You can fly only one airplane at a time, and drive only one car or motorcycle at a time, so what do you do when you have a large collection of motorized antiques?
Open a museum, of course.
At least, that’s the thought process behind creation of the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum in Hood River, Ore., says Museum Director Jeremy Young.
The museum’s exhibits include airplanes and other vehicles collected during half a century by well-known antique aircraft restorer John Thurmond, who was Young’s grandfather, and Terry Brandt, the museum president and founder. Brandt is the money behind the operation, according to Young.
“They have been collecting aircraft for 40 to 50 years,” Young reports. “We currently have 38 flying antiques, which we think makes us the world’s largest collection of flying antique aircraft.”
The museum, located at Ken Jernstedt Airfield (4S2), is 45 nautical miles east of Portland as the Piper Cub flies. It is housed in two large hangars, whose doors will be open to the public during a Sept. 7-9 fly-in.
The focus of the museum is the Golden Age of transportation. Its flying fleet includes a 1917 Curtiss JN-4D Jenny, along with designs from Waco, Davis, Curtiss-Wright, Travel Air, Piper, Taylorcraft, Spartan, Buhl, Ryan, American Eagle, Lincoln, Arrow and many more from aviation’s most innovative era. As this issue was going to press, parts of the collection were being flown and trucked to Hood River from around the country, according to Young.
“Some of them, such as our Curtiss Pusher, are on display at other facilities,” he explained. “We also have a 1938 Culver Dart coming by truck from California. It is the last one in existence. We’re also expecting an Aeronca LC, which is the last one of its kind flying.”
In fact, he said with justifiable pride, “We have five aircraft equipped with OX-5 engines and they are all airworthy. We have five three-cylinder aircraft whereas most museums don’t even have one for display. We also have more Pipers than the Piper museum and more Aeroncas than the Aeronca museum.”
Young notes that the museum’s collection includes only pre-World War II designs, but for military aviation buffs the museum has five L-planes, military versions of the era’s light planes, flying.
“We don’t really consider them antiques,” Young said, “but they were military trainers in the 1920s and 1930s. We also have the Serial No 001 Curtiss JN-4 Jenny — the prototype Jenny. Over 90% of the wood in it is original, as are the bracing wires, and it has the hand-frayed tapes. It looks like it did when it rolled out of the factory.”
Young asks purists to notice that the Irish linen on the Jenny is the proper, authentic grade.
“We found a huge roll of it in Grandpa’s storage bin. Of course it was old and brittle, but after we unrolled four or five sheets we found the good stuff and that is what we used to cover it with. It is so sheer that when the airplane flies overhead you can see through it. You can’t do that with linen that was made later because it is slightly thicker.”
A 15,000-square-foot restoration center is being added to the museum, because it takes a lot to keep these vintage machines in airworthy condition, Young pointed out. Director of restorations is Tom Murphy, who has been in the business for 40 years, according to Young. “He is one of the last true craftsmen for some of these airplanes,” he noted.
Because the emphasis is on keeping the airplanes in the area, the museum has a handful of pilots qualified to fly them. They take their orders from Ben Davidson, who is chief of air operations and chief pilot. The airplanes are flown on a rotational basis because of liability issues.
“To insure a priceless Jenny is, well, priceless,” said Young. “There is no such thing as crashing one of these airplanes and writing it off. If we crash it we will put it back together.”
If you prefer your mode of transportation a little more down-to-earth, the museum has something for you, too. Ground-bound vehicles include early models from Ford, Dodge, Mercury and Studebaker. There is also a collection of military Jeeps and weapons, and a number of vintage motorcycles.
“We have a one-of-a-kind 1923 Henderson motorcycle, as well as a 1928 Indian motorcycle and a 1931 model,” said Young. “We also have a 1929 Harley with a sidecar and a 1943 Harley Scout with the side car. We have cars, as well, including a 1940 four-door convertible Mercury that they only made 440 of. One of the rarest cars is the 1914 Depot Hack Model T, which was the first motorized taxi.”
On opening day, Young said, the plan is to have the ground vehicles give rides to people “to get them excited about the museum,” he says, adding, “maybe they will want to make a donation.”
There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the new museum, according to Mike Doke, marketing manager for the Port of Hood River, which operates the airport.
“I have known Terry Brandt for several years and watched him collect airplanes, which are his passion,” he said. “It’s just been amazing, and now he’s building this facility on his own nickel to house them — that is just incredible.”
Doke noted that the museum and the aircraft it will hold might become an important part of the Port’s master plan updating. “There could be something in a new plan to accommodate all those taildraggers,” he said. “Hood River is already a big tourist town and this museum is definitely going to add to that draw.”
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