Restoring the Bomber Restaurant’s Landmark B-17 Flying Fortress in Milwaukie, Oregon

bomber-restaurant-b-17g-lacey-lady-milwaukie-oregon-3 (Image: Mike Krzeszak)

It soon became one of the most noticeable, iconic roadside landmarks after ‘landing’ in 1947. But now, the World War Two heavy bomber that long stood watch over Milwaukie, Oregon has been removed for restoration, unlikely ever to return to its rather odd occupation as a gas station awning.

What’s more, the tale of how the B-17G Flying Fortress, named Lady Lacey, came to Oregon is almost impressive as the historic aircraft itself. Purchased after the war local business owner Art Lacey, the Boeing B-17 has been a Portland-era landmark for almost 70 years.

bomber-restaurant-b-17g-lacey-lady-milwaukie-oregon-4 (Image: A. F. Litt – website: Rubblebase)

According to Roadside America, Art made his way to Kansas determined to buy a surplus bomber and fly it back to Oregon, to be used as the main building of his gas station.

Undeterred by his lack of experience flying the B-17 or other heavy four-engine aircraft, the sellers told Art to select the plane he wanted from their collection of withdrawn bombers, but warned him that he wasn’t allowed to take off on his own.

bomber-restaurant-b-17g-lacey-lady-milwaukie-oregon-5 (Image: Google Earth)

Propping a mannequin up in the co-pilot’s seat, Art took to the air on a short flight to get a feel for the plane. It was only when he attempted to land that he realized their warning had been a practical one – one of the co-pilot’s tasks was to lower the landing gear.

Art Lacey crashed, but, amazingly, the sellers wrote off the plane as “wind-damaged” and allegedly allowed him to pick another one.

bomber-restaurant-b-17g-lacey-lady-milwaukie-oregon (Image: Liz Telschow)

With the help of a friend, Art eventually navigated his Flying Fortress back to Oregon. But only barely. The story goes that they were caught in a snowstorm, lost their way, and ended up navigating via the railway line.

Safely back on the ground, Art’s next challenge was moving the B-17 into place outside his premises. After being denied a permit several times to tow it down the highway, he just went ahead and moved it anyway, paying a $10 fine to the authorities for breaching wide load restrictions.

bomber-restaurant-b-17g-lacey-lady-milwaukie-oregon-2 (Image: Liz Telschow)

Finally, the historic bomber was lifted into place with its wings stretched out over the gas pumps. It would remain there for decades and become one of the area’s most offbeat landmarks.

When the gas station closed in 1991, the nearby airline-themed Bomber Restaurant adopted the Lacey Lady as its own mascot. But that’s not the end of the World War Two bomber’s story. After decades of wind, rain and bird damage, the owners knew that the plane was reaching a point of no return.

bomber-restaurant-b-17g-lacey-lady-milwaukie-oregon-6 (Image: Google Street View)

Those owners – including Art Lacey’s grandson, Jayson Scott – started the non-profit Wings of Freedom Project to help finance the restoration of the Flying Fortress. Its nose section was removed in 2012 before the rest of the airframe was placed in a hangar last year. The historic bomber is now slated to undergo what could be a decade-long restoration to flying condition.

That’s easier said than done, of course, as myriad issues can crop in such restoration efforts. Finding the parts needed to bring a wartime heavy bomber back to life can be challenging but, fortunately, the family isn’t willing to give up until this World War Two veteran is back on her feet.

Related – Discover 3 Remarkably Intact B-17 Wrecks of Papua New Guinea


About the author: Debra Kelly




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