A World War II Blimp Hangar, a Guppy, and a Cow Escape Route… The Oregon Coast

Eight blimps called this hangar in Tillamook, Oregon home during World War II. (Photo at Tillamook Air Museum.)

Eight blimps called this Tillamook, Oregon hangar home during World War II. (Photo at Tillamook Air Museum.)

I’d been through Tillamook, Oregon several times and never spotted the huge blimp hangar that was built there during World War II. It is plainly visible from the Highway 101. Who knows what I was thinking about when I made my way up and down the road? It must have been a heck of a daydream. I saw the hangar this time, however, and it was like, “Wow!” I immediately changed plans and decided to stay in the area for another day. The hangar was something I had to visit.

How I missed seeing this building is a mystery to me.

How I missed seeing this building is a mystery to me.

Today it serves as a partially abandoned air museum. (Most of its airplanes have been shipped off to Madras in eastern Oregon, where it’s hoped the vintage aircraft will survive better in a drier climate.) The facility is definitely worth a visit, however. The 170-foot high, 1000-foot long building was built to accommodate eight, 252 f00t K class blimps. One hundred and twenty-foot tall doors open up to a cavernous interior.

The Tillamook Air Museum shown here, served as a blimp hangar during World War II.

Here are the massive doors. The airplane in front is known as a Guppy. I’ll show you why below.

A view inside the Tillamook Air Museum that served as a blimp hangar during World War II.

This view inside the hangar gives an idea of its massive size.

This illustration inside the Air Museum provides a perspective on the various sizes of blimps. The blimps housed at the Tillamook Naval Air Station were K-Class.

This illustration inside the Air Museum provides a perspective on the various sizes of blimps. The blimps housed at the Tillamook Naval Air Station were K-Class.

Blimps played an important role in World War II: They protected convoys and shipping lanes by spotting German and Japanese submarines. The blimps’ ability to fly in almost any type of weather, hover, and provide unobstructed views of the ocean made them an excellent choice for submarine patrol. The Tillamook facility was responsible for the coastline between British Columbia and northern California. Nine other naval air stations covered the rest of the west and east coasts of the US.

This illustration at the museum shows where blimp naval air stations were located during World War II.

Another illustration at the museum showed where blimp naval air stations were located during World War II. Sorry about the quality, but I found the illustration interesting. The dark symbols represent blimp hangars still in existence.

An introductory film and numerous World War II era photos at the museum provide an overview of the hangar’s history. I also found other interesting information on the war including posters, balloon bombs and a cow escape route.

World War II Woman Ordinance Worker poster found at the Tillamook Air Museum.

Among the other World War II items found at the museum were a number of WW II posters including this one for WOW, a Women Ordinance Worker.

The first ICBM? As the Japanese war effort was reversed and the US began its air raids on the country, Japan initiated a desperate ploy:  the use of  the jet stream to carry explosive-loaded balloons 6200 miles to the Pacific Coast.

Speaking of ordinance, this fading photo of a balloon has a story to tell; it may have been the first ICBM. As Japan faced defeat in 1944, it initiated a desperate ploy: the use of the jet stream to carry explosive-laden balloons 6200 miles to the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada. Some 6000 were launched but only 300 reached their destination, and they fell on rain-soaked forests, causing little damage.

I was amused when I came across a report on the cow escape route. Tillamook takes its cows seriously. Some of the best dairy stock in the US is located in the area. So it isn’t surprising that the local farmers decided their cows needed an escape route in case the Japanese invaded. Woodsmen were called upon to plan out paths through the forest. Using old logging roads, deer trails, and hunters’ routes, a cow getaway plan was soon organized.

No one asked the cows what they thought. Given that their idea of exercise was to leisurely travel from well-stocked barns to grass filled pastures, they may have preferred to hang around and provide the Japanese with milk, butter and cheese rather than hightail it through the rugged wilderness with udders bouncing.

The guppy airplane at the Tillamook Air Museum.

It isn’t too much of a jump to move from cows to a guppy is it?  One look at the front of this cargo plane explains its name. The Guppy is part of the Air Museums collection.

Inside the guppy.

Inside the Guppy.

Building the two hangars at Tillamook was a massive undertaking. Unstable ground, a ferocious winter, and the use all provided challenges.

Building the two hangars at Tillamook was a massive undertaking. Unstable ground, a ferocious winter, and the use of wood instead of steel for the structure all provided challenges. Steel was being used at the time for other war purposes. (Photo from Tillamook Air Museum.)

A blimp is launched from the Tillamook Air Station during World War II.

A blimp is launched from the Tillamook Air Station during World War II. Note the men holding ropes for a size perspective. Missions could last as long as 15 to 20 hours and some blimps were equipped to stay out as long as 59 hours and travel over 1400 miles. (Photo from Tillamook Air Museum.)

A final view of blimps arrayed outside of the Tillamook hangar during World War II.

A final view of blimps arrayed outside of the Tillamook hangar during World War II. Next blog: I find a surprise in the museum that takes me back to World War II and my wife’s father. (Photo from Tillamook Air Museum.)

 

72 comments on “A World War II Blimp Hangar, a Guppy, and a Cow Escape Route… The Oregon Coast

    • Thank you for adding your information. The story of the balloons could have been much different had more of them made it to the US and had the forests been dry.

      On another note, interesting handle, holy cow. –Curt

  1. We take our Tillamook cows very seriously! I love the escape route. Did you get over to McMinnville to see the Spruce Goose? You went right through my home in Lincoln City. Some of the prettiest vistas ever driving the coast highway.

  2. Great post! I knew the hangar was there, but really hadn’t given it much thought. Next time I am in Tillamook I will be looking for this place. I really appreciate all the historical photos and of course, am relieved to hear that our Oregon cows were being looked after in times of strife.

  3. What a fascinating story! Aren’t those structures protected by some kind of heritage act? It would be a shame to lose these pieces of history, although how you lose a blimp hangar is a mind-boggling thought, but if they’re made of wood fire could take them easily.

    • One would think they would be protected, but apparently they aren’t, at least to my knowledge. Mrs. P commented above on efforts to save the Moffet Field structures in the Bay Area. Google is now repairing them. Go figure. 🙂 –Curt

  4. Fascinating post. It made me want to check out the history of the hanger near my hometown, Moffet Field. It too was in need of restoration and needed a hazardous waste clean up. There was the usual shift of responsibility for costs between NASA and the Navy but it eventually got done. When it came to restoration both agencies decided it was too expensive but the Navy agreed to strip the outer shell and spray a protective coating on the frame which is how it has been sitting for several years. Google, who is located nearby wanted to pay for the restoration for use of two thirds of the hangar which was declined but they did work out a deal to lease 1000 acres on the base for 60 years and Google agreed to pay for the restoration which should start soon. So,,,yay Google!

    • Thanks, A Gray. Given the massive amount of wood that went into building the structures, fire was a concern from the very beginning. A pamphlet put out by the M&A Tour Group noted that 50 different companies were involved in fireproofing the vast amount of lumber needed for the various blimp hangars throughout the US (most of which were built form Oregon Lumber). The hangars in Tillamook were used for a number of businesses after they retired from housing blimps— including lumber mills! The culprit that did in Hangar A in 1992, however, was hay, some 135,000 bales that had been stored there. A small fire quickly turned into a fire storm, creating winds up to 80 miles per hour. In addition to the hangar and the hay, a number of vehicles stored their were also destroyed. –Curt

      • The Tillamook Air Museum, I understand, is closing its doors and the planes will be moved to Bend, Oregon on the east side of the Cascades. The two best reasons to stop in Tillamook have always been the Air Museum and the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Now, there will only be one. It’s a pity.

        We stopped there frequently over the years during trips on the Oregon Coast. The Air Museum’s displays related to the days of the blimps along with the associated buildings of this former Navy base have always been fascinating. I will miss that place.

      • Most of the planes have already moved Allen. And it is sad. Half of the hangar had already been taken over by RVs. I wish I would have realized the museum’s existence earlier. Thanks for your input. –Curt

  5. Curt, gp cox sent me over from his website!!!! Many thanks for the education!!! So many of us have a dead spot in our WWII knowledge regarding blimps!!! I knew something of their contribution but nothing like the magnitude you teach us about here! My compliments! I appreciated you including specific size dimensions & comparisons, charts, comments on the men towing the anchor lines, etc. Just did a post on one of my Vietnam experiences on my website. Phil from excuseusforliving.com

    • It was new information for me as well, Phil. And I found it fascinating, which is why I decided to do a blog on it. I am really glad GP decided to share it. My next two blogs will also be on World War II, the first, on my father-in-laws experience as a hump pilot and the second on Fort Stevens, which guarded the entrance to the Columbia River. I’ll check out your blog –Curt

  6. Super stuffs – thanks for sharing! — And the last pic with the blimp array outside of the hangar…that hangar looks entirely too small to house all of those pudgy airships. It’s an illusion… 👶

  7. Super stuffs – thanks for sharing! — And the last pic with the blimp array outside of the hangar…that hangar looks entirely too small to house all of those pudgy airships. It’s an illusion… 👶

  8. You don’t disappoint, do you, C? I opened the post and said WOAH. Showed the little man this post, esp bc he knows American geography. So just how did the blimps identify things underwater and cull submarine info? From the hawk’s eye view they had in the air? And if I tried taking a shot of those hangar doors, they just wouldn’t look so rugged and classy.

    • Thanks Susan. Hopefully the hangar will still be there. I think they are on the endangered species list. Glad your husband enjoyed the post as well. Many, many things to see and do up in that part of Oregon. –Curt

  9. Of all the posts you’ve written, I have the most direct connections with this one (well, apart from Liberia, maybe). I’ve been driving past that blimp base in Hitchcock since 1987. It’s still there, although it’s skeletal, to say the least. There is some interesting history and some pics here. Tillamook has its cows, we have our crops. The article says that all of Texas’s rice crop could have been stored inside the hangar.

    As for the guppy, I see the Nasa super guppy flying over every now and then. The first time I saw it, I thought, “WHAT???” It’s an amazing sight in the air. Here’s a nice site for more information about it, including some videos. The Super Guppy

    • The skeleton at Hitchcock is immediately recognizable, Linda. I had a photo of the same pillar in Tillamook. Like Hitchcock, the Tillamook hangar was used for a variety of things including providing cover to a full scale lumber mill.

      Checked out the Super Guppy. What an unusual plane it is/was. It would have served well carrying supplies over the Hump in World War II. (My next blog after the turkeys.)

      Thanks for the links. –Curt

  10. We have a couple down the freeway from. It still amazes me our Navy used blimps during WWII – not that they were used but what nice targets they would be. I’ve wondered if these observation blimps had open air toilets. ☺

    Actually, a Sunday school teacher and five of her kids were killed in ’45 by one such balloon right there in Oregon. Called風船爆弾 (Fuusen Bakudan), the use of the jetstream was conjured up in part by a man named Ooishi. The Japanese also had other names for them.

    But a cow escape route?! Perhaps if they knew many Japanese wouldn’t have cared for the American milk which is much heavier than theirs, they wouldn’t have bothered (lactose intolerant). ☺

    Loved the poster and looking foward to your post about Peggy’s dad and WWII!

    • I found it interesting that convoys accompanied by blimps across the Atlantic, weren’t attacked by German submarines. So the use of blimps was an obvious plus.

      Open air toilets… like the trains of yore. 🙂

      Hey, the farmers loved their cows. Besides, the dairy cows were so pampered, the Japanese may have seen them as Kobe Beef, a fate much worse than being milked.

      John’s story is coming up next, after the turkeys. –Curt

  11. Great post well put together, great pics that tell the story behind this fascinating piece of military history.
    Enjoyed the Guppy and had a bit of a laugh at the Cow route, reminds me a little of the English comedy series called Dads Army.
    Regards
    Ian

  12. Enjoy hearing about the blimps. One of those, the Shenandoah, crashed not far from where I live back in 1925. It was originally built for naval purposes. I have written two blog posts regarding the fatal crash. One was from a personal experience or an older friend at http://gypsyroadtrip.com/2013/09/05/shenandoah-crash-recollections-with-ed-lehotay/t , while another was information from their museum today at http://gypsyroadtrip.com/tag/uss-shenandoah/. I realize this is pre WWII but interesting nevertheless.

  13. Curt, this is a fabulous article! I have always been blimpy fan and the Hindenburg was one of my favorite movies. I’ll bet you didn’t think I watched movies, did you? I am EARTH! I see everything! Even when you pee!

  14. I was raised in Tillamook on my grandparents dairy farm about 1/2 way from the Blimp Base to town. I have never heard of the cow escape plan and really don’t think it would have been feasible. I do know a couple of factual stories. one was of a very tall tree in my Grandparents field. You could see it from anywhere in the Tillamook valley. They were going to put a flashing light on the top of it, but after observing the dense fogs that engulf the valley, they decided that it had to be cut down. My grandmother bought a nice desk with the proceeds and it still is in our family. I used to go after the cows in the morning and I would hear this whirring sound and then a blimp would appear, kind of ghostly!. Two of my Uncles worked on the construction and one married a gal from Kansas that worked there. My Great Uncle owned the farm that was in the North West Corner of the property right where the warplane is now. The base commander lived in that house but the barn and outbuildings were torn down. The house is no longer there. After the war Swede Ralston flew an airplane through the hanger and did a 180 while in the hanger. I was there.
    I think that the fire that burned down the other hanger was most likely wet, That was the main reason that there were hay fires in barns. Spontaineous (spelling?) combustion.

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