Two years ago, Todd Hess spotted a 1960 Volkswagen Transporter truck with a faded vintage Alaska Airlines logo parked on a beach while he was vacationing in Tampa, Fla.
Hess, an Alaska Airlines line maintenance supervisor, took a photo and approached its owner, but didn't get a phone number, according to the airline.
Back in Seattle, Hess showed the picture to Kevin James, a maintenance supervisor who restores cars in his spare time. James tracked down the truck using a Volkswagen fan website and then asked airline's Marketing Department if they'd be interested in using the truck if he bought it.
Instead, they sent James to Florida to buy it for the airline, picking up the $8,500 purchase price and setting a $4,000 budget for restoration.
Records show that Alaska's truck traveled from Germany to Delaware in 1960 and ended up as one of Alaska's five company trucks in Fairbanks. After seeing a picture of the truck on the airline's Facebook page, a former owner who lives in Battle Ground, Wash., confirmed much of the car's history, adding that he had pulled out a generator that was once used to recharge planes on the tarmac.
Working on his own time, James cleaned the truck, had the faded lettering outlined and its exterior buffed, sandblasted and repainted the wheels, found period-correct bumpers to replace the rusted ones, and added new brakes and running gear. But they kept it somewhat rustic, for aesthetic and cost reasons. It now can reach 60 mph.
"I was drawn to the Volkswagen because I had previously restored a Bug and loved that car," he said in an airline feature story. "I've had many cars that I've brought back from the brink of death and made great cars again. It's a great feeling to hear people say how much they love something that you've worked so hard on."
In a company-wide contest, employees chose the name "Alaska Airlines Spirit Wagon" for the truck. It now represents the airline in parades and special events, including appearances so far in Bellingham's Ski-to-Sea Parade, the Portland Rose Festival's Starlight and Grand Floral parades, and Seattle's Pride Parade.