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Southwest Airlines Pilot Finds New Home for Retired Catering Truck

Photo: Mark Pankey.

Earlier this week, Insider brought us the story of a Southwest Airlines pilot living out of a retired catering truck. Pankey, a former US Air Force pilot, had begun commuting from his apartment complex in Colorado to company bases in Denver or Los Angeles once he was hired in 2016. If you talk to any airline pilot or flight attendant, commuting can often be a harrowing experience. For those who do not know, some flight crew personnel choose to live away from their home base, assuming responsibility for traveling where needed before commencing a trip. This includes the stress of flying standby and long hours in the air without compensation. According to Pankey, the expenses for hotel rooms amounted to approximately $800 a month (!!!).

Pankey first acquired and retrofitted a regular van to reduce overhead costs, allowing him to split time between living at home and the road, hoping to one day build his next home. But this too changed with COVID-19 as employers asked employees to accept reduced salaries and extensive periods of leave. "If COVID-19 can shut down the world, maybe it's not a good idea to go into debt right now and build a big old house," Pankey said. Now with an acquired knack for innovating home space, the pandemic did allow for the opportunity to take on his next task.

Asked about how the idea came about, he says, "I had seen these box trucks at work, and I thought about how cool it would be to live in one of those, or to build one out," he said. "I was telling another pilot this, and sometime later, he sent me a text saying that a whole bunch of them were being auctioned off in Seattle."

The rest is history. Pankey was able to acquire the 20-plus-year-old ground service vehicle for $3,300. Before landing in Seattle, the vehicle spent most of its career loading free peanuts into Boeing 737s in Las Vegas. He recalls, “I didn’t have a whole lot of room in the van, so when I got into this thing, it was massive." Eventually, the truck was built with solar panels, a shower, kitchen, toilet, patio - you name it. The front of the truck was even painted to resemble an aircraft from his military days. Pankey estimates labor totaled seven months for $30,000 to $35,000, and although no logos were allowed, permission was granted to display the banner with Southwest's witty slogan, "The snacks are on me."

Photo: Mark Pankey.

This is not to say it was all sunshine and rainbows. "When you move out of a house or an apartment into something like this full-time, there's definitely anxiety when you do it," he added. "But I was ready to do it, you know? I told myself I'm going to make it happen and it's going to be fun." Pankey hopes his story inspires others to join the movement of the creative home and has advice for those who may be looking to join in on the fun. "Is this going to be full-time? Should it be a van or something bigger? And if it's going to be bigger, is this going to be your primary vehicle? These are all things you need to think about," Pankey said.

Check it out for yourself! (via Tiny House Giant Journey)

Photo: Mark Pankey.

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