With Pals in Portland

Early in the week we arrived in Portland, Oregon. We were eager to see Jeff and Marilyn’s new (to them) home – after 7 years of full timing in their RV, they are settling into a home without wheels! Their home is beautiful, and they are doing lots of work making it uniquely theirs.

Fort Vancouver is just north from Portland, across the Columbia River in Washington. It started out in the early 1800’s as an outpost of the Hudson Bay Company. In 1849 the US Army created a post on the rise just behind the Hudson Bay Company’s site. It was used as a headquarters and supply depot during the Civil War and the Indian Wars. During World War I, the government recognized the need for airplanes… and building them required wood. Lots of wood. Like 100 Million board feet of Sitka Spruce. Sitka was used because it was strong, light, relatively free from knots, and the trees were large and plentiful. The Spruce Production Division Mill was created on this site, and by October of 1918, was cutting and shipping 1 Million board feet of spruce DAILY! Over 30,000 Army troops manned the mill, which makes it the world’s largest mill. When the war was over, in November of 1918, the mill was shut down, and eventually dismantled. The mill had produced 143 Million board feet – far more than was ever needed for aircraft construction. It is said that that amount of lumber could have built 57,000 planes… instead of the roughly 4,000 that were built.

Maybe as a result of there being plenty of lumber available, a lot of early aircraft creation and testing was done in this area. Fort Vancouver has an airfield to this day, Pearson Field, and a nice little museum with a wide variety of interesting planes.

Below is a Curtis JN-4 “Jenny.” Built as a trainer, over 90% of WWI pilots learned to fly in a Jenny. After the war, they were sold as surplus, and thousands became popular as barnstormers, aerial circuses, and as personal airplanes.

The Fokker Dr.1 triplane was made famous (infamous?) by Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen… otherwise known as the “Red Baron.”

June 20, 1937, saw the culmination of the first Trans-Polar flight, when 3 Russian men landed their plane at Pearson Field. They had left Moscow a bit over 63 hours previously, hoping to fly to Oakland, California. They ran a bit short of fuel, or oil pressure, and wisely chose to land at Pearson… and made history. The monument below is dedicated to those three men.

OK, yes, there is far more to the Fort than just airplane stuff. Like some interesting buildings, or recreations of original structures.

There are also some nice gardens, with both veggies and flowers. In one building was this interesting desk. Its writing surface would fold up and slide in, with a technique I haven’t seen before. From the handles on the sides, I presume it is a Campaign Desk, made to come apart and be transported relatively easily.

The most interesting building was this Carpenter’s Shop.

It is set up as a working shop, using only tools as would have been used during the Fort’s occupancy.

This great carpenter explained how everything was built, and demonstrated some of the extremely sophisticated joints used. Amazing!

We finished out the day with a nice walk along Vancouver’s Waterfront Park.

Below you can see the drawbridge… on I5! Who would have believed a drawbridge on that major highway! I’m guessing it doesn’t get opened very often.

A tall free standing wall has water cascading over it, which is then joined by other fountains as it meanders along for a few hundred feet. A fun place to get wet on a beautiful summer day!

When creating this nice River Walk, two huge artifacts were uncovered. This had been the site of paper mills since 1883. What looks like you might use as roller to make pie crusts, is really about 4 feet thick and maybe 15 feet long. (I’d like to see that pie!)

A fun cantilevered viewing platform reaches out over the river.

On the abutments, a crash course in bridge engineering is inscribed.

Since obviously we hadn’t seen enough aircraft yet, the next day we drove to the new home of the Spruce Goose.

We saw the massive Hercules H-4, mockingly called the “Spruce Goose,” while she was on display in Long Beach, California many years ago. Now she has a beautiful new home in the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

There is no way to demonstrate the enormity of this flying boat. So I’ll start with this model.

During World War II, America was shipping troops and war supplies to England, but suffering huge losses from German U-Boats. Howard Hughes was approached by the government to design and build an airplane capable of transporting 750 troops, or 2 Sherman tanks, across the Atlantic – well above the threat of the U-Boats. Metal was in short supply, so Hughes designed his aircraft to be built with wood. Mostly Birch, in spite of the sarcastic name given by detractors. The plane was far larger than any construction hanger, so new facilities had to be built. The plane had 8 Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines, the largest production piston engines ever installed in any airplane. The propellers are the largest ever used on a plane, with a diameter of 17 feet. Special plywood was invented, a precursor of modern composites. When the plywood panels were glued together, they were nailed in place. When the plane was finished, the nails were removed… all 7 TONS of nails! The plane was designed as a flying boat, because airports of the day were not capable of dealing with such a large and heavy craft.

Hughes was a perfectionist, and changed his mind too often during production. By the time he had the plane finished, the war was over. Congress wanted him to justify the tremendous expenditure for what was thought by many to be a total folly. On November 2, 1947, Hughes took the H-4 out for “taxi testing.” He had a large crew on board, and about 30 journalists. He taxied around for a while, and then offered to let any of the reporters off who wished. Most gladly left the plane, since they had very limited views out – they had seen enough. Then, in the next phase of tests, Hughes taxied faster and faster, until he lifted off. He stayed airborne 26 seconds (over twice the length of the Wright Brothers’ first flight), at a maximum altitude of about 60 feet. He proved that the monster was indeed capable of flight, and justified the expenses of its creation. He never flew it again, but kept it in flight ready status for the next 30 years in a special climate-controlled hanger. (at an average of $1,000,000 per year) It is thought that he planned on flying it a bit more, but had other bigger concerns and never got around to it!

So here’s this HUGE plane. The windows you see in front of the engines are not original – they were installed in Long Beach for viewers to see in.

A model of the construction of the fuselage and wing:

Here’s the most exciting part! For a fee, you can take 4 people on a guided tour of the cockpit! There were four of us, and it was obvious we had to do it! I selfishly jumped in the left seat… sitting where Howard Hughes actually flew this mammoth creature! So very cool! Jeff politely sat in the other pilot position. (Thank you Jeff!)

Our guide talks about the engineer’s desk:

Far more than just the flight engineer, who was in charge of engines, there were others monitoring a myriad of parameters about the physical structure of the plane.

This was long before computers could monitor gauges and inform pilots of anything out of specifications. There were several men at desks to watch gauges and yell out if anything went amiss.

In the back of the flight deck is a hatch and a ladder, where a person could look out over the wings.

When sorting through the aircraft, they found what they believe is the headset Hughes wore during his momentous flight.

The wings are so thick, a person can walk along inside them, and check on the engines. There is also a tunnel to get to the back of the wings.

The cavernous hold, looking aft.

Totally unexpected was this little rowboat… built and offered for sale by Hughes Aircraft, using the special plywood designed for the “Goose,” it was light and strong. I have no idea how well they sold.

The museum is very beautifully done, and has far more than just the H-4. For example, this sweet little Bonanza. It was a revolutionary machine when introduced in 1947; far sleeker and more modern looking than the Spruce Goose! It’s nice to see it hanging there as if in flight!

Another noteworthy plane is this Beech Starship. Designed by Burt Rutan, it is a twin engine pusher prop canard winged composite plane, with “glass cockpit” instrumentation that was years ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it was too far ahead of its time, and didn’t do well commercially.

I’ve taught my wife and daughters that any time I quiz them and ask “What kind of airplane is that?” they should answer “a DC3!” So for you three cherished family members… this one’s for you!

I enjoyed the miniature Space Shuttle used to shuttle VIPs around.

We did the aviation portion of the museum before lunch. Drove into town for a great lunch at a fun little place I don’t remember the name of. But it was super!

Then a little walk around a picturesque town…

And then it was time for building two of the museum! This is mostly dedicated to space travel, with a huge assortment of displays on the history of space exploration.

Here’s a Mercury capsule and its control panel. A lot of information is given on the space race with Russia.

A mock-up of the Moon Buggy.

I am fascinated with the SR-71, the fastest air-breathing jet ever. And to think it was designed and built in the late 50’s, with engineers using slide rules. Amazing. Next to it is displayed a drone derivative of the SR-71 called the D-21. It was to be launched from a version of the SR-71, and fly over enemy territory at 2,200 miles per hour and 90,000 feet. It would take pictures, then eject the camera and film into the air for retrieval, and then self-destruct. The launching part didn’t go too well, so it was modified to launch under a B52. It was only used a few times, with “very limited success.”

When I was a kid, the hottest thing ever was the X-15. From the late 50’s to the late 60’s, this rocket propelled plane (not air-breathing) set all kids of records, eventually making 4,520 miles per hour at an altitude of over 100,000 feet. (19 miles!)

So while I reveled in all the amazing craft on display, my wife and friends gave up and kindly waited for me… all studying on their phones.

We had a campsite on the eastern edge of Portland, near the Sandy River. Lewis and Clark camped near here on their historic exploration, and noted that the river delta was full of quicksand. They dubbed it the “Quicksand River”, and the name morphed over time to “Sandy River.”

The bridge says “One way for trucks and busses” but no provision to enforce that… other than seeing if it looks like anything big is coming! We got to be the big thing a couple of times. Kinda scary.

We spent our last afternoon at the nearby Lewis & Clark State Park. A nice hiking trail, and a lot of homeless folks hanging out.

We moved from there to Astoria, Oregon, which I’ll talk about next week. But I have to mention 3 antique travel trailers that put on a little show in our campground. These are all 50’s vintage rigs that have been restored, or completely redone to preserve the original look but give modern conveniences.

One of them went crazy with wild lights and decor!

This is an old Boles-Aero trailer, (I remember as being a very posh brand when I was young) which has been entirely redone inside with electric appliances mascarading as vintage, and solar panels for power. Very cute. When I graduated from dental school, my parents gave us a set of Skyway Luggage just like the set on the tongue of this trailer!

The End

One comment

  1. Wow. First time to enjoy your site. You have a wealth of information about so many things! It was great to meet you at our 50th Class reunion. You and Cherryl are living the dream!!!

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