The Port of Tillamook Bay is located on land that was formerly occupied by the U.S. Naval Air Station — the home of blimp squadron during World War II. During the war, the facility consisted of two massive blimp hangars, administrative and residential quarters and more than 1,600 acres of land. The station was decommissioned in 1948 and has evolved into the core of Tillamook County’s industrial sector in the 60 years since.
In 1942, with World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, the Navy built 17 blimp hangars across the nation as the anchor for a network of blimp squadrons that would patrol the Pacific and act as escorts for coastal convoys. Two of those hangars were located at the newly opened Naval Air Station in Tillamook.
A hard winter dragged out construction of Hanger B for nine months. Following its completion in the spring of 1943, Hangar A was erected in a mind-boggling 27 days. The hangars were of colossal proportions. Hangar B, at 1,072 feet long, 296 feet wide and 192 feet tall (over 21 stories tall, 1/5 mile long and a football field wide), still stands, easily dominating the skyline. The enormous doors measure 120 feet tall and weigh 180 tons each. When they are open, they provide an opening 220 feet wide.
Squadron ZP-33 was stationed in Tillamook. It consisted of eight K-class blimps, the second largest model in the Navy’s lighter-than-air fleet. These massive blimps held a crew of 10 and were sent aloft by 425,000 cubic feet of helium within their 251-foot-long envelope. Though only lightly armed, they often carried depth charges as protection from the threat of submarine attack on merchant convoys. The blimps were swifty by airship standards, cruising at speeds of up to 50 knots on two engines. They had a range of 2,300 miles and could be stocked for flights as long as three days in duration. Though two hangars were constructed, ZP-33’s eight K’s could be squeezed into one with room to spare.
Evolution of Port of Tillamook Bay
In 1911, the Port of Bay Ocean, an Oregon Municipal corporation, was formed by a special election to manage land at the entrance to Tillamook Bay. The Port incorporated additional land in 1948 to construct a jetty to protect the bay.
With the surrender of Japan, Tillamook Naval Air Station was no longer needed. The base, barely six years old, was decommissioned in 1948. With the departure of the Navy, the former base came under the jurisdiction of the new Tillamook County Airport Commission.
In 1953, the Port of Bay Ocean held a special election to incorporate the NAS Tillamook, the blimp hangars, airport and other buildings into its jurisdiction. On Nov. 4, the name of the district became the Port of Tillamook Bay. More than a dozen buildings comprised the base. Most are now occupied by Port tenants. Unfortunately, Hangar A burned to the ground on August 22, 1992.
History of the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad
Along with the other NAS facilities, the Port also had jurisdiction of the Navy’s 5.5-mile railroad spur, which connected with the Southern Pacific Railroad in downtown Tillamook.
The Southern Pacific line over the Coast range had been built between 1906 and 1911. But as Southern Pacific began to step away from that line in later years, the Port began operating it from Tillamook to Batterson in 1983. When Southern Pacific decided to abandon the operation in 1990, the Port purchased the entire line to Schefflin, with help from the state lottery.
It stretched 95 miles from Tillamook, up the coast to Wheeler, then east through the Coast Range to the Portland area. It hugged the mountainsides along the Salmonberry River and included river crossings and wooden trestles – some 200 feet high.
The Port continued operating the railroad until December of 2007, when flood waters from a major storm destroyed large sections of the roadbed in the mountainous area of the Salmonberry River Canyon. Prior to the storm, the railroad had hauled freight six days a week, carrying lumber and feed grains.