One of the “must see” museums in Oregon is the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum located in McMinnville. While you might not have heard about it, you may be familiar with the famous boat plane showcased there, the Spruce Goose. This creation of Howard Hughes, that has a wingspan of more than an American football field, is now housed at Evergreen. Surprisingly, the world’s largest flying boat was purchased from Disney in California and relocated to Oregon.
This massive transport plane is famous for several reasons. First, it is made almost entirely of wood primarily of birch but not spruce. During war time, aluminum was a precious commodity and the decision was made to use wood instead. The name Spruce Goose was coined by the media and it stuck. Second, it only flew once and that was a short “test-run” to prove that it could fly. The war ended before its first flight. Third, Howard Hughes was extremely wealthy and a larger than life character who micromanaged the construction of the Spruce Goose. Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the 2004 film, The Aviator.
The plane engulfs the Aviation Museum with most of all the other aircraft displayed underneath it. There is really not a way to photograph the plane in its current setting because of its size. In addition to its 320 foot wingspan, the fuselage of the plane was designed to carry 150,000 pounds of cargo or 650 troops. The interior is massive and shows the extensive use of birch wood.
We took part in one of the docent led tours which was excellent. The retired pilot had a wealth of knowledge and was entertaining as well. I had guessed he was one of the better guides when I noticed other volunteers taking in his tour. As a part of the tour, the docent takes you into the Spruce Goose and tells you about the history of the plane. They offer a “cockpit” tour that, for some unexplained reason, is scheduled at the same time as the general tour. Note that there is also an additional fee for that special tour.
The Spruce Goose put the museum on the map but it has much to offer besides the famous plane. Compared to other aircraft museums that we have been to, this one feels more personable as the majority of the planes are not hung on a ceiling far away but rather positioned on the floor. There are over 200 exhibits that showcase aviation from early flight up to space exploration.
The campus consisted of four very large buildings and we quickly ran out of time. We did take in one of the featured films in the 3D theater. Next, we completed a rapid tour of the Space building. We were able to see the Space Shuttle exhibit, a Martin Titan II Launch Vehicle, and an actual Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. We really should have planned more time in McMinnville.
My biggest surprise was that Evergreen was an airline based in McMinnville. Delford Smith started Evergreen Helicopters in 1960 and later acquired planes from governmental agencies including the CIA’s Air America fleet. In 1975, he formed Evergreen International Airlines, a cargo and charter airline. The company survived until December of 2013. Captain Michael King Smith, the founder’s son, began the Evergreen Museum. Tragically, he died at a young age in 1995. In spite of the tragedy, the Museum has been a resounding success in large part because of the acquisition of the Spruce Goose.
When we left, I was already thinking about a return visit. Next time, I want to be there when the doors open to make a full day of it.
Following our Evergreen Museum visit, it was time to have dinner with new friends. One of the things that is very enjoyable in the full timing lifestyle is reading other fellow travelers’ blogs. I especially enjoy the one called Lowes Travels with Monaliza and Steve. I noticed that they were going to be in the Portland area and suggested that we have dinner. We had a wonderful evening sharing stories about visiting Alaska, Canada, and various parts of the lower 48. The great people that you meet along the way make full timing even more fun.