This B-17 Bomber Gas Station Is an Incredible Piece of Lost Americana

Nicknamed the “Lacey Lady” after its owner Art Lacey, the B-17 became a a local Oregon icon.

byNico DeMattia|
Photo | Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies
Photo | Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies.

A restoration project is currently underway to restore an iconic Oregon landmark. For almost 70 years, a decommissioned WWII B-17 bomber sat atop a 48-pump gas station along Highway 99E in Milwaukie, Oregon. How it got there, though, is one helluva story.

In 1947, gas station owner and Milwaukie-native Art Lacey decided he wanted to park a decommissioned B-17 bomber atop his 48-pump station. Naturally, Lacey's friends initially thought the idea was absurd and one friend even bet him a fiver that it'd never happen. Apparently you didn't want to bet against Art Lacey. What happened next isn't just Lacey family lore but Milwaukie history.

Photo | Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies

Following the war, many decommissioned U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) B-17 bombers were kept at Altus Army Airfield in Oklahoma. So Lacey borrowed $15,000 from a friend, made his way to he Sooner State, and bought himself a retired B-17 for $13,750.

Since Lacey was an experienced pilot, and he needed to get the B-17 back home somehow, he decided to take it for a test run before flying it home. After being given the go-ahead by Altus Army Airfield, Lacey took his newly acquired, former-U.S. Army bomber into the sky. It was said to have flown beautifully, until it came time to land. An issue with the landing gear forced Lacey to put it down on its belly, sliding it into another bomber. Fortunately for Lacey, the War Assets Administration officer was kind—selling him a plane with dodgy landing gear possibly had something to do with it—and said the other plane experienced "wind damage." They then sold Lacey a second plane for just $1,500.

Lacey and two friends flew the plane back to Portland but ran into some issues once they landed. He needed to truck the B-17 back to Milwaukie but couldn't get a permit to transport such a large load on the street. So he had the plane disassembled into four pieces and loaded it onto four different trucks. He then hired motorcycle escorts to accompany his trucks during a midnight run to his gas station, telling them to flee if they ran into police, and successfully delivered the bomber in one night. Lacey did end up paying a fee for transporting large cargo without a permit. How much? A whopping $10.

After reassembling the bomber and parking it above his gas pumps, Lacey's B-17 became an instant hit. Locals flocked to Lacey's gas station to fill up underneath the retired WWII plane. The war had just ended, so seeing a mechanical war hero, the Flying Fortress itself, up close and personal must have been a incredible. Unfortunately, as many people as there were that came to admire the "Lacey Lady," there were just as many people who came to steal bits of it.

via Wikipedia

Theft, along with the elements of the Pacific Northwest, caused the plane to age quite quickly. Upkeep on the Lacey Lady become costly and, after a boy fell out of it in the late '50s, Lacey was forced to shut down public access to the B-17.

Over the years, Lacey ended up opening the Bomber Restaurant and motel and eventually closing the gas station in 1991. In 1996, the bomber's nose cone and four Wright Cyclone radial piston engines were removed for restoration. Unfortunately, the Lacey family ran out of funds to finish it. Then, in 2000, Art Lacey died and the B-17 started to decay even further, becoming a home to local birds.

In 2006, the Lacey family began a non-profit, the B-17 Alliance Foundation and museum. In 2014, the entire plane was disassembled, removed, and brought to the museum. It's currently still being restored and the B-17 Alliance Facebook page posts periodic updates. Hopefully one day soon the Lacey Lady will return home to Milwaukie and once again become a local icon.

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