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Cartoon Clue to Proposed Woodburn Air Force Base

//Cartoon Clue to Proposed Woodburn Air Force Base

Cartoon Clue to Proposed Woodburn Air Force Base

Cartoon by Monte Leo Jones for the Capital Journal. Research indicates that this cartoon may have been depicting an Air Force Base that was proposed for the Woodburn area in 1956. WHC 2015.013.0019.

Cartoon by Monte Leo Jones for the Capital Journal. Research indicates that this cartoon may have been depicting the proposed Woodburn Air Force Base in 1956. WHC 2015.013.0019.

By Kylie Pine  – In preparing this summer’s special exhibit, The Art of Politics, I had the opportunity to research a collection of cartoons drawn by Monte Leo Jones.  While cartoons are often fun to look at, they sometimes preserve nuggets of historical information not found in other places.  This particular cartoon held clues to a  proposed Woodburn Air Force Base.

Monte Leo Jones: Cartoonist

Jones was a long time foreman of the composing room for the Capital Journal and later the Statesman Journal.  He also did cartoons on the side.  His daughter recently told us the story of how Editor George Putnam suggested he use a pseudonym so that he could remain anonymous should his drawings spark any controversy.  He took the advice and signed most of his work with his middle name: “Leo.”  Jones drew images of politicians and local controversies.  Some, like those representing traffic on the West Salem bridge or Salem’s downtown parking problems may be familiar issues to current Salemites.  Others are a bit more removed.  One of the most puzzling cartoons in this collection is a drawing of an Eagle, named U.S. Air Force, swooping above the words: “Salem-Woodburn Air Base.”  This was not something I was familiar with, nor was I able to find anything through a quick Google search.  Challenge accepted obscure cartoon.

Researching things that may never have actually come to pass is never very easy, but I was rewarded with a trip to my favorite local history resource –the subject card catalog at the Oregon State Library.  It is a little old fashioned, but the thousands of hand-typed cards provide a unique guide to local newspapers.  While I can’t be certain, this cartoon may be connected to a proposed Woodburn airbase documented in a series of articles from 1956-1957.

Proposed Woodburn Air Force Base

The articles indicate that in 1956, the United States Air Force planned to remove its installations at the Portland International Airport to a yet-to-be-constructed 30 million dollar facility on French Prairie near Woodburn.  The move seems to have been prompted, at least in part, by the Port of Portland’s repeated attempts to renegotiate its long term lease (set to expire in 2000) with the Air Force.

The proposed Woodburn Air Force Base was planned as a joint facility to be shared between the U.S. Air Force and the U.S.Navy.  The base itself would have covered between 5000 and 6500 acres, included a 9000 foot runway, and housed 2000 service personnel.  It was envisioned as the home for the 460th fighter-interceptor squadron and a much needed naval reserve air station and training facility.  By October, the Air Force informed U.S. Congressman from Oregon Walter Norblad, that it did not have the funds to move forward with the project that year, despite assurances two months earlier that land acquisition would begin in the fall.  Norblad is quoted: “Several high priority projects have exhausted air force funds for this year.  The air force has informed me that it plans to go ahead as originally planned with the base, except that land purchases will be put off until next summer.”

Headline describing dropping of the Proposed Woodburn Air Force Base.

Headline. Oregonian. 16 Feb 1957, page 1.

By February 1957, the landowners in the proposed project area, including the State of Oregon who owned 424 acres of land within the project bounds

[1], were starting to get antsy.  After the prompting of Representative Norblad, word finally came that the Air Force would pull out of the Woodburn base project in favor of a 5 million dollar improvement program at the Portland International Airport.  The Navy, went back to considering its original plans for a reserve training base near Hillsboro, which it had abandoned in favor of the opportunity to join the Air Force in Woodburn.  It is interesting to note that in the four months between the October and February announcements by the Air Force, the total cost of the Woodburn project jumped 12 million dollars.

 

Reasons for Failure

Headline.  Oregon Journal.  21 February 1957.

Headline. Oregon Journal. 21 February 1957.

While initial reports indicated that the pullout of the proposed Woodburn Air Force Base was for financial reasons, later reports claimed that “fighter planes for defense purposes will be virtually obsolete in three years and will be supplanted by missiles” rendering a new base for the interceptor planes likewise unnecessary.[2]  So it would appear the eagle never landed outside of Woodburn.

Do you remember this proposed project?  I would love to know more.  You can contact me at here.

Local Reporting: Oregon Statesman Article from 1957

The Oregon Statesman on February 16, 1957, reported various reactions to the Air Force’s decision in characteristically charming language. The article is quoted below:

Word that the Woodburn Air Base plans were being abandoned came approximately a year after the Statesman broke the news that a 15 man survey crew was prowling Western Oregon in search of a new air base site.  Other places considered included the Ballston area in North Polk County, a Hillsboro or location and Astoria.

But it was not until May 2 that the Air Force announced selection of the North Marion County site.  The announcement brought mixed reactions from merchants, promoters, civic leaders and farmers in the Salem-Woodburn-St. Paul area.

And there were more mixed reactions Friday as word came that the Woodburn site had been junked.

Joy reigned unconfined among longtime Fairfield farmers.  Exact boundaries were never announced, but it was estimated that 65 to 100 families would have had to move.  It had been indicated that some 5,000 acres might be purchased at the start.

“I’m so happy I can hardly talk.” Said Mrs. D. B. DuRette, a life-long Fairfield farm resident.  “It’s like being taken out of hot water after a whole year.”

Businessmen regret loss of Base

Salem and Woodburn leaders tended to deplore the loss of the base and its purported $5 million annual payroll.

“It’s to be regretted,” said Richard Grabenhorst, president of the Salem Real Estate Association.  “It would have meant a big boom in the area, not alone to real estate, but to all business.”

Stanley Grove, manager of Salem Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber would look into the reason why and see if there was any chance of the base being returned to the Woodburn area.

To Salem Mayor Robert White the news came as “quite a surprise.” Woodburn Mayor T.L. Workman was “glad to get the thing settled.” He said he didn’t feel too bad about it, noting that farmers had been upset.  “We’re steadily growing here, anyway, “ he added.

The report was a blow to Phil Sanders, who opened a photo studio here last October, partly on prospects that the Air Base would bring a boom.  “It’s bad news,” he said, “but there’s good business here anyway.”

Mrs. Killian Smith, whose husband has started to subdivide a big tract near Woodburn, was cheerful despite the news.  “I think the area between Salem and Portland will grow anyway, “ she said.

Effects of the Base Plan Far Reaching

The Air Force wrote a surprise ending to one of the mid-valley’s biggest stories of the past year.  Announced plans for the base had far-reaching effects.  Oregon’s projected new reformatory, scheduled for a North Marion County location, was shuttled to state property east of Salem to make way for the base.  It has not yet been built.

As contemplated, the base would have housed an estimated 2,168 persons on the base proper. Of these, a survey pegged 1,158 as military personnel, others as wives, children and civilian workers.  Construction of the base would have brought additional hundreds of workers in the area.  Others would have come to work in new businesses attracted by the base.

But cancellation of the base came before many had made definite plans.  At least one Fairfield couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Weathers, had bought a house in Salem and rented their farm because they expected the Air Force to move in.  Two other farmers were reported to have purchased other farms.

Not the First Time the Air Force was interested in the Mid-Willamette Valley

Map showing proposed Air Force Academy in the Canby/Aurora Area.  Oregonian. 9 December 1950.  Page 1

Map showing proposed Air Force Academy in the Canby/Aurora Area. Oregonian. 9 December 1950. Page 1

The proposed Woodburn Air Force Base was not the first time the Air Force had been interested in this area.  The Mid-Valley was also a scouted as candidate for an Air Force Academy envisioned as the “West Point of the Air.”  The Canby-Aurora was one of 29 finalists for the school, which would have included a 180 million dollar facility.  The Oregonian reported that several of the site reviewers were overwhelmed by the beauty, proximity of the space to Portland, and, somewhat mysteriously, the terrain’s potential “for creation of artificial lakes.”  The secretary of the board sent out for review described the facility as “an academic institution like West Point or Annapolis, turning out air force officers as second lieutenants with college degrees, but without a flight rating.  We will want a 10,000-foot airstrip to permit use of any type of plane for demonstrations.  Plans also contemplate enough flying to orient these officers.  But they will be sent elsewhere for flight training after graduation.”[3]

Despite the grand reporting on the scouting trip, this program also appears to have never got off the ground.

Resources

Here are some of the sources we found researching the proposed Woodburn Air Force Base.  When we have found a digital copy, the link is provided.  They have been arranged chronologically.

“Base Planned at Woodburn.” Eugene Register-Guard.  2 May 1956.  Page 1.
Digitized here.

“Woodburn Gets Jets.” Eugene Register-Guard.  3 May 1956.  Page 12A.
Digitized here.

Cushman, Glenn. “AF to Delay Acquisition of Land for Mid-Valley Base” Capital Journal.  4 October 1956. Pages 1, 5.

“Air Force Postpones Base Plan.” Oregonian. 5 October 1956, Page 1.

“Norblad Asks of Base Plans.” Oregonian. 5 February 1957. Page 4.

“Air Force Sacks Woodburn Base Plan.” Oregon Statesman.  16 February 1957. Page 1.

“Jets Remain at Portland Airbase: Woodburn AF Plans Abandoned.” Oregon Journal. 16 February 1957.  Page 1.

“U.S. Drops Woodburn Base Plan.” Oregonian. 16 February 1957. Page 1.

Crick, Rolla J.  “Woodburn Base Plans ‘Obsolete.’”Oregon Journal. 21 February 1957. Page 1A.

“Uncertainties about Our Airport.” Oregon Journal. 25 February 1957. Page 4.

“AF Plans Requested on Base.” Oregonian  27 February 1957.  Page 18.

“The Missiles Take Over.” Oregonian. 27 Feb 1957. Page 1A.

Citations

An abbreviated form of this article was first published in the Statesman Journal newspaper on July 3, 2016.  It is reproduced here with additional citations and information.

[1] “AF Plans Requested on Base.” Oregon Statesman. 27 Feb 1957.

[2] Crick, Rolla J.  “Woodburn Base Plans ‘Obsolete’” Oregon Journal. 21 Feb 1957

[3] “Air Board Lauds Site at Aurora.” Oregonian. 9 December 1950.  Page 1.

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