We weren’t taking the RV to Europe, so what to do with it while we were gone? A very welcome answer appeared in the persons of John and Shirley Nesbitt. John is the brother of Mike Nesbitt, for whom Bill Bouchard had previously worked, and for whom Bill had done a whole series of fixes on Mike’s huge camping bus. As a consequence of this relationship, Mike asked John if we could park our RVs on his spacious property in Hood River, OR. John not only said yes, but he insisted on taking us to Seattle for our flight.
We spent several days getting our RVs settled in, during which John took us to several interesting venues. The Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum has one of the largest collections of still-flying antique aeroplanes and still-driving antique automobiles in the country. The airplane collection is mainly focused on aircraft in the period 1903–1941, but also includes light World War II Army, Army Air Corps, and naval aircraft. The antique cars were built between 1909 and the 1960s, and are still in running condition. There are over 175 autos on display. Most are from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The oldest car on display is an 1909 Franklin Model D.
The second experience that John gave us began with a trip south of Hood River to a community called Dee. Specifically, to an area which had in the past been the site of a lumber mill. Most of the buildings are now gone with the exception of one huge structure, constructed in 1958. That structure had been most recently employed for storage, but much of the roof had collapsed in Feb. 2017 from too much weight of snow. The contents? Parts of carousels.
But let me back up a bit.
Carol Jackson Perron graduated from Coeur d’Alene High School in 1954. As a youngster, she often visited Playland Pier, Coeur d’Alene’s waterfront amusement park. Later, Jackson spent summers working there.
When she married Duane Perron, she began urging that they do something to save the nation’s historic carousels. Starting with the restoration and operation of a 1914 carousel in Portland, Oregon in 1978, they have restored and placed into operation seven antique carousels at various locations around America, including the Playland Pier carousel, which they bought at an auction in Puyallup, Washington. For a time it resided in a shopping mall in Reading, PA. Some years later they were able to see it placed back at Coeur d’Alene.
They opened a carousel museum in Portland in 1983, but moved it to up the Columbia Gorge to Hood River in 1999. In a newspaper interview that I found on the web, Perron said “We bought a bank (building), put it there, and became almost too successful. We were part of the Gray Line tour, but we were located in the middle of downtown. If you had three or four buses trying to drop off passengers, you jammed up the whole town.” The city, he said, banned buses from parking downtown. Gray Line dropped the museum from its tour. And so, in late 2010, the International Museum of Carousel Art closed. The collection went back into storage. However, the passion for carousels lived on.
The Perrons are now in their eighties, and Carol is in ill health. But their son Brad has continued the effort, operating nine historic carousels across the country, owning the Dee building and pushing forward with plans for the Dee area. The Perron collection now has about 1,100 carved carousel horses and 21 working carousel mechanisms, seven in pristine condition, taking up two large buildings. Well, it was two, until the roof collapsed in Dee. When we visited, construction of a new roof was underway, and lots of carousel parts were covered with tarps. Other parts and been removed to be stored and dried elsewhere. John explained that the Perrons’ plan was to eventually turn the building into a new museum that would contain six operating carousels as well as a display of the collection. And if that doesn’t seem ambitious enough, the Perrons consider the museum to be a mere amenity to go along with a DeeTour hotel and concert venue to be built adjacently.
When we left the Dee building we went to the second large storage building on the elder Perrons’ farm, where we took the pictures that appear below. As we left the second building, John showed us the site of an intended additional storage building, presumably to house the surplus after the Dee building is used as a museum.
The magnitude of the collection and of the effort to save the carousel tradition left us dumbstruck. And heartsick, because we had learned of the ill health of Carol and of the age of Duane. It was only while doing web research about their efforts that I learned about the existence and important role son Brad now plays. We hope to, one day not too distant in the future, be able to visit a thriving center at Dee, Oregon.