In 1947, Art Lacey purchased a B-17 bomber for $13,000 and flew it from Oklahoma to Troutdale. He then disassembled it, transported it covertly, and placed it atop his 48-pump gas station.
Seeing a Boeing B-17G perched atop a gas station in Milwaukie, Oregon is bizarre, but the tale behind its placement is even more astonishing.
In a chat with KATU-TV Channel 2 News, Art’s daughter, Punky Scott, revealed that her father’s ambitious plan for a “Bomber Gas Station” only got serious when a bet was involved.
During a birthday celebration, Art shared his unique vision, which his friend found amusing and unlikely. Not one to back down, Art initiated a $5 wager. That small bet suddenly gave life to the audacious plan.
To fund his idea, Art approached a friend, who, according to Punky, had ties to Portland’s shadier businesses—illegal alcohol, gambling, pinball arcades, and the likes. He straightaway inquired, “Got any money on you? I need $15,000.”
Punky recalled in her interview, “And the guy had it on him.” To give perspective on that amount, $15,000 in 1947 equates to roughly $200,000 in today’s terms. Think shady isn’t a strong enough term….
- Flew it with no Pilot’s License
- Crash Landing
- Real Co-Pilots Not Dummies
- Under the Cover of Darkness
- Where is Lacey Lady Now?
Lacey secured a loan of $15,000 from a friend and headed to an Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where a vast number of aircraft were in storage post-war. With his charm, he managed to buy a plane for roughly $13,000.
Emerging from the cotton plains of southwestern Oklahoma, Altus Air Force Base was established in 1943 as a hub for the U.S. Air Force’s aircraft and crew.
As soon as he arrived, complications arose. The manager, after finalizing the sale, informed Art to return the next day with his co-pilot, and the plane would be fueled and ready.
However, Art hadn’t anticipated the need for a co-pilot, and thus, hadn’t arranged for one.
Moreover, he hadn’t considered the significant leap from piloting a single-engine aircraft to maneuvering a four-engine bomber. While he was adept at flying smaller planes, this was a whole new ballgame.
Lacey conveniently omitted mentioning to the Air Force that he lacked a pilot’s license when he set out for a test flight.
Yet, Art’s resolve to claim his bomber was unwavering. On his return the following day, Lacey had with him a mannequin he’d procured from a nearby tailor.
He dressed it up and started familiarizing himself with the controls on the tarmac, all while he was flicking through the aircraft’s manual.
The aircraft, having been through the rigors of war, was far from pristine. Lacey fought the controls of the B-17 through take off and executed several turns and flybys to build his confidence.
However, complications arose with the landing gear, culminating in a belly landing on the runway.
The Flying Fortress skidded and collided with another B-17 stationed on the tarmac.
Though Lacey sustained minor injuries, and was lucky enough to walk away, his primary worry was the potential loss of his $13,000 investment and loan he would have to pay back to the alleged gangster from who he borrowed it from.
When he met with the base commander, he admitted that he didn’t have the funds to buy a replacement aircraft.
Punky Scott, Lacey’s daughter, said, “He turned to his secretary and said, ‘Have you written up the bill of sale yet on that B-17?’” Punky recounted. “And she said no, and he said, ‘Worst case of wind damage I’ve ever seen.’ And so he sold him a second B-17.” This B-17 only had 50 hours of flight time on its log book.
Real Co-Pilots Not Dummies
Lacey informed his family to have two of his friends flown down to assist with the return journey, one of who had experience piloting B-17s during the war. He also asked to make sure they brought a crate of whiskey with them.
They lacked the funds for the fuel required for the trip back, so they persuaded (that was where the crate of whisky came into play) a nearby fire department with a pumper truck to drain fuel from two other retired B-17s at the base.
Given that Oklahoma was a prohibition state back then, the allure of alcohol was quite compelling. This gave them sufficient fuel to reach Palm Springs, California.
Upon landing in Palm Springs, Lacey issued a check with insufficient funds (which he subsequently covered) to purchase the fuel needed to reach Troutdale Airport in Portland, Oregon.
Lacey Lady Moved Under the Cover of Darkness
Once the plane landed, it was taken apart and prepared for road transport. The aircraft’s size and weight made it a challenge to move along narrow roads, and Lacey couldn’t obtain the necessary permits.
Despite being down $15,000, he hatched a plan to transport the plane under the cloak of darkness, hoping to bypass any police interference.
He enlisted the help of two motorcyclists to scout ahead, instructing them to speed away if they spotted law enforcement.
The truck drivers also received clear instructions not to stop until they reached the gas station, regardless of any directives they might receive on the way.
Additionally, Lacey assured them that he would cover any fines or tickets they might incur during the move.
In the shadow of the night, they transported the dismantled plane to its final location.
Upon discovery of his covert operation, the city penalized Lacey for moving an oversized cargo without the right permissions, leading to a $10 fine, which he duly paid.
The only hiccup during the move was an inebriated driver who, upon seeing the approaching airplane, mistakenly believed he was on a runway. In his alarm, he veered off the road and landed in a ditch.
Dubbed “Lacey Lady,” the B-17t was reconstructed and positioned atop the 48 fuel pumps at Lacey’s establishment, which also housed a 15-room motel and Lacey’s Bomber Restaurant.
For years, the unique spectacle bolstered the Lacey family’s enterprises.
After the gas station shut its doors in 1991, the Lacey family kept the restaurant and motel running. Despite attracting curious visitors, the plane suffered due to Oregon’s consistent rain, vandalism, and the effects of bird waste.
In 1996, the Lacey family embarked on a preservation mission, initially self-funding the initiative. Art Lacey passed away in 2000, but his family’s dedication to refurbishing the “Lacey Lady” persisted.
The nose cone underwent restoration in 2012, inadvertently accelerating damage to the rest of the aircraft. Finally, in August 2014, the Lacey Lady was brought down to undergo thorough restoration.
Where is Lacey Lady Now?
As we know, by the year 2000, the bomber had weathered significantly due to prolonged exposure and had become a favored site for birds to nest.
Following Art Lacey’s death in the same year, his family established the B-17 Alliance Foundation, a non-profit organization, to undertake the restoration of the aircraft.
You can also follow their outstanding work via their Facebook page B-17 Alliance Foundation
The Lacey Lady was disassembled and transported, with the proper permits, to Salem, Oregon.
It is believed that a budget of $10 million and a span of 10 years will be necessary to make the airplane airborne again. Given his grandfather’s impressive history, it would be wise not to underestimate his resolve.