Guy Buys B-17 For 15K, Makes Most UNIQUE Stop In The World
It’s Just One Of Those Stories That Need To Be Told.
This is one of those stories that are heartwarming, but everything leading up to it seems borderline insane. With all the troubles to make this story a reality, including a plane crash, it’s almost unimaginable that any of this came to be.
Right after World War II ended, Art Lacey got one of the best deals ever. With thousands of B-17s considered surplus as there was no need for them anymore, he got his hands on one for $15,000 at an aircraft graveyard in Kansas. An entrepreneur, his vision was to open up a gas station, using the plane as an overhang. Sweet idea, but everything leading up to completing his vision is newsworthy.
He had a pilot’s license at the time, but not for a four engine plane like the B-17. Unbroken, he taxied around it while he read the users manual. How hard could it be, right?
The yard officials said he couldn’t take off though, as he needed a second person like a co-pilot to get airborne legally. Lacey didn’t know anyone there, so he got a mannequin and placed it in the cockpit. He taxied on by and took off. What he didn’t know however is that he actually needed a REAL person there for a reason as it was impossible for him to lower the landing gear while flying the plane.
So crash land he did. While sliding on the belly of the B-17, he managed to wipe out another B-17 before coming to a stop. The boneyard wrote it off as “wind damaged” because they didn’t write up a bill of sale yet and told him to grab another one for $1,500. (Wouldn’t we all wish it was that easy nowadays.)
Learning his lesson, Lacey conned his friend into being his co-pilot and off they went again. The flight went without incident, but that didn’t mean it was a standard flight. As his daughter later recounted, “hey got lost on the way home – lost in a snowstorm…they almost hit a mountain during the flight and even flew low to the ground so they could see sweet signs and get their bearings.”
The duo landing in an airport nearest to his plot of land he designated for the gas station. The plane still had to be transported there however, but the highway department wouldn’t give him a permit to transport the B-17 no matter how hard he tried.
Resilient as you can imagine and having no more money to revert his plan, Lacey waited for nightfall and decided to moved it himself. He hired a motorcycle escort used for funerals and had them surround him and the plane. He instructed them to “burn rubber and takeoff in the other direction” at the sign of the police so they divert attention away from him. He told them he’d pay the tickets.
Finally, Lacey got the B-17 to his destination and began building his gas station. He operated the 48-pump station from 1947 to 1991, becoming both a tourist attraction as well as a local spot everyone knew. During the 50s, the station also had a ladder in the back of the B-17 allowing visitors to take a tour.
Due to financial issues, Lacey and his family closed the gas station in 1991, but operated an adjacent restaurant called Lacey’s Bomber Restaurant which still attracted visitors.
Over the years, Lacey and his family came to a revelation. Although the B-17 became a landmark for the town, they realized the historical value of the bomber. They started restoring the front section of it, but in 2012 gave it to the B-17 Alliance. They took the bomber down and although it will never return to her long time home, it will now be completely restored.
To check on the progress and donate to the project, visit B17AllianceGroup.com.