The Bomber, Milwaukie, OR
The Bomber gas station has always been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I loved to drive by and see the plane, or even be lucky enough to get gas under it massive wingspan. As I have gotten older, I have become interested in the History of the Plane, the Station and Art Lacey himself. The story is really a neat piece of our local history.
When Art Lacey, a young pilot and gasoline station owner, envisioned combining his two passions into a business, people questioned his sanity. The Bomber, located in Milwaukie, Oregon, was once a gas station and is now a restaurant with a vintage World War II B-17 G bomber—known as the “Flying Fortress”—prominently exhibited in its parking lot. It is quintessential Americana and an Oregon landmark.
Art Lacey purchased the retired war bird at an Air Force base in Oklahoma and flew it to Oregon in 1947. His idea was to fly it back to Oregon, jack it up in the air and make a gas station out of it. He paid $15,000 for it. He asked which one was his and they said take whichever you want because there were miles of them. He didn't know how to fly a 4-engine airplane so he read the manual while he taxied around by himself. They said he couldn't take off alone so he put a mannequin in the co-pilot's seat and off he went.
He flew around a bit to get the feel of it and when he went to land he realized he needed a co-pilot to lower the landing gear. He crashed and totaled his plane and another on the ground. They wrote them both off as "wind damaged" and told him to pick out another. He talked a friend into being his co-pilot and off they went.
They flew to Palm Springs where Lacey wrote a hot check for gas. Then they headed for Oregon. They hit a snow storm and couldn't find their way, so they went down below 1,000 feet and followed the Train Tracks. His co-pilot sat in the nose section and would yell, "TUNNEL" when he saw one and Lacey would climb over the mountain.
They landed safely, he made good on the hot check he wrote, and applied for a permit to move his B-17 on the state highway. The highway department repeatedly denied his permit and fought him tooth and nail for a long time, so late one Saturday night, after checking for clearances and moving a few mailboxes along the route from the airport to his place, he just hitched it to a log truck and moved it himself. Using the planes rear landing wheel to hold up the back. He got away with just a $10 ticket from a passing trooper for having too wide a load. The cop figured he had to cite Art for something and let go on his way when he realized that it was impossible to turn the aircraft around on the narrow two-lane road for a return to the airport.
Once he finally got it home and hoisted the plane up over the family-owned forty-pump gas station—the largest single-volume gas station in the United States in the 1960s—and it now sits off to the side of the home-style restaurant that serves up Bomber Burgers, chicken-fried steaks, and thick shakes. On most mornings, customers can find World War II veterans and their families dining in the restaurant, a ritual some have followed since the restaurant opened.
The property also has a children's playground and a museum, which is dedicated to World War II and houses an extensive collection of war memorabilia. Veterans meet here regularly to share stories.
The Bomber is a one-of-a-kind establishment, a place for classic American food and a reminder of times past and the men and women who served in World War II.