Smokejumper Plane Comes Home

Smoke jumperCAVE JUNCTION, Ore. — A piece of aviation history has landed in Southern Oregon. It’s part of a Josephine County museum dedicated to telling the story of smokejumpers in the Forest Service and the west coast.

A 70-year old airplane, that may have carried smokejumpers into the back country of Oregon and California, is part of a new display at the Siskiyou smokejumper base near Cave Junction.

The 70-year old beech model 18 airplane sits on the tarmac at the Illinois Valley Airport. It’s the latest exhibit in a growing number of displays showing the importance that forest service smokejumpers played in the years during and decades after world war two.

“We’re going to paint it the original colors. When it first came here in 1953, it was red, black and white. We’re going to paint it the exact same colors and we’re going to put the wings back on of course,” explained Smokejumper Base President Gary Buck.

The plane arrived a week ago after a long, slow trip from Bandon.

“Without the wings, it’s 17 feet wide,” Buck explained. “We had to tow it down here; stop traffic at several places. Every time we went through a bridge we had to stop traffic, because it would’ve been too wide if we had the wings on. Even without the wings it was close!”

The plane joins several buildings that have been, or are still under restoration, and the many exhibits of old equipment used when this was one of half a dozen such bases in the Northwest, from Oregon and Washington to Montana.

“It’s a wonderful plane and this plane is in great condition. We’re really lucky to get this nice of an aircraft here for the museum,” said Buck.

Buck says a simulator is also planned so visitors can feel what it’s like to jump from a plane and try to guide your parachute to a safe landing site. The smokejumper base has undergone a lot of renovations and restoration in the last few years. All done with the work of volunteers. The next big project is to get this old plane back in shape so it looks like it did when this smokejumper base was the hub of activity in Southern Oregon.

The Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. admission is free, and many of the exhibits are self-explanatory. The museum is located at the Illinois Valley Airport, across Highway 199 from Rough and Ready Lumber Company.