Day 2 (Sunday March 9th) started the same way as day one had ended – with cold rain and gusty winds. We re-packed the car after our night at the Red Lion in Kelso, Washington, but before we jumped back onto the I5 to head south, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel (included with the room booking)
We were on the road by 9, and headed toward our first destination – the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum at McMinnville, Oregon. Our route took us south on the I5 across and around the maze of bridges that criss-cross the Columbia River at Portland. Not far after we left the southern outskirts of Portland, we turned Southwest onto 99W which took us through the towns of Tigard and Newberg before ultimately reaching McMinnville. It took us a couple of tries to find the right road to turn onto in order to reach the Museum, but we finally did, and as we approached it, we were confronted with the sight of a 747 Jumbo Jet perched on top of one of the museum buildings! You can’t tell from this picture, but it had suffered the indignity of being turned into an amusement ride.
Now you may be wondering why on earth Mary and I would go 30 miles off the beaten track in search of a relatively small and somewhat unknown flight museum (small and unknown by comparison to the Pacific Museum of flight on the Boeing Grounds at Seattle). It was all because a few years back, I had read an article in one of the Vancouver dailies that mentioned this museum was poised to be final resting spot of the “Spruce Goose”, the massive wooden plane that Howard Hughes famously built in the late 1940’s. The Hughes H4-Hercules was intended to be able to carry 750 fully equipped troops or one Sherman tank, and Hughes had been commissioned by the United States Government to build this plane to help aid the war effort. He was given an $18 million grant, and was told he could not use aluminum because of war-time shortages, and he could also not hire any skilled workers away from any of the aviation companies already building planes for the U.S. war department.
The plane took longer to build than anticipated, to the point where WWII was over before it was finished in 1947 – with the help of an additional $7 million of Hughes own money. Once complete, it was the largest plane that had ever been assembled at the time, and even today, it is still described as the “largest flying boat ever built”. It has a wing span of 330 feet, more than the length of a football field, and that remains a record to this day.
After it’s one and only test flight on November 2nd in Long Beach Harbour, the program was scrapped, and Hughes hid the plane for the next 33 years at a an annual maintenance cost of $1 million! The plane was ultimately sold to the Aero Club of Southern California in 1980 and for a number of years it was on display in a specially constructed dome alongside the Queen Mary (at Long Beach). Both attractions were sold to the Disney Corporation in 1988, and Disney decided it wanted to dispose of the plane. The Aero club stepped back in and arranged for the plane to donated to the Evergreen Museum in McMinnville in return for payments and a percentage of the Museum’s profits.
The plane was disassembled in Long Beach and the pieces were transported by water and ground. The Spruce Goose was reassembled in 1993 and placed in the specially built hanger in McMinnville where it resides to this day. It is staggering large up close, and it dwarfs everything else around it. The plane’s tail is 8 stories high!
The museum was an absolute delight with many more aircrafts of interest, including a spitfire, a MIG, a Messerschmitt, a Blue Angel, and a helicopter that was made famous from 1972-1983, during the long running TV series M*A*S*H.
While we were at the museum it had actually stopped raining for awhile, but as we set out to put some more miles behind us, the skies began to darken again. We headed south and east through back roads that seemed to feature a different winery every two miles, before eventually meeting back up with the I5 at Salem, Oregon, where we pointed the Jeep toward the California border. For the next 3 hours we drove through almost constant rain, but by 5 o’clock, we had made it to Medford, Oregon, about 35 minutes north of the California border. While planning our trip, and making note of places we might like to see, I had read about Jacksonville, a small historic town about 5 miles east of Medford. In the process, I came across several glowing reviews of the 163 year old Jacksonville Inn – one that had actually received visits from 3 of the last 4 sitting U.S. Presidents. It was there we headed, and in my next post, I will tell you about our night at the Inn, and the historic town of Jacksonville, Oregon.