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A Five Dollar Bet Results in a Flying Fortress Gasoline Station

At Art Lacy’s birthday party in 1947, he bet a friend five dollars that he was going to put a B-17 Flying Fortress WWII surplus bomber on top of his gasoline station. In a larger-than-life move, Lacy, who had never flown a B-17 before bought one in Oklahoma for thirteen-thousand dollars, and crash landed as a result of a landing gear failure while learning to fly it alone with a manakin as his copilot. After buying a second one and with the help of friends and a case of whiskey for bribes he was finally able to fly it back home to Portland, Oregon.

After cleverly overcoming further hurdles he was able to move the flying machine to his gas station, located south of the Portland in Milwaukie, Oregon. After mounting it above his filling station, it served as an attention-getter and tourist attraction for almost 64-years. But there is much more to be learned about the colorful tale at The Art Lacy Story.¬† There you can also take in more information about the airplane, and the B-17 Alliance Group’s efforts to restore it.

The image is courtesy of the Michael J. Semas Collection.

B-17 1

  • This pair of enlargable images shows more detail of the construction of the station and the B-17. Steep wooden stairways were built to allow customers to tour the inside of the airplane.

B-17 2

30 responses to “A Five Dollar Bet Results in a Flying Fortress Gasoline Station

  1. As this was right after WWII I can only imagine what a tourist draw it must have been for adults, teens and especially children. To actually be able to go into an real combat plane – wow! I was 6 yrs. old, dad was a Navy officer, and he took me and mom on a tour of the carrier Oriskany. I got to sit in the cockpit of an actual WWII combat plane. What a rush!

    • Nice memory Mr. P! I was drawn to this article because I am a WWII-era plane buff. Then I noticed your comment. My dad was a sailor on the Oriskany in the Korean War. Alan Shephard the astronaut was a crew member/pilot., and the ship had the distinction of having a Corsair shoot down a Mig. Also the movie “The Bridges of Toko-Ri” was shot on board. It is now an artificial reef south of Florida.

      My first car memory was riding with my dad at the age of 5 to buy a 1959 Chevy Biscayne. Love this website and the awesome photos!

  2. The plane stayed in its roost until very recently, long after the gas station closed. Over the years, pieces were removed to be used in the restoration of other B-17 aircraft. When ‘The Bomber’, as it was known locally, was finally removed recently is had been pretty much stripped down to its fuselage and wings.

  3. I grew up in this area throughout the 80s and 90s, and while the Bomber (as it was known around here) was always present, I don’t think they were allowing tours by then. Shame, really, I would have loved to climb around in there.

    Whenever something happens with the Bomber and it’s restoration efforts, you can bet it’ll hit the local news channels. It’s definitely an icon.

  4. Born and raised in Portland, I was inside this airplane several times as a child. Mom was a rivet bucker at Boeing in Seattle in WW2, blamed her hearing loss on that work. “The Bomber” stairs were taken down in… the mid-sixties? This aircraft is now being rebuilt and restored!

  5. My early years (1940’s) were spent in SE Portland. We would often go to “The Bomber Station” for gas because my folks how much I enjoyed sitting in the nose pretending I was flying the plane. My last meal with my parents in the late 80’s involved a trip to the Bomber and a lunch meal. I’m sad to see it gone but happy it is being used and hopefully restored to it’s former glory.

  6. Hello be there many times ,One time I donated a schematic that I acquired from a gentleman at Renton Washington Boeing Co. while work on a job there, and some great stories of when they were building the B-17 in Renton, like 1 Flying Fortress took off about every 7 minutes . Back in .Portland I met a women at the Bomber Restaurant a Pilot her self her father built the gas station , she went by Punky a very nice lady , thats when I told her that I Ha d this Schematic of the Bomber, she ask what I would take for it, as so she could display it in the Bomber Museum. I would have just gave it to Her, but ended up with 2 Flat Iron Steak Dinners ūüėČ yum, so I think the Bomber Restaurant is still there, and Museum if you are in Portland Oregon,stop in, the Bomber is still there, minus the Cock Pit which has been removed and restored and is in the Museum. this brought back that memory .:)

  7. Interesting story, and I believe this was a “thing” in post WW2 America.

    In the 60’s, I recall at least two gas stations with old ww2 planes on top, in central CA along the old Highway 99.

    And somewhere I have snapshot of a plane on top of a gas station that I took in the 70’s, it was just a shell by then, and the gas station long abandoned, but I always wondered about the back story.

    • I’m guessing you’re referring to the Turlock or Atwater vicinity on the 99. Castle Air force Base – now the site of a very interesting air museum – was a bomber base there for many years. It was always a thrill to see a B-52 landing what seemed like inches over the highway while driving north or south. B-17s were based there during WW2.

      • It may well have been, I used to go between the SF Bay Area and Sequoia Park for a cave exploration/mapping project, and I was always looking for side roads to get there faster than the crowded highways (no traffic and almost no speed enforcement), so all I recall is running late one evening and seeing this skeleton of a large plane on top of an abandoned gas station, with the sun already set behind it, so I stopped, jumped out, shot two quick snapshots, and was on my way, I have no idea of exactly where it was though. I’m still looking for the photo, if I find it, I’ll post here if that’s possible.

  8. The plane is now being restored in a wonderful museum and hangar complex in Salem, Oregon,at McNary field. The plane is being restored to airworthy condition and will take several years! The restaurant in Milwaukie, is still in business serving great Hardie American meals! Please feel free to stop by either location for a visit. For more info check out the website B17alliancegroup.org or thebomber.com

  9. 1. Dear Mr Costa: IF you got a TICKET IN OREGON then you might be from California!!! Years ago, I was & I did : A ticket for going straight in a “right turn only” lane. NOT marked!!! I paid the ticket and then I gave the Judge TEN MORE Dollars for Lane Paint — explaining that: “I understood that small municipalities always HAVE FINANANCIAL “challenges”. (Read between the lines). YEP, the cheapskates TOOK the money! Best LOST ten bucks EVER!!!
    2. I have have a (passed) friend who was a B-17 Navigator, who flew an amazing 25 Missions over Nazi Germany, and survived!!! Many gave their lives for us, with less missions! My whole Electronics Career & Hobbies were founded upon WW-2 “WAR SURPLUS”, but NOT a whole Airplane!
    3. My MOM assembled them! Edwin – 30 –

  10. As a pre-teen & teen, I climbed all through this B-17. I played the role of tail gunner, upper gunner, nose gunner, pilot & copilot. The cut off access because of insurance costs and risks of injury. Most of the dials, switches& wiring were ripped out as souvenirs as time passed.

    • It is possible my father was in one of the planes you remember seeing. I recall him saying one of his 25 missions was St. Nazaire. Glad they missed hitting you, collateral damage is a very sad thing.

  11. My father relatedness the following.
    He and several other Multnomah County Sheriff Posse members were hired to escort this bomber to its Milwaukee gas station/restaurant site. They did so at night with few problems. The next week the officers were called to their commander’s office and berated for moving the oversized parts ” without” the proper county transportation permits. LOL.

  12. We See Airplanes From The Collings Foundation Every Year At Local Airports. They Have A Great

    Museum In Stow Ma.. The Foundation Owns B-17, B-24- B25, P-51,- Stearman Among Others

  13. I grew up in Oak Grove and visited the Bomber Service Station and later the Bomber Resturant. In the 50s the old War Bird was in good shape and a pleasure to crawl around in. To call it a land mark was an understatement. Located on Highway 99E it was seen by any one going south or north on the east side of Portland. Later the freeway, I-5 eliminated much of that traffic. I don’t remember exactly when they started the resturant but the Lacy family manned it. Punkey, Art’s daughter work there during high school in the late fifties and has carried on all these years. My family lived about a mile and a half from the site and in their retirement years went out to eat there many times.

  14. Hej, I have a question regarding the car under the right wing of the air plane … what kind of car is it?
    would be great to get an answer, also regarding the other cars at the picture.

    thx in advance, steven

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