Local Museums to Get Your Fire Truck, Plane & Boat Fix

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What are your kids made of? Sugar, spice and everything nice? Maybe sometimes. Frogs, snails and puppy dog tails? Some days this seems all too possible.  Likeliest of all your minis are an ever-changing combo of curiosity, energy and rationality. So…that leaves us with the always appealing job of keeping these young and zesty minds engaged; piloting our Subarus, minivans, and Bakfiets to new, exciting and educational dens of bemusement for the under ten set. Here are three soaring, clanging and shipshape ideas for just that.

Fly Like An Eagle
Right across the Columbia River is the amazing Pearson Air Museum.  You can find it situated happily in Vancouver at Pearson Field, the first airfield in the Pacific Northwest and the oldest operating airfield in the west (rad!).  Here mini aviators and their grown ups can try their hands at takeoffs and landings in the flight simulator lab, climb into a kiddo sized Swift chopper and/or plane complete with controls and rudders, explore a vertical wind tunnel whooshing paper cylinders high into the air (even two year olds can do it), discover physics via an air versus ball demo area, and repeatedly land a bomber on an aircraft carrier (not actual sizes of course). Yes, you will start humming the theme to Top Gun.

The planes are circa 1913–1987 and include a Cessna that flew around the world in 1956–57 and the world’s first bomber. Awesome. Your family’s chance to tour the second oldest wooden hangar in the US beckons and so does Snoopy, who has been known to hang out in a cockpit or two. Be sure to let your little aircraft enthusiasts discover him making like a pilot.

Build, Fly, Learn
Pearson Air Museum loves kids. On the first Saturday of each month they host a toddler story time called “Soaring with Books” held under the wing of an airplane and showcasing the four forces of flight: gravity, lift, thrust and drag, or the first flight across the English Channel or the three axis of flight.  After there’s super-cool aviation-themed kiddo activities. 10:00 am for take off, little aces!

Simply Scientific Saturdays are another fab program for the older kiddo propeller-heads. Occurring one Saturday a month at 10:00 am for an hour and a half, the themes vary monthly and include amazing projects like building water rockets, making flying wonders from everyday household items and model aircraft and radio control planes demos.  How soon can you get your little aviators there?

Open Cockpit Days held twice a year draw many a happy jetsetter for the rare chance to climb inside vintage planes and (if the weather cooperates) get a chance to soar! An Annual Harvest Day and Christmas at the Museum Day (Santa, trees, photos) round out some of the many, many family-fabulous outings that await here.

What to Know Before You Go
Pearson Air Museum & Bookstore are open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission prices are $7 for adults, $5 for students aged 6–17, Children under 6 are free. There is a family rate of $22 for two adults and up to 4 kids. Open Cockpit days are for all, but the chance to fly in these planes is reserved for those ages 8–18 and Super Science Saturdays require pre-registration two weeks in advance and cost $8–$24.  If you want a double header while up in The ‘Couv, check out their city library. It’s about a ten-minute drive and guarantees endless joy—come rain or come shine.

Pearson Air Museum is located in Fort Vancouver’s National Site:
115 E Fifth Street
Vancouver, Wa 98661

Stop, Walk or Roll to The Safety Learning Center & Fire Museum
The Historic Belmont Firehouse is an interactive and educational fire station museum and a junior fire fighter’s dream come true.  Opening its doors to the public the second Saturday of every month and Wednesdays (9:00 am – 3:00 pm), you and your little red hat wearers can check out the 1860 hose cart, slide down a fire pole, study photos of Portland’s fire fighters over the years (and all the changes to gear and trucks), see where the hay used to be stored for the horses, and chat with/high five real firefighting superstars.

Not to be missed is the virtual and veritable emergency response on the Fire Engine Experience. You and the kiddos climb inside the cab of an actual fire truck, buckle in and then ride along as the crew race to the site of a broken down car on an onramp to I-84. Sirens blare, lights flash and cars pull over to the side as you watch out the windshield. After spending 15 minutes with this (audio) crew you will have a sense for how hairy it is to navigate traffic in one of these humongous rigs.

Smoke Signals: Know Before You Go
Fire safety cartoons include Little Richard (for reals!), a small gift shop is onsite and the museum is available for private tours, birthday parties, and custom events.  They enforce a strict no running policy.  Make it a double play by visiting Sunnyside Playground (two blocks away on SE 35th and SE Yamhill) or the many other rock solid indoor options in the ‘hood.

The Historic Belmont Firehouse
900 SE 35th Avenue (at Belmont)
Portland, Or  97214

Take Me To The River
The Oregon Maritime Museum is an actual tugboat. That’s cool, right? Well, it just happens to be the last operating steam sternwheel tug in the US. Now, that is wicked  COOL . And it just gets cooler. Models of the aptly named Portland, plus many other ships from our river-boating heyday are on display, the Children’s Corner gives the little tugrats a chance to tie knots, sound a foghorn, check out historic naval diving helmets and boots (crazy to see what they used to wear) and have a go at the lights and signals on a model of the boat. The best fifteen minutes you can spend aboard is on the family tour of the boat. You get to see the pilothouse and the engine room. The view from the top is splendid and so is the big wheel that requires two men to steer. The engine room in the base of the boat is cavernous, impressive and full of history…and three honking boilers.

Anchors Away: Fun Facts
This steam sternwheeler is made of steel and was built in 1947. As a tug, it did not push or pull other boats. Rather it was strapped alongside and would turn even the biggest, heaviest boats 180 degrees quickly and without needing much space. Strong! It is still taken out a few times each summer for fundraising, with passengers sitting on the top deck, or Texas Deck as they like to call it. The Portland is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Oregon Maritime Museum is open year round, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays 11:00 am – 4:00 pm and Sundays 12:30 pm – 4:30 pm Adults cost $7, Seniors $5, Students 13–18 $4, Kids 6–12 $3 and under 6s are free.  Family Saturdays are an excellent way to see the tug up close and for free.  Find it on the Willamette River at SW Naito Parkway & Pine, deliciously close to Portland Saturday Market. Ahoy!

Where do you go in Portland to get your fix for everything firetruck, plane, and boat related? 

— Liz Overson

Thanks for the photos Portland Fire & Rescue, Pearson Air Museum and the Oregon Maritime Museum.