Boast + adult beverages = a B-17 on the roof

Boast + adult beverages = a B-17 on the roof

MILWAUKIE, Ore. - Art Lacey's daughter, Punky Scott, knows the story of her father's wild B-17 adventure well.

She said it all started at a party where her father, a local businessman, bragged that he was going to put a B-17 on top of his gas station.

"He was at his own birthday party in 1947 and he, I think, probably had a few adult beverages," Punky said with a laugh.

A friend promptly told Art he was absolutely out of his mind and could never pull it off. Art bet the man $5 he could do it and immediately ran with the idea.

"And so he turns to his friend Bob and says 'you got any money on you Bob?' And Bob says 'yeah, how much do you need?' (And my dad says) 'I need $15,000.' And the guy had it on him," Punky said. "I don't know how that translates into today's money, but it's got to be a lot."

If it sounds surprising that someone back in 1947 would have that much cash on them, Punky said you have to realize what Portland was like back then.

"The whole area was wide open. There was gambling, there was prostitution, there was illegal booze - everything," she said. So Art got the money from his friend Bob and wasted no time on getting the ball rolling on his big plan.

"So he got acquainted with this guy who was the head of the base (in Oklahoma) and my dad was a real outgoing, personable sort of guy, easy to talk with," said Punky. "So he bought a B-17 and then the guy says 'now you go into town and you come out tomorrow, you and your co-pilot, and I'll have the plane ready for you.'

Art had two problems with his plan. For one, he didn't have a co-pilot and more importantly, he didn't even know how to fly a B-17.

But he was determined to pull the whole thing off. He borrowed a mannequin from a seamstress, dressed it up and and made it his 'co-pilot.' Then he hopped in the plane and made some practice runs on the runway with the manual in hand.

"He knew how to fly a single-engine aircraft and was a good pilot," said Punky, "But he didn't know how to do the big ones."

Art might have been able to fake his way through it if the plane's landing gear didn't malfunction. He was trying to land back on the runway when he ran into trouble.

"So he flew it around and finally he just had to bring it in. So he crash landed it and skidded in," said Punky. "He was flying it low and slow and skidded in and crashed it into another parked B-17."

Art wasn't hurt in the mishap but he did have to walk up to headquarters and admit that he really didn't know how to fly a B-17. Punky said the guy he talked to took pity on him.

"He turned to his secretary and said 'have you written up the bill of sale yet on that B-17?' And she said 'no.' and he said 'worst case of wind damage I've ever seen.' And so he sold him a second B-17," she said.

And that second B-17 actually turned out to be a better deal for Art.

"The first one that crashed had seen serious time during the war," said Punky. "It wasn't the best."

The one that Art ended up buying was in much better shape with under 50 hours of fly time. But he had already spent over $13,000 on the B-17 that he had crashed and he didn't have much money left. Fortunately for Art, the guy took pity on him once again and sold him a second B-17 for just $1,500.

Did you know Art Lacey? Do you have a story about him? If so, his family would love to hear from you.

They are creating an Art Lacey Memory Book that they hope to publish sometime in the future. Funds raised from the book will go towards the Lacey Lady's restoration.

To share your story with the family, send an email to b17gfort@comcast.net along with this form (pdf) to give permission for it to be used in the book.

This time, Art decided it probably wasn't a good idea for him to try to fly it alone, so he got some buddies lined up to help him take it home.

"So he called my mom and had her send down two of his friends," said Punky. "And one was the guy who had taught him to fly in the first place and the other one had been a crew chief on a B-17. And he told her to send them down with a case of whiskey."

The whiskey, Punky explained, was to be used to bribe the local fire department. Art didn't have any money left for gas and he wanted to use their fire truck pumps to siphon fuel out of the two crashed B-17s. Oklahoma was a dry state at the time and whiskey was a good enticement.

"And so that's what they did and they fueled up and took off the next morning," said Punky. "They flew to Palm Springs, California and then bought gas. But he didn't have the money for gas there either so he wrote a bad check for it and covered it when he got home."

By this point you might be wondering what Art's wife thought of all this. But Punky said her mom was pretty cool with it all.

"I think she was used to it by that time," she said. "He was pretty crazy. Their whole married life, he was just one of those people that would do anything."

"Anyway, they got lost on the way home - lost in a snowstorm," she went on, adding that her dad almost hit a mountain during the flight and even flew low to the ground so they could see street signs and get their bearings. Through it all, they did manage to finally land in Troutdale.

"So they got it to Troutdale, dismantled it, put it on trucks and then he went to get permits to bring it here. And they wouldn't give him any permits because it was still too high, too long and everything was wrong," said Punky.

But by that time, Art Lacey was so far in debt there was really no turning back.

"So he hired a motorcycle escort for funerals," said Punky. "And the guys are in black leather and they put him out in front in the middle of the night and had two teenagers ride along with him. And he told them 'now if the police show up you burn rubber in another direction and they'll follow you.' And he told the trucking drivers 'you just keep going. I'll pay any tickets, just keep on going and don't let them stop you.' "

Punky said her dad didn't run into any issues with the cops, but she does remember hearing about a tipsy driver who probably got the scare of his life.

"McLoughlin Boulevard was a two-lane highway at the time and there was some guy that had been drinking.  And he sees this airplane coming at him in the middle of the night and he thinks he's on a runway. And so he cranks his wheel and goes off into the ditch and the plane goes on by," Punky said, laughing.

The B-17 made it to Milwaukie, but it's hard to keep something that big a secret. It didn't take long for local officials to come after Art for not having permits. Punky said a local newspaper article helped him out.

"The Oregon Journal wrote up an article saying something to the effect of 'local government tries to keep bomber from final resting place.' This was right after World War II, so patriotism was running pretty high. So they ended up fining him $10 for doing what he shouldn't have done. And it's been in the area ever since."