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HomeOff Grid & Self SufficiencySnakpak: A Pilot's Off-Grid House on Wheels

Snakpak: A Pilot’s Off-Grid House on Wheels


When COVID-19 hit, it drastically affected the work surroundings for a lot of Individuals. Some started working remotely, whereas others have been pressured into diminished hours or misplaced their jobs totally. Mark Pankey had been working as a primary officer (copilot) for Southwest Airways since 2016. Previous to that job, he spent 20 years within the U.S. Air Drive, most of which was as a fighter pilot flying F-16s. After transitioning to civilian life, Pankey felt a lingering want for independence and journey within the nice open air. Surprisingly, COVID offered the chance he had been ready for — a sudden discount in demand for flights induced Southwest to hunt volunteers who have been prepared to take as much as 5 years off with partial pay. Pankey accepted the supply and used this sabbatical to deal with a undertaking he had daydreamed about for years: constructing a DIY off-grid dwelling on a industrial truck chassis.

Photographs by Zack Podell

This text was initially printed in Problem 64 of our sister publication Recoil journal. 

An Off-Grid House Like No Different

The seed for this concept was planted after Pankey’s first yr flying for Southwest. Like many pilots, he commuted to the closest main metropolis (Denver) earlier than work and spent a lot of his time between flights in accommodations. As a way to avoid wasting cash, he purchased a Ford Econoline cargo van and transformed it right into a “crash pad” he may sleep comfortably in. It labored however wasn’t ultimate. Pankey recollects, “I used to be leaning towards one thing a little bit larger that I may keep in for much longer — probably full time. I needed to have the ability to dwell utterly off-grid and be completely self-sustaining.” He mentioned this plan with certainly one of his pilot associates, and that buddy quickly despatched him a screenshot of a Ford F-650 field truck that was up for public sale. In an almost-poetic twist, it was a retired provisioning truck that had been used to load snacks and drinks into Southwest Airways flights. Consequently, this uncommon automobile included a built-in hydraulic scissor raise that raises the field and deck roughly 20 toes within the air.

Above: The entrance deck created an ideal patio for taking in beautiful views, particularly as soon as it is raised to its most peak.

After bidding in opposition to just one different particular person, Pankey gained the public sale in April 2020 for a mere $3,300. Two days later, he flew to Seattle-Tacoma airport to choose it up … sporting his full work uniform. A supervisor in a fluorescent vest was baffled to see a Southwest pilot choosing up a Southwest provisioning truck, however ultimately handed over the keys and paperwork.

Above: Pankey put a brand new roof on the field that’s 2 toes increased on one facet and 10 inches increased on the opposite. This supplied room for facet home windows and a queen-sized loft mattress.

Again dwelling in Colorado, Pankey’s neighbors dubbed the truck SnakPak because of the Southwest slogan emblazoned on the edges of the field, so he determined to depart the lettering in place. Nonetheless, its flat fiberglass roof was changed with a single-slant steel roof and a help construction Pankey custom-fabricated. Logs have been milled to create a rear wall with a country cabin look, and skis and snowboards have been minimize as much as fill gaps across the new taller roof. Water runs via a gutter right into a rain-harvesting filtration system; there’s additionally a 55-gallon freshwater tank on-board. On the entrance of the field, Pankey transformed the 9×8-foot deck into a comfortable patio, full with custom-made French doorways, synthetic turf, a detachable desk, tiki torches, and a Traeger 575 smoker.

Above: An ECM Synchronika espresso machine and V-Titan 64 grinder sit atop the {custom} live-edge kitchen countertop.

Pankey gutted the inside of the field and lined it with closed-cell foam insulation, then added stained and sealed aspen wooden flooring, tough cedar plank partitions and ceiling, and a pure flagstone entryway. A shoe and coat rack close to the doorway is flanked by a spacious kitchen with a live-edge wooden countertop and cabinets. The kitchen incorporates a deep sink, Webasto diesel/kerosene range, 6.9-cubic-foot fridge/freezer, and high-end espresso machine. Reverse this space, there’s a frameless all-glass bathe and composting rest room. A big loft space incorporates a queen-sized Tempurpedic mattress beneath the remote-controlled skylight.

Above: This nook incorporates Pankey’s gun secure in addition to the Icom 7300 ham radio and Victron Power solar energy system.

The truck is supplied with an Espar Hydronic M12 heater/boiler, Isotemp 4-gallon water heater, radiant heated flooring, a Dwarf 3kw tiny wooden range, and a DC mini break up air conditioner. Different highlights embody a gun secure, mini bar with humidor, JVC/Rockford Fosgate sound system, film projector with pull-down display screen, CB and ham radios, and a complicated energy system with three 375W roof-mounted photo voltaic panels, two 300Ah lithium batteries, and a Champion 4500 generator.

Above: A Nature’s Head composting rest room and Aston Orbitus frameless bathe present all of the consolation of a correct toilet. There’s a second exterior bathe head for rinsing off on the again deck.

Pankey says he did 99.9 p.c of the work on this truck himself, and it definitely wasn’t straightforward. “I labored on this undertaking from 5 a.m. to midnight (on common) on daily basis for a complete of seven months and misplaced about 20 kilos … I bought and gave away just about every little thing I owned minus all my enjoyable stuff — mountain bike, skis, kayak, a number of weapons, fishing gear, digicam tools, and so on.”

Above: There’s a Traeger smoker, synthetic turf, and a seating space on the entrance patio. This space is degree with the ground of the field when it’s absolutely raised.

He estimates complete price for the undertaking was roughly $40,000. However after dwelling in SnakPak and touring the western U.S. for the final two years, he says it was all value it. “This whole journey has been probably the most unimaginable time of my life. You actually be taught who you might be whenever you do one thing you’ve by no means achieved earlier than and problem your self to be uncomfortable within the unknown. I might not change a factor if I needed to do it throughout.”

“In spring of 2021, I camped out at Shadow Mountain. I parked with the deck going through the Tetons and raised the field up. Each morning, I might conjure up two photographs of espresso, sit out in my swing chair, and take heed to the wind via the aspen timber, desirous about how fortunate I’m to be alive.” – Mark Pankey

2000 Ford F-650 Plane Provisioning Truck

Drivetrain: Cummins 5.9L 24-valve diesel with Allison 643 4-speed computerized transmission

Above: SnakPak carries a mountain bike and Sur Ron e-bike on-board for shorter outings. The F-650 can be set as much as tow Pankey’s Toyota Tacoma through a heavy-duty trailer hitch and tow bar.

Construct Time: 7 months for preliminary construct, upgrades are ongoing

Construct Value: $3,300 for truck / $40,000 complete

Proprietor & Builder: Lt. Col. Mark “Spanky” Pankey, USAF, Ret.

Instagram Accounts: @snakpak20 / @spanky301

Above: Basking within the Northern Lights at a campsite in Montana. Picture by Anna Wilbur (@thescenicroutewest).


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