The birth of the Palms to Pines Air Race was a bumpy one. There were no hotels in Independence,Oregon in 1970, so racers stayed in homes of the residents.
Another year, a “tower in a suitcase” had to be brought in when government money dried up. Despite the challenges, the race has thrived, offering pilots of all levels a fun race from the palm trees of California to the Oregon pines.
In the spring of 1970, I received a late night call from several civic leaders in Independence, Oregon. They had a 2,500-foot grass runway with seven airplanes, and they wanted a new airport for local use and to attract new people and businesses.
Oregon State aeronautical leaders had previously picked up the deed to the airport and promised to put in a 3,500-foot paved runway, light, taxiways and a parking area, but they backed out of the deal.
So, in an effort to keep the dream of an airport alive, Independence decided that a Woman’s Air Race could bring attention to their goal, and that late night phone call started wheels turning. The airport was completed in several years.
For our race, the city promised us free housing, meals, trophies and incidentals.
There were no motels at the time, so the townspeople signed up to host race teams,and many longtime friendships were born.
Margaret Berry, Thon Griffith and I put that original race together in four months. A tower was brought in for a number if years until the government agency in charge ran out of money. Ron Hanna, a former tower chief, brought his “tower in a suitcase” and performed efficiently and unterrified by the many racers. Ron’s wife Trish is a member of our sister Chapter,
Oregon Pines, which has been a huge help in many races. The weather between the ocean and the Cascades is questionable, some years raining at night after we flew in. Finally on our 13th race, the weather blocked us out, and we finished at Klamath Falls. We found a motel that could house and trans-port all of us, and our Awards Breakfast was held in the Copper Penny Restaurant.
We then moved our terminus to Central Oregon, where the weather was great for the next 25 years. This year it rained on Sunday, so many racers stayed over.
Because of complaints from a local llama rancher, the FAA monitored our final approach at Bend over her ranch. They noted that the llamas never looked up at the planes and just kept right on eating!
Bend is becoming an extremely busy airport, so Redwood Tower suggested we make our final flyby at Redmond and then fly back to Bend, 15 miles away. Everybody, including the tower, loved it. We give a total of $500 to the top five racers and provide trophies to make at least 15 teams happy. Some of us actually try for The Scenic Route Trophy. I just missed getting it a couple of times, darn!
Weather is always a problem for racers. Sometimes the start at Santa Monica was delayed for a few hours while the fog hung around. Sometimes smoke from huge fires got in the way. We stayed a second night at Red Bluff twice because of storms in the mountains between us and Bend. We couldn’t see them, but Flight Service could. Our local Ninety-Nines friends would fix dinner in the park and trophies were handed out. A safe flight is all important.
Some of the racers are members of the race committee and are the go, nogo decision-makers.
This year the racers were able to take off in clear weather and on time at Santa Monica, but near Gorman Pass the wildfire smoke made it more difficult. The next night in Bend it began raining, and the next day too. For the first time in 25 years, some of the racers stayed a second night.
We have a raffle at the beginning and at the end of the race. The proceeds are sent to the 99s Museum of Woman Pilots in Oklahoma City. Several Ninety-Nines Chapters have helped us along the way. Our first fly-by at present is Merced, and it has been hosted by the San Joaquin Valley Chapter for 28 years, including lunch, fuel and timing for all those years.
Mount Shasta Chapter has been handling the Red Bluff overnight stop. Snacks, drinks and transportation are provided by The Antique Car Club and my buddy Shirley Leatherwood, timer and coordinator of all things for the race. Central Oregon Chapter is in charge of the terminus as timers and calculators of the winners. Crater Lake members were timers for several years in Prineville and Bend, while the Willamette Valley Chapter helped us at Medford, Oregon. Columbia Cascade Chapter did the timing at Independence.
Next year is our 39th race.
The following year we will have a grand celebration on our 40th anniversary, so mark you calendars. The Palms to Pines race is open to all levels of racers, and it provides a wonderful opportunity to obtain racing experience.