Discoveries: In Oregon, a grounded jetliner is home
08/12/2012 12:00 AM
08/11/2012 4:21 PM
HILLSBORO, Ore. – You come a-callin' on Bruce Campbell at his humble abode in this exurb west of Portland, and you don't know where to knock.
There is no front door, no porch light, no welcome mat.
There is no house, per se.
What hovers before you is a hulking blue-and-white Boeing 727 jet airliner, formerly an Olympic Airlines passenger plane, plopped into a verdant slope studded with Douglas firs and wild grass. You crane your neck and gaze upon the open emergency exit door over the right wing, wondering if you should rap upon the fuselage to get Campbell's attention.
Still no response.
At last, a slight figure in a red polo shirt and khaki shorts ducks his head through the portal and walks upon the wing.
"Come around to the back," he says, with all due neighborliness, "to the stairs."
Of course. How silly of you. You must enter Campbell's home through the aft exit, that spot on a plane the attendants always point to with two fingers extended as they perform the perfunctory preflight Kabuki theater.
You make the climb, and Campbell greets you with a shy smile, offering you a choice of juices and other libations. You inwardly giggle, wondering if he's going to toss you a bag of peanuts next.
At first sight, the inside of this 62-year-old retired engineer's home leaves you slack-jawed. There is much to take in and many questions to ask. Such as: Why live in a 727 airplane? And: How on earth (or over earth) did he transport it to this rural Oregon outpost? And, of course: What's the going rate for a 1,066-square-foot dwelling such as this?
Answers will come in due time. Tourists, whom Campbell has encouraged to visit via his website (www.airplanehome.com) since he habituated here in 2000, first need to wrap their heads around the whole airplane-into-home concept.
To do that, Campbell invites you to walk down the aisle, now devoid of rows of rigid seat backs.
It's one large room, à la studio apartment, from the rear lavatory to the preserved cockpit. Campbell's twin bed hugs the right side, while his home office with no less than five Apple computers humming takes up much of the middle of the fuselage. A jury-rigged circular shower rests a respectful distance from the the galley that serves as a microwave-oven-ready kitchen.
He apologizes for the clutter, which includes not just the usual boxes and half-finished home-improvement projects but also discarded seats with paper "Olympian Executive Class" head doilies still attached.
Then he instructs you to look down. He has replaced the carpeting with see-through acrylic flooring, which allows fascinating views into the guts of the plane – the storage holds and electronics, all that stuff that makes it possible for these tin cans to get airborne.
"Look at the structure of this aircraft," he said. "I'm an engineer, when I look at that, and compare it to 2-by-4s and metal spikes in most houses, that's just beautiful technology. It's impervious to fire, will easily ride out an earthquake. It's just a fundamentally superior structure.
"Aircraft is really an already completed home in many respects. They have all the infrastructure needed to support human life. Plumbing is there. Electricity is there, toilets are there. Galleys, not like a normal kitchen, but they're there. And the construction is gorgeous. In a (regular) home, you expect to find tin air conduits, sealed with duct tape. Here, they are titanium ducts with gorgeous welds."
Not everyone looks at a jet airliner and thinks "future home." But then, Campbell admits to being something of an eccentric visionary. What this is, essentially, is recycling on a grand scale, taking a discarded tin can and giving it a second life.
That was the premise for Campbell's grand experiment. More than a decade ago, he retired from Techtronic Industries and parlayed some ground-floor Apple stock into a healthy enough nest egg to go jet airliner shopping.
He figured, why build a "stick" house for $200,000 like everyone else when he could spend about the same amount and make a grand gesture?
There is no Century 21 for 727s, though, and Campbell didn't know his way around the aviation industry. He knew that salvage companies existed that stripped old, grounded planes for parts and figured he'd try to at least buy from them a fuselage with as many original parts as possible.
"My initial ambitions were humble," he said, "but then I decided, 'No, I want the wings. I want the outside appearance to be a little cleaner.' I thought, 'OK, I can't afford the actuators (for the flight control system), but how about the flight control surfaces?' "
What he wound up buying – for about $220,000, which included flying the plane to Hillsboro's commuter airport and towing it to his property – is a Greek commuter plane that logged about 40,000 flights, sort of like that country's version of a Southwest Airlines jet that made commuter excursions from Sacramento to L.A. He didn't learn until later that the plane had a history.
"Along these beams walked Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis," he said, beaming. "Her husband was down there in his coffin. This was the bird that flew Aristotle Onassis to his grave. You can see photos of her walking off this very plane (in March 1975). This is the same bird! The registration number is visible in the images online, and it matches."
After 12 years on his property, the airplane-home still needs some work. Campbell's neighbors (none live too close) are accepting of the project, and he's jumped through all the city's code hoops. He just needs to find the time.
One hindrance is, he lives half the year in Miyazaki, Japan, with "my sweetheart." But that's got Bruce thinking that he might want to embark on a new venture, "Airplane Home V.2," he says, this time in Japan.
"I feel as though I've illustrated to myself, if not anyone else, that you can live (in airplanes)," he said. "But if I can execute a clean project with clean cost control and with a full bird, then you'll see a clean, beautiful home. That, I think, would provide a compelling example of what a retired jetliner's second life should be."
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About This BlogSam McManis has covered travel and recreation at The Sacramento Bee since 2011, criss-crossing California to report on interesting, humorous, unexpected and sometimes truly strange stories. When he's not driving all over the state for work, Sam likes to run on the many mountain trails California boasts. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-321-1145. Twitter: @SamMcManis https://twitter.com/SamMcManis
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