B-17 Bomber Gas Station – Milwaukee, Oregon …the rest of the story

postcardshow1by Carol Mobley

Have you ever been browsing in an antique shop and happened upon an interesting postcard that you felt inclined to learn more about? Or perhaps you came across an interesting photo in a collection you purchased or inherited. Well this happened to me when I found this particular card in a collection of vintage postcards and paper items.

Art Lacey’s Bomber Station was located in Milwaukee, Oregon, 6 miles south of Portland, and has a very interesting story behind it. Lacey was not a pilot but a man with a brilliant idea. Spurred on by a $5.00 bet and a $15,000 loan from a friend, he went to Altus, Oklahoma to purchase a B-17 just after World War II. Lacey found a bomber at a salvage yard, paid $13,750 and jumped in the cockpit with a mannequin as his copilot. He read the flight manual as he taxied around the yard. He managed to get the plane in the air but when he tried to land he discovered that he really did need a copilot to lower the landing gear. He crashed the B-17 into another on the ground at Altus. But there was such a surplus the yard manager called the accident wind damage and let Art select another bomber.

postcardshow2This time Art found a real pilot to help with the flight. They flew to Palm Springs where they refueled and then flew to Oregon during a snow storm. Flying low enough to follow the railroad tracks, Art and the copilot somehow managed to avoid mountain disasters and landed in Oregon.

Art tried time after time to get permits from the highway department to bring the B-17 to his gas station location. Each request went denied until one Saturday night Art went to the airport and taxied the airplane to its new location, 6 miles south of Portland on 99E. In 1947 he used cranes to prop the bomber above his gas station to be used as the canopy. Instead of paying for a costly permit to move the aircraft, he was fined $10 for no permit for a wide load.

The B-17 was open for people to go through when they stopped for gasoline. It became a landmark for the area. (Note the price of gasoline in the photo shown here. Photo courtesy: oregonencylopedia.org)
As years went by thousands of people climbed the ladders and walked through the unique display. Anything not bolted down and many things that were started walking off the plane without permission. The fatal blow came in the early 1960’s when a 10-year-old boy fell from the cockpit of the plane onto the asphalt below. He lost the hearing in one ear from the fall. His parents sued and the plane was closed for tours.

postcardshow3The Bomber remained in place over the gas station until 1991 when the station was torn down. The plane stayed in place and was the focal point for the restaurant Art Lacey’s family opened.

Now for the interesting part of the story. Postcards are a bit of history. A little research opens doors one would never imagine. I was so taken by the story of the Bomber Gas Station that I had the postcard on display at the Denver Postcard Show a couple of years ago. I had an older gentleman come in and look around so I took the time to show him the postcard and told him the story.

He told me, “I am that boy”. I had to shake myself – he was really there telling me the rest of the story. Indeed he had fallen from the cockpit and was still deaf in one ear. As angry as local people were that his parents sued for damages, he assured me that good came out of it. He went on to tell me that his parents put every penny of the award away for his college. He went on to medical school, became a doctor and practices medicine in 3rd world countries where doctors are needed most.

In the early 2000’s the B-17 Alliance Group was formed and they are overseeing the restoration of the plane. It has been removed from the site and sits in a hangar at McNary Field. Known now as the Lacey Lady after the man who had the vision to make a landmark out of a WWII Bomber. So, as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you have, the Rest of the Story”.
Many cards tell a story and this is just one example. The Denver Postcard and Paper Show might be just the place where you can find a card that has an interesting story behind it. The next show will be held on Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall located at 15200 W. 6th Ave, Golden, CO 80401. Show hours are Friday from 11:00 – 7:00 and Saturday from 9:30 – 4:30. Admission is $5.00 and good for both days. Bring a copy of this article and save $1.00 off admission!

If you have a collection of old postcards or paper items that you’d be interested in selling, or if you have questions about the show, contact Dede at 303-667-6212. You can also visit DenverPostcardShow.com or check on Facebook at Facebook.com/DenverPostcardShow.

See you at the show!

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