Money Squabble Looms Over Spruce Goose Museum

Evergreen Airlines bankruptcy places museum in jeopardy.

The McMinnville, Oregon, museum housing Howard Hughes’ mammoth H-4 Hercules (better known as the “Spruce Goose”) is facing financial scrutiny, and the ownership of the historic airplane is in question. The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is backed by Evergreen International Airlines founder Delford Smith, 83, and along with some of Smith’s other business entities, the cargo carrier is facing financial difficulty. According to reports in the Oregon Live online news source, creditors are trying to force Evergreen International Airlines into Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and the Oregon Department of Justice is investigating whether or not funds from Smith’s businesses have been illegally comingled with museum financing.

Though the popular belief is that the museum bought the Spruce Goose for $1, apparently Smith agreed to pay its previous owner $500,000 over 20 years, plus a share of the museum profits. An attorney for the Aero Club of Southern California claims the museum still owes $50,000. Museum director Larry Wood told reporters he was unaware of the debt, and Smith himself said in a telephone interview, “I had no idea that they felt we still owed them money. I thought we were free and clear on [the Spruce Goose].”

While it’s possible the Aero Club could repossess the giant, eight-engine wooden flying boat, its fate would be in question. It took a massive (and expensive) effort to dismantle and move the airplane from Long Beach, California, to Oregon in 1993. The climate-controlled building housing the airplane was essentially constructed around it. Aero Club attorney Robert Lyon said, “To call it a white elephant would be an understatement. But concern has arisen of what we are going to do if they default on the note and we have to take the boat back. I wonder if they have enough money to take it apart and get it out of the building.”

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