A few miles down the 101 from the famous Tillamook Cheese factory, a massive hangar marks the countryside. AIR MUSEUM its roof proclaims. Constructed in 1943 at Naval Air Station Tillamook Hangar B housed eight K-class blimps, which were used for anti-submarine patrols in the north Pacific. The air station was decommissioned in 1948 and Hangar B’s twin, unimaginatively named Hangar A, burned down in the 1990s.
Beside the air station, a weed covered pair of train tracks cross the field. Defunct now, a gathering of engines and cars sit waiting among the warehouses. It is a graveyard of sorts. Rust twists the green paint on one of the engines and cobwebs fill the windows of another.
As we explore the area my father chatters about the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad.
The Port acquired the Naval Air Station in the years after the war, including 5.5 miles of rail connecting to the Southern Pacific in Tillamook. In 1990, when Southern Pacific abandoned the line from Tillamook north around and over the mountains the Port bought it. Operating six days a week, the railroad carried lumber and grain from the coast to the outskirts of Portland.
Flood waters from a 2007 storm ended the railroad’s commercial activities and repair costs upward of $55 million have put resumption of full business out of conceivable reach.
The future of Hangar B, one of the largest wooden structures on the world, is also in question. The Air Museum’s lease on the hangar expires in 2016 and there are no plans to renew. Hangar B needs over $15 million in repairs. The Port cannot afford it.
Glorious as the Hangar is, Tillamook is a long way from marketable.
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There is no one to yell at me as I climb into the rusty steam engine. My father frowns and looks over his glasses; he says Katie in that fatherly warning tone but he doesn’t stop me.
The inside of the engine is not as rusted as the outside, it’s coated in black paint or soot or both. Cobwebs stretch between the mechanics. My pictures of the interior are terrible, dark and blurred.
The engine doesn’t want to be remembered like this. What thing of glory wants to be seen in such a state?