August 11th, 2009

ChapourisMarch 2009

Santa Paula Airport

…a must see L.A. day trip!

I read the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times cover to cover, but scour the Calendar Section for interesting destinations for day trips. A few weeks back my neighbor (top fuel drag racing legend Carl Olson) and I stumbled upon such an event while enjoying our favorite periodical. Barbara McQueen (third wife of actor Steve McQueen) was doing a book signing, offering up her magnificent coffee table book, Steve McQueen, the Last Mile. The best part was the signing would take place at one of Steve’s favorite haunts, the Santa Paula Airport. That’s all we needed to hear; plans were made and set in stone.


Carl, me and our ladies, Carol C. and Kathy O., are huge fans of McQueen and even though I had spent a lot of time in the general vicinity I had never experienced the Santa Paula Airport. You would have thought with me being a big fan and knowing Steve spent most of his time there in the ’70s, I would have made the trek to maybe catch a glimpse of him flying one of his biplanes – shoulda, woulda, coulda, etc. Oh well, this trip would have to do.

Woke up at dawn, wolfed down a Grand Slam, and we were on our way north. The trip from sleepy La Verne to even sleepier Santa Paula, via side trip to Fillmore (had to check out one of Carl’s childhood hangs) took about an hour. I was amazed at how much the region had not changed. The town and surrounding countryside are absolutely stunning. It’s hard to believe that such a place lies undisturbed being so close to L.A. The area is steeped in history being the citrus capital of the world and birthplace of Union Oil.

We arrived at the airport just in time to meet Barbara McQueen up close and personal (owing to Carl’s friend Jim “Jet” Neilson). In fact, it was her first visit to the Airport since McQueen’s untimely death in November 1980. A very charming lady to say the least, she graciously autographed our books and indulged a few photos.

Next on the agenda was a tour of the airport and museum that currently consists of the “Chain of Hangars.” It is a great place that could easily consume the better part of an afternoon. It’s not just about antique and experimental aircraft. It also encompasses: automobiles, race cars, motorcycles, juke boxes, antique radios, paintings, photos, model aircraft and a variety of aviation artifacts. There is something to pique everyone’s interest. It’s a must-see. In fact, for over 10 years, on the first Sunday of each month, aircraft of assorted vintages and types are displayed and the museum hangars are opened to the public.

Like I said earlier, I am disappointed in myself for not visiting sooner and I can certainly see why McQueen gravitated to such a laid back part of the world. Steve was once quoted as saying the Santa Paula Airport was the only kind of country club he was interested in joining. He lovingly spent the last days of his life hanging out with his airport cronies enjoying the down-to-earth lifestyle of antique aviation.

Photo Caption:

That’s my wife, Carol, and me at the Santa Paula Airport with a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub Steve McQueen bought for his wife, Barbara very cool.


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