By Tommy Albert
The Siskiyou Smokejumper Base was home to seven different types of jump planes during the near four decades of its existence. The Twin Beech was there the longest, from 1954 until 1974, 20 years. Though it stumbled a few times, overall, it was a steady and reliable workhorse for jump bases throughout the west.
The newly established Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum is fast becoming a popular tourist stop and the visitors thoroughly enjoy learning about smokejumping and firefighting. The loft, parachutes, jump suits, tools, stories of jumping and firefighting are fine; but, how can you tell the full story of smokejumping without an airplane?
Harold Hartman pronounced to the museum Board of Directors that we were going to get one. You must know that our coffers were pretty austere so we must have looked like deer in the headlights after his announcement. To make a long story short, through his untiring effort and with the invaluable assistance of Jann Taylor, a board member, the museum acquired enough funding to start looking.
Though they aren’t on every corner, Twin Beeches are not what one would call scarce; but, owners are pretty proud of them. One day in April, Wes Brown was giving tours at the museum and mentioned we were looking for a Twin Beech for static display. One of the tourist said, “We have one in Bandon (Oregon).” Wes passed this on the Harold. He went to Bandon, looked over the airplane and purchased it. Wow, we now owned a Twin Beech. One “minor” problem, Bandon is on the coast of Oregon just south of Coos Bay and the airplane is not airworthy and can’t be flown.
If you have ever traveled to the coast of Oregon over the coastal range, you know that the highways are narrow, curvy, mostly two lane roads with numerous narrow bridges. Even with the outboard wings off, the width of the Twin Beech is 17 feet. A “super” wide load is considered to be 14 feet. Did this make Harold nervous? Not on your life. Did it make the rest of us anxious? You bet your life!
Harold began to research routes to get the plane to CJ. He investigated using a route that took us through northern California. Well, have you ever dealt with the California permit system? If so, you’d know you would have had to put your wife and her Mother up for collateral. Harold is a political type and must have pulled some strings but obtained an Oregon DOT permit to move the 17 foot wide load over Highways 101, 42, and 199, including a 64 mile stretch of I-5 from just south of Roseburg to Grants Pass.
The permit required us to have two lead pilot cars, a trail pilot car, and flagmen at certain points along the route as we had to close the highway to traffic at one major bridge crossing and for a seven mile stretch when going over the coastal range pass. Our rag-tag crew consisted of myself, Tommy Albert, Gary Buck, Wes Brown, Ken Swift (Mick Swift’s son), of course Harold Hartman, and his wife, Linda. Having been a leadplane pilot, I insisted on being the lead pilot car.
We gathered in Bandon on Saturday, the day before our one day travel permit. Harold and Ken had already loaded the Beech on the 24 foot trailer (utilizing the tongue as well). One look and I said, “Yep, this is a jumper operation.” I swear I saw Murphy sitting on the wing. You know, how us jumpers got away with some of the outrageous “engineering” we came up with just to get the job done, is beyond me. There must be a jumper angel out there somewhere. We reinforced the rigging with whatever materials we could find laying around and loaded the elevator, vertical stabilizers, rudders, etc. into a separate trailer, then headed back to the motel. The weather that weekend was ideal, no rain, no wind, and no fog. I must commend the Bandon Aero Club. They were very helpful, a great bunch.
That night we picked up gourmet breakfast-for-champions, you know, the microwaveable kind, so that we could leave at first light. We briefed the trip and turned in for a restless sleep. All were up before first light and gathered at the airport with our little convoy. Tested the blinking wide load lights, inserted the flags, performed radio checks, and as soon as we could see, headed out (0535 PST).
Other than a flat tire on the trailer, the trip was really uneventful. You would have thought we know what we were doing. We had to be a curious sight from the reactions of passersby and bystanders but all went well. The Illinois Valley Airport sign was a wonderful sight. We pulled through the gate at 1220. Oh yes, what a relief it was.
The Twin Beech was off loaded on the ramp where one stood for 20 years. She sure looks at home. Though still parted out, the Twin Beech makes the Gobi look whole.
We still have plenty of work to do but need to find some additional funds to complete the project. The plane has to be reassembled, painted, modified to include some of the smokejumping mods (static anchor line cable, spotter’s window, jump step, door rails, etc.). You are invited to participate. Harold formed the “SSB Twin Beecher Club” which helped get the project off the ground. A generous donation gets you a membership, a club hat, certificate, name engraved on the plaque that will be set near the Twin Beech, and the satisfaction that you are a part of preserving the unique history of smokejumping.
Donations toward the restoration to the Twin beech should be made out to :
SSB Museum Fund,
PO Box 2223,
Cave Junction OR 97523