kuwait encouraging him to keep going.

"Some people just think it's weird. Others are inspired. People get different things out of it. I just want to get out and meet new people and stir up the imagination."

Hess blogs about his crosscountry adventures on his web site

Leslie Rudd