Wally Olson/Evergreen Airpark, Vancouver

This website is dedicated to Wally and Evergreen Airpark. In rememberance of Wally and the airport, we invite those of you who were there to share your stories of Wally and the years of Evergreen Airpark, for each other, and those of us who were not there. This website will be created entirely from e-mailed contributions.

Please e-mail your stories, and pictures (in .jpg or .gif format) to: evergreen@wheretofly.com

More pictures of Wally
Wally Olson at the bench where he once sat with Charles Lindbergh

February 22, 1998, Michelle Miller (Mmillerm@aol.com) wrote:

My name is Michelle, and I learned to fly at evergreen on Wallys old c-150's. I loved flying out of evergreen because it was so friendly. I always talked to Wally before and after my flights. I helped Wally work on the planes and he would tell some grand stories. I have moved to Arizona and I miss evergreen so much. I was still around evergreen when Wally died and I went to the memorial fly by and it was huge. So many folks from every where around the world. Wally truly impacted everyones life. I love evergreen and the memory will be with me forever.

January 18, 1998, Adam Smith (malaga@u.washington.edu) wrote:

I knew Wally for over 20 years. During this time, I heard many stories from many people as to how great an aviator and promoter of aviation Wally Olson was. I worked at Evergreen for three summers, and what impressed me even more than Wally's skill as an aviator was the way that he ran the airport and the flying service. Here are a couple stories I remember very clearly (some are funny, some not):

A rather bull-headed student was going to use a trip North from Evergreen as one leg of his long cross-country flight as part of his private pilot training (I think he was supposed to be headed for Seattle). Anyway, after being approved by his instructor, he proceeded to break his flight plan and purposely fly around some of the large hills to the East of I-5. After returning (rather late) from his flight, Wally heard of his "jaunt," but had no proof that he went anywhere other than where he was told to go. I was in the office with some instructors and this student when Wally, aware of what happened, came in. He proceeded to ask the standard questions after a student returns from a cross-country flight (i.e. "are you tired?" "did you make all your checkpoints" etc.), but slipped in the question "How was the scenery -- did you like all the trees?" knowing full well that a trip straight up I-5 isn't all that exciting as far as hills and trees are concerned. The student responded, "It was great - there were lots of trees." Wally looked him square in the eye and said very quietly, "Up there in those hills? Where would you have landed?" and walked out of the room. I wouldn't have wanted to be that student!

The hat thing: A well known fact about Wally was that you could tell what kind of mood he was in by the position of his ever-present hat. I've been at the airport when he was happy (hat straight forward), agitated (slightly crooked), upset (takes hat off, puts it back on crooked), mad (takes it off and bangs it on a table) and mad-like- someone-just-busted-a-tailwheel-on-N43387 (throws hat on ground). My best friend says that one time Wally actually threw the hat on the ground and then jumped on it a couple times. Some of the instructors would watch while Wally was walking toward the office and if his hat was crooked or off, they would get out FAST!

One of my favorite things about Wally was how much he appreciated everything to do with aviation. When he was building the Jenny, you couldn't find one thread on one piece of cloth out of place. If someone came in working on a project that they needed a part for, he always knew where to find one (usually around the airport somewhere). When someone bought a new airplane and came by the airport, Wally would go out to the gas pit or wherever it was at and look it over, complimenting the owner on whatever he could find that was good about the airplane. Sometimes someone would come in with a taildragger that was in prime condition, and Wally would talk with the owner for hours.

Wally was very quick witted. During the last few years of his life, many people kept asking and asking if he was going to sell the airport (anyone that knew him knew that the answer was no). One time, someone came in and right off the top stated, "so, Wally, I hear you're selling the airport." Without missing a beat, Wally pulled his keys out of his pocket, tossed them on the table, and said "Sure! How much money do you have in your pocket -- it's yours!" The person didn't ask anymore.

Wally developed creative ways of doing things. As he got older, he wasn't able to lift outright things that he formerly could, and consequently became a master of rolling things. He would roll full oil barrels on the edge, lean something on a dolly, I swear the guy could have rolled an oak desk if he needed to.

He was one of the best teachers in any field that I've ever seen. He could quickly assess exactly how the student would best learn, then do it. One of my friends went up for an intro flight, and right after takeoff, Wally just let go and said, "okay, YOU fly." My friend was scared, but he got the hang of it early. With others, he would do most of the flying, and let the student fly increasingly more and more as they became comfortable. My favorite teaching method was one student (who is now a fine pilot) who could do all the maneuvers but just couldn't find the ground. He decided to take a flight with Wally to see if he could help. Wally watched him once around the pattern (and had to rescue the landing), and discovered that the student would just give up on the landing a few feet away from touchdown. The next time around, Wally watched carefully, and right before the student was about to let go, he yelled "LAND THE AIRPLANE!" -- the student has been fine ever since.

I could go on and on about Wally - I have so many stories about him that I couldn't type them all in several years (and I type fast!). I'll just leave saying that he was a great aviator and a great man. I do and always will miss Wally, and I am proud to be his grandson. ---Adam Smith

February 8, 1998 Steve Smith (dalan1@ix.netcom.com) wrote: "I loved my Grandpa."

Hi, my name is Steve Smith. You have probobly seen my brothers letter/page on the website. I loved my grandpa alot, he`s probobly the most fantastic man that I will ever know in my life. Well I guess that I haven`t really told you who I am, I am one of Wally`s three grandsons. Wally also has two other gandsons, their name`s are Tony and Adam. Tony is my cusin, and Adam is my older brother that lives Seatle right now. Wally was a great grandpa too. He and my grandma would take me and Tony up to Mountnoma Falls when there was no school. I wish that I could have been around when he made the airport. But I guess that a 12 year old can`t go back in time 52 years. Well one more time I`ll say that my grandpa was a really fantastic man, and I wish he was still alive today. -Steve Smith

July 22, 1997 Dennis Jackson wrote (denny@transport.com):

Hey Gang, If any of you know Wally, you will want to know that he slipped the surly bonds of earth for the last time yesterday. I'm one of thousands who can say that he was the first instructor I had and I'm one of thousands who will really miss the old cuss. What a legend! When I get more time I'll try to post a story or two about him here. Fair skies, Wally. ---Dennis Jackson

29 July, 1997 Marie Carmen Eastman (Eastman123@aol.com) wrote:

There will be an airshow at Evergreen on August 15, 16 & 17. Wally was the owner of that field and there will be a special tribute to him. Wally Olson was the most humble pilot I knew. Wherever I asked him if I could video him talking about Evergreen field he'd say. "You don't want to do that - there's nothing to say. This is just an old airfield, that's all." He fought hard to keep that field with businesses and houses popping up everywhere around there. Now that old field is a multi-million dollar piece of property. His daughters LeAnne & Sheryl say they will keep it running in memory of their father. He worked that field from morning to night, 7 days a week for over 50 years. He gave "free" introduction flights to thousands of people throughout their years just to get them interested in aviation. His ashes have been scattered by his best friend, Clyde Wells in his super cub up near St. Helens where you can only hike in. Clyde Wells is also in his 80's & flew the ashes up in his super cub. He flew to 5300 feet & scattered the ashes there so Wally could be a member of the mile high club. Wally Olson was a legend never to be forgotten. We all loved him here at Evergreen ---Carmen Marie Eastman

22 July 1997 Steven Estergreen (slester@molalla.net) wrote:

For those of you who don't know Wally, he operated Evergreen Airpark in Vancouver, U.S.A., continuously since the 1940's. Evergreen has been a haven for antiquers (long-time home of the North West Antique Aircraft Ass'n) and often the only place in the Portland/Vancouver area to get a tailwheel checkout and then RENT a tailwheel aircraft for solo/PIC flight. At MUCH less than the going price for a Cessna 150/152 at the other places. If for no other reason, I'm sure that made him at least partially responsible for more tailwheel pilots than any one else alive in the U.S.A.. He worked at the airport daily well into his 80's. I always hated to fly there on hot days, because I knew it would be Wally hand-starting the Taylorcraft or Champ for me. A couple times I felt silly enough about it that I asked hiim to get in and let me prop it instead, but do you think he would? There's not much else I can say, I only flew at Evergreen the last couple of years. Wally, my hat's off to you.---Steven Estergreen

24 Jul 1997, Reese Thompson (reese.thompson@tek.COM) wrote:

I have based my plane at Evergreen Field for over ten years now and got to know Wally. NWAAC is a club he helped start and donated the field to NWAAC for the fly-in every year since 1964. Last monday there was a fly by of ten biplanes, all from the nineteen thirtys. ---Reese Thompson

24 Jul 1997 Vlado Lenoch (MLenoch@aol.com) wrote:

I did my very first low altitude airshow at Evergreen during the 1983 fly-in. I flew a Pitts S-1C at the two day event. My friend, Terry Chamberlain, announced for me at this first airshow as an announcer. We had fun. We met many nice fliers. Though we did not meet Wally, his legend was spoken on the ramp during the show. ---Vlado Lenoch

August 01, 1997 2:02 Robert Grove (PMIIM1RMG@IIM.UPS.COM) wrote:

Wally and his operation were a credit to aviation, an inspiration to me and to many others, and a living piece of aviation history. Wally was a living reminder of what makes us want to fly. Sometimes, when life was going by too fast to enjoy, I would go up to Evergreen field in my plane, leve it on Wally's ramp, and rent his Champ. Flying around the pattern at Evergreen field, which is across the Columbia river from Portland International (PDX) (There is a cutout in the 40/SFC ring of the PDX Class C airspace for Evergreen field), in Wally's Champ with no radio, no artificial horizon, no flaps, no electrical system etc., intentionally lining up to land on the grass runway parallel to the paved runway, and watching the 757s lined up on final across the river is like living a moment in a time-warp. It is a now and then juxtaposition of time that really helps with aviation perspective.

Flying Wally's planes, which he rented at 1950 rates wet, really helped me remember why I love to fly. So did watching Wally hand oiling the valve-rockers on his Jenny with a squirt can (there was no automatic oiling system).

I once had a ride in Wally's Waco UPF-7 that I can only describe as a "religious" experience.

Wally and his instructors taught "stick & rudder" flying. They taught how to "feel" the airplane, to "listen" to what it's telling you. In other words, how to get the full feeling of flying. Had it not been for Wally and his airport, I would still love flying, but I probably would have never known how much I missed.

As others have said, Wally was a true gentleman. He was also a little shy, and he shunned attention. I remember one year when he was a little upset at some local news folks. They approached him at the Portland Hillsboro airshow and interviewed him for a TV newscast. They told him that they were just making home movies to relax him. He was always glad to talk aviation to anyone, but I can't picture him conscenting to a "news" interview. He didn't know that these folks were reporters until after he appeared on TV. I remember a few years ago when Wally decided to let a very nice woman (Mary?) be a wingwalker for him. (Another long story).

I remember Wally once telling me that he would keep Evergreen open and leave it pretty much alone as long as he could still pass his 2nd Class medical and teach. (The land is much more valuable for development than it is for an airport, and many of the folks who live in subdivisions built around the airport want it closed for "safety" reasons - the airport was there long before the subdivions).

We had a rec.aviation flyin at Evergreen 8-10 years ago (back when it was all one newsgroup). There were a lot of folks there from WA, OR, and CA, even some from NJ and NH. Wally treated us like visiting family.

Wally was a fine man, and a great aviator. I'll miss him.

All opinions contained herein are mine. ---Robert Grove

Date: Tue, 25 Dec 2001 11:45:45 -0800
From: John Crawford 
To: evergreen@wheretofly.com
Subject: Wally

My name is John Crawford. I lived in Portland from 1979 to 1988. I learned to fly from Wally in the fall of 1980. In 1988 I moved away and pretty much lost touch with him. I have just started flying again, related to my job, and found your website. I guess I figured Wally would have passed on by now and I regret only finding out about it now. It is really great that you have put together this memorial site. He was someone really special. Below are some memories and thoughts about Wally:

When I first started flying with him (I had been told to go to Wally to learn 'real flying' in taildraggers), Wally would give a free philosophy lecture with the flying lesson. I worked at Tektronix as an engineer, and every time out he would regale me with how the world and the country was being destroyed by "guys like me" who just pushed pencils for living and made life tough for "guys like him". I didn't mind, because I figured he was probably right.

Coming in for landing after the first flight (in the Taylorcraft) he introduced me to landing in a simple clear way that has stuck with me ever since. I still repeat the words to myself... As we came in over the pine trees to land on the grass, he said "you don't want to run into the ground, so you level off...", then as the airplane slowed, "just hold it off, hold it off,..hold it off." And of course the plane settled into a perfect three-point landing. That's it. That's landing.

I always admired Wally, opening and closing those big wooden hangar doors, pushing those airplanes around. What an inspiration. I'm sure I'm not the only one who privately said to him/herself: "When I'm that age, that's how I want to be!"

I always looked longingly at the Waco (N29949) and wondered if I could ever fly that incredible plane. One day I asked Wally if he'd take me up in it for some dual. We had to wait a season for engine work or whatever. Finally we went up and I was hooked! Wally taught me basic aerobatics nonverbally from the front seat. He'd point to himself, then do a maneuver like a snap roll. I could feel the movements through the stick and rudder pedals. Then he'd point back to me for me to do it. When we'd land he'd make a few comments for me to think about before next time. Before too long he checked me out. I was so proud to be in that small group that he let fly that plane. I spent the better part of three summers out every weekend I could, flying the Waco and practicing the basic loops, spins, snap rolls and hammerheads he taught me.

Once I got a big promotion at work, and I told Wally about it. I was put in charge of a site with about 100 people. I expected to get one of his 'paper pusher' lectures and I planned to make light of it. Instead, he looked me in the eye and said in a serious voice "That's a lot of responsiblity..." If there was any part of me that didn't take that responsibility seriously before, it was gone after that.

One thing about Wally was his sense of humor that was second to none. A classic Wally incident: I was in the hangar with him getting ready to fly or just coming back, I don't remember. This guy walks in, a former student I guess, with his date; going to take her flying and he's reserved the T-Craft. We pull it out of the hangar and the guy starts pre-flighting it. His date is looking very skeptically at this old ragwing taildragger she's about to go for a ride in. She turns to Wally and points to the plane as her boyfriend is doing the walkaround and asks "Is that thing safe?" Without missing a beat, Wally responds in that sincere, reassuring tone of his: "Sure it is......Until HE gets in it!" (gesturing at the boyfriend) and got that great twinkle in his eyes.

If I think of any more, I'll send them along.

Like many others I'm sure, I'll never forget him. I still feel like he's with me sometimes giving me a certain guidance.

John Crawford
311 Cypress Point Drive
Mountain View, CA 94043

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