Salem is located in the Willamette Valley, which runs from north to south between the Cascade Mountains and the Coastal Range. Today the temperatures in the valley were forecast to be in the high nineties so we decided to ride the motorcycle about fifty miles west to the Pacific coast, where the temperature was around sixty degrees. Hard to imagine that in a little over an hour you can experience a thirty degree change in temperature.
Once you reach the coastal highway about twenty miles to the north is the town of Tillamook. This is a perfect town for us to visit as it has only two tourist sites, but each of us wanted to visit one of them. The first famous tourist site is the Tillamook Cheese Plant. Now, if you have followed this blog for any length of time you know one of us has a “thing” for cheese plants. We have visited Cabot’s in Vermont on at least three occasions and recently spent a few days in Wisconsin visiting three thousand cheese plants.
The other member of this twosome enjoys history and loves to visit military museums. It just so happens that Tillamook is home to a World War II air museum. So in one day we were able to please both of us! We didn’t know it but there is another cheese place in Tillamook the Blue Herron French Cheese Company, so we stopped in for a visit.
It turns out that Blue Herron Cheese isn’t made in Tillamook anymore, it is made in Wisconsin! That must be the only cheese company we didn’t visit while in Wisconsin. But they did have great samples and we made a small purchase.
We then continued a short distance up the road to visit the Tillamook Cheese Company. But so did about a thousand other tourists, as the rather large parking area was almost completely filled. Since it was around noon we decided to change plans and visit the air museum first, in the hope that the crowd would be smaller later in the afternoon. Apparently most people would rather see cheese being made (a close second to watching paint dry) than see vintage military aircraft, as the crowd at the air museum was very light.
The Tillamook Air Museum is difficult to to miss as you drive south of town as it is housed in a hanger that is HUGE. When you see the hanger you wonder what such a large structure is doing in the middle of a field in Tillamook? It turns out the building was a hanger for blimps that were built in 1942. It was part of a series of bases constructed along coastal areas of the U.S. to provide a defense against attack by Germany and Japan.
Constructed by the US Navy for Naval Air Station Tillamook, the hangar is the largest clear-span wooden structure in the world. The hanger is 1,072 feet long and 296 feet wide, giving it over 6 acres of space. It stands at 192 feet tall. The doors weigh 30 tons each and are 120 feet tall. Hangar “B” is one of two that were built on the site originally, Hangar “A” was destroyed by fire in 1992.
The inside of the hanger is massive. Since steel and other metals were in short supply during the war, and trees were plentiful in Oregon, the hanger is made almost completely of wood.
Some photos on display in the museum show the hanger during it’s use as a blimp base.
Tillamook Air Museum has been described as one of the country’s top private World War II aircraft collections. There are over thirty aircraft on display. One of the most famous aircraft of WWII is the PBY Catalina pictured below. During World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions , and cargo transport. The PBY was the most numerous aircraft of its kind and the last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. Even today, over 70 years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as a waterbomber (or airtanker) in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.
Pictured below is a Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber. The SBD’s most important contribution to the American war effort came during the Battle of Midway in early June 1942, when SBD dive bomber attacks sank or fatally damaged all four of the Japanese aircraft carriers, three of them in the space of just six minutes as well as heavily damaging two Japanese cruisers. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of this plane and it’s efforts during the Battle of Midway to the war against Japan. The Japanese navy never fully recovered from the loss of those carriers.
After an enjoyable (for one of us) visit to the museum, we headed back to the cheese plant. The crowd had lessened since our earlier visit, down from about a hundred thousand to about seventy-five thousand (there were twenty people at the air museum). The cashier told us they get over three thousand visitors on a weekday and five thousand on a week-end during the summer. Cheese is very, very popular!
We didn’t take the tour, since we took it when we visited here a few years ago, but did go up to the observation deck to view the assembly line. Making cheese must be an exciting job, as the viewing area was very crowded with people watching the workers below.
The best part of a visit to a cheese factory is the sample line, where you can taste all the different types of cheese made in the plant. Of course, at the end of the line you enter the sales room where you can purchase items you liked from the samples.
Tillamook is about ten miles inland, so we decided to take a ride to the coast to take a quick look at the Pacific.
After a chilly ride along the coast we turned to the east and, after about an hour, stopped to remove our jackets, as the temperature had quickly risen into the nineties.
Look for one more blog from beautiful Oregon, as on Monday we head south to visit northern California for a week or so. More on that later . . .