History

The Columbia Aviation Country Club (CAA) was conceived in the fertile brain of L.S. (Doc) White, Oregon’s foremost evangelist of aviation, and born of a pent-up yearning to take to the air after being grounded for four years during World War II.Light planes, still a novelty, were suddenly plentiful. All barriers were down, but pilots didn’t quite know what to do with their newfound freedom. They felt the need to flock together like the birds of a feather that they were.

First 25 years of the CAA

Doc, a doctor of finance, with the look of eagles in his eyes, knew what to do. He was still a student pilot when he led the first See Oregon By Air Tour, September 17-20, 1946, but he made up in enthusiasm what he lacked in experience. Tours to Mexico and the Arctic followed in 1948. In May and June 1949, 50 planes and 150 aerial ambassadors joined the Portland-to-Portland, (Maine) tour.

Doc and Wally Timm got the idea for the Columbia Aviation Country Club when they stopped at Wings Field, Pennsylvania to visit the Philadelphia Country Club (now long gone) on their way back from Washington, D.C., where the tour disbanded. The club was incorporated October 8, 1949, with Harry Goble as the first president but with no clubhouse. The Vanport Flood of May 1948 supplied the answer. A lot of buildings, wrecked by the flood, were still stranded in the mud at Portland-Columbia Airport.

The CACC, which owned much of the mess, turned its back while club members, armed with hammers, saws, cranes and forklifts, spent weekends and Thursday nights in an old-fashioned barn-raising bee. Bu October, the first 20-by-50 foot unit, built from salvaged wreckage, rested on its foundations just inside the old gate at the northeast corner of the airport. Art Whitaker had tried to negotiate a lease on the site, promising to let the club use it rent free, but the deal fell through, leaving the club with nothing but squatters’ rights.

The second unit of the clubhouse, featuring the classy Arizona sandstone fireplace donated by Doc Greene, had just been completed and all was CAVU when along came the Korean crisis and the outlook was suddenly zero-zero. The Air Force took over the field and announced that they were taking over the clubhouse. But Stuart Symington, Secretary of Defense, a friend of the CACC, ordered the local fighter jocks to lay off.

The local CO did, however, suddenly find it necessary for security reasons, of course to build a prison wall around the clubhouse, cutting it off from the airport. During the dark of the moon, however, this Iron Curtain mysteriously banished from the scene and the club’s horizon was restored.

The triumph of right over might was short lived, however. In February 1959, a new development brought down the house, quite literally, a board at a time sold at auction to make way for the new north runway 28R-10L. But by this time Frank Womack, the Great Arranger behind most of the club’s air tours, had sweet-talked West Coast Airlines into “selling” the club its old terminal building, the cozy building which the club called home, for $1.

By 1980 the club was too big for its britches. Membership had grown from 100 to 235. By June 1981 contractors Ted Millar and Walt Swam, loyal club members, had completed a 1700-square-foot dining room addition. Several other members acted as sub-contractors supplying equipment and services at or below their cost. Saturday work parties did the extensive landscaping with Frank Schmidt and Gary Moeller donating the shrubs and trees. The necessary $100,000 was raised by assessments. Now 150 could be easily seated for dinners. In 1982 a new BBQ was built, partially paid for with money raised by selling bricks with members names on them. Now two whole pigs can be barbecued at once on the pit built by Mike Reese, Kip Kappler, Ken Parker, Dan Streimer, Virg Viner, Jr. and others.

But the CACC is more than boards and bricks. It is a brotherhood of flap-happy pilots ranging from private pilots to airline types and military jocks, dedicated to the proposition that flying is fun, and that flying is the key to progress in this fast-changing world. Flying safety is always taken seriously, but reminders can be on the raucous side. Take the HAFAS Award, for instance, Whit Pierson’s brainchild. No, two HAFAS’ do not make a whole, a hole maybe, but not a whole.

The Honorary Association of the Fractured Airscrew consists of a wooden Mooney Mite propeller chewed in half on some long forgotten gear-up landing. It has hung like an albatross from the necks of quite a few CACC pilots who bent their birds in lousy landings or couldn’t hear the tower shouting at them because the landing gear warning horn was making so much noise.

The club’s College of Aeronautical Knowledge, which led to the annual Flight Profiles, described elsewhere, set the pace for the rest of the county.

The club is probably best known for its more than 75 Oregon Air Tours. Those early air tours demonstrated the utility as well as the fun of flying those first, slow, short-ranged puddle jumpers. They set new records for numbers and distance, from the tropics to the Arctic Ocean, from coast to coast and most points between. The Cuban Air Tour, with 100 planes and 250 aviators, covering 8,000 miles round trip was and still is the longest, biggest air tour on record.

In 75 major air tours no one got a scratch, although Ralph Service landed in a coal mine all right, a strip mine and Angus McKinnon, flying one of his converted Grumman Widgeons, landed in Death Valley on a salt bed as rough as the surface of the moon. Those air tours did more to promote aviation than anything did since Lindburgh flew the Atlantic. But their time is past. Today’s pilots with their fast, long-range sophisticated aircraft and their instrument ratings no longer need to flock together.

CACC'ers still get together a couple of times a year for mini-tours to Mexico or Canadian fishing holes, or the trip to Harlingen, Texas to see the Confederate Air Force restage World War II, but the day of the major air tour is long gone.

The club’s fame in aviation circles still lures truly distinguished visitors like Col. Gordon Fullerton, Oregon’s own astronaut, pilot on the third flight of the space Shuttle Columbia, which made the first emergency landing in the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Other well known visitors over the past years include Lt. Gen. “Jimmy” Doolittle of WWII fame; Astronaut Stuart Roosa, Apollo XIV; Georgi F. Baidukov, Co-pilot and Alexander V. Belyakov, Navigator, two of the three crew members of the first trans-polar flight that flew from Russia to PearsonField, Vancouver, in 1937; Pilot/Author Ernie Gann, Bob Hoover, Art Scholl and Ernie Brace, famous Marine Corps Aviator.

As time marches on, fewer and fewer CACCers remember Doc White, the catalyst who started it all. He was a prophet, not without honor in his hometown. While serving on the Port of Portland, he predicted the boom in airline traffic and fought for longer runways. He predicted that airliners won’t increase much in number but in size. He predicted passenger trains would be out of business by 1970. It is a measure of his modesty that although he was the CACC’s sparkplug for more than 20 years, he never served as president. He shunned the limelight. He died Sunday, January 25, 1970, in Honolulu of a sudden heart attack.

Lev Richards
1970

Aurora Move

The Second Twenty-five Years

In 1994, CACC was asked to leave its home of the last 45 years at the Portland Airport by the Port of Portland. At this time the club changed its name to Columbia Aviation Association (CAA) to more accurately reflect its involvement with the aviation community. A search was started to look for a new home for CAA for the next 50 years and beyond. After much study and searching, a site was located at the Aurora State Airport. Land was purchased from the Bennett family and through member donations, a beautiful new clubhouse was built. The grand opening of the clubhouse was held on May 31, 1997 after a short construction period. This new facility with full kitchen, bar, and meeting areas is one of the finest in the nation.

1999 marks the 50th anniversary of Columbia Aviation Association. The club is currently compiling a second edition of its history that will be made available at the 50th anniversary celebration. This will present a more detailed description of the club’s history.

Guy Gorrell,
Historian 1998