Hidden Treasures in Your Own Backyard

10:00 AM

The other night, a friend and fellow Tweeple tweeted a link to a site that listed an almost endless number of Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields. The site – published by Paul Freemanis a treasure trove of information about those long-lost patches of yesteryear. I immediately went there and dug through the listings for Southwestern Oregon. What I found simply blew me away:

Just down the street from the DanoDome is Meadowlark Prairie, a pristine chunk of natural wetlands that connects via a wide and perfect bike path to the West Eugene Wetlands, said to be the last one percent of undeveloped wetlands in the entire Willamette Valley. I have ridden this bike path many times, traversing under Danebo Avenue on one of many underpasses reserved just for bikes. Now how cool is that...dedicated bike underpasses! You gotta love Eugene. OR. Little did I know that while riding this stretch, I was skirting the southern fenceline of what was once Willamette Airpark / T-Bird Airport.
Yes, right there in this vacant piece of real estate once was a vibrant airfield, with real stick and rudder guys dancing with crosswinds as they slid their Cubs and Airknockers into perfect three-point landings. Freeman's great site illuminates the history of this little patch:
"This former general aviation airport was evidently established at some point between 1945-47, as it was not on the April 1945 Portland Sectional Chart (according to Chris Kennedy). The earliest reference to the field which has been located was in the 1947 OR Airport Directory (courtesy of David Brooks). It described Willamette as being managed by a Robert Bevans, who operated Bevan’s Flying Service from the field. The runway configuration consisted of a 2,500' northwest/southeast gravel strip & a 1,900' north/south sod strip."
Too cool. But wait, the more you dig, the more you find at this wonderful site:
"Willamette Airpark gained a paved runway at some point between 1953-59, as the 1959 Klamath Falls Sectional Chart depicted the field as having a 2,500' hard surface runway. Jay Flitton recalled, “Between 1962-1964 Willamette Airpark went by the name 'T-Bird' Airpark. My dad, while going to graduate school at the University of Oregon flew out of 'T-Bird' a lot. My mom started her private pilot lessons there. That is where I had my first airplane ride! A Cherokee 140. It had a beautiful log terminal building with a 'Control Room' that had a giant picture window overlooking the airport, there was no tower. The whole terminal looked more like a ski lodge or maybe something that should be in Yellowstone National Park. It was a beautiful little airport with a lot of activity. Too bad it is gone.”
Who knew? Oh wait, I guess Paul Freeman did, and lists these historical gems here. More from Freeman's site:
"John Tucker recalled, “I learned to fly at T-Bird in the 1960s. It was a wonderful place for a young boy to learn to fly. My dad started to fly & I took lessons too. I was offered a job (which I took) mowing the grass around the airport. Then I progressed to fuel & line boy. I also helped the mechanic in the shop with small jobs. Of course I traded every hour against flying time. They had a couple of Champs, one N81967, two Piper Colts, a Cherokee 140 & 180, the latter being N7432W. Other planes were Champion 7402B, a Shinn, and a few others. They also had a Link Trainer in which we airport kids had our first exposure to instrument flight. We would take turns flying, then we would become controllers."
After reading this, I cannot wait to begin poking around over where I believe this old field was once located. It is a little piece of Oregon aviation history that I did not know existed, and to think it is only about 1.4 nm from where I type this.

Mano man, this is the kind of stuff that keeps us aviators alive. The patch was located northwest of the intersection of South Danebo Avenue and West 11th Avenue, and now as I bike that path, I find myself stopping under what I perceive to be the final approach to the old NW/SE runway. My full-engulfed aviator's mind can easily hear those fabric-covered taildraggers as they slip along above my position, crossing a fence that has long since bit the dust on their way to a return from those surly bonds.

I encourage anyone who loves aviation history to go here and poke around like I did...and see if you discover a Pot 'o Gold just down the street from your casa. This is one of those sites on the web that you know was created by someone who is devoted to doing the research and webmastering that a comprehensive site like this requires. This guy deserves to have someone in a very cool plane fly in to where ever he lives and buy him a $100 hamburger for all the time he must have spent on this site.

UPDATE @ 1049A on 06.11.09: Windy Hovey of WREN, a non-profit that works in the West Eugene Wetlands sent me a great shot of the field where this airfield was once located. It is very easy to make out the NW/SE runway in the shot below:

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