The Wild Story Behind the Military Plane Inside Vagabond Brewing

The Salem-based brewery expanded to Portland in February—and promptly got an annoyed visit from the US Air Force.

By Ryan Ashby April 17, 2019

There is a series of things you expect to see when you walk into a brewery—tanks, taps, and, more than likely, beards. A decommissioned military plane hanging in the rafters isn’t necessarily one of them.

But at Vagabond you’ll find just that. The Salem-based brewery, which already operates three locations in the state capital, quietly opened its seven-barrel Portland beachhead in February. Inside the newly renovated Dairy Building at SE Eighth and Division, Vagabond serves a lineup of 12 beers—including its flagship Attack Owl IPA—shipped up from Salem while the Portland brewery gets up to speed. (An official grand opening will come once the Portland-brewed beers are ready.)

And all of this is set underneath the wings of a post-World War II twin-prop plane.

“This a ’58 Cessna … originally issued to the military,” says Vagabond Brewing general manager, Kyle Jensen, gesturing toward the 30-foot plane nesting above the entryway. “We literally built this place around [the] plane.” 

The Cessna 310B was originally commissioned and built for the US Marines as a recon plane, after which it traded hands between private owners before finally crash-landing in a remote British Columbia field several years ago. Vagabond’s owners negotiated a price with the local BC fire department, who had salvaged the plane.

“We traded them a keg of beer for it,” says Dean Howes, who cofounded the brewery in Salem five years ago with two other Marine vets. “The overall Vagabond theme stems from our travels and adventures. The plane as the centerpiece is pretty iconic and strong.”

Getting the plane from Canada to Portland wasn’t easy—a tense standoff with US border agents ended only after they simply got tired of the situation. “They said, ‘I’m tired of looking at your faces. So, just get out of here and don’t run into any trouble in Washington.” But the real trouble came after the team had positioned the plane in the brewery.

Construction and re-assembly

During reassembly, it turned out someone had accidentally switched on an emergency homing beacon in the rear of the plane. (“We thought none of this was active!” says Jensen.) Not long after, Jensen found himself face to face with three members of the US Air Force, who explained they had spent the past three days trying to track down the source of the mysterious signal, which looked to them like a downed plane in Portland’s inner east side. After scouring the area for wreckage, they finally spotted the Vagabond Portland logo, with a 1950s-era plane at its center. After some crawling and cutting, the visitors removed the 60-year-old transponder from the plane’s tail.

The episode did at least provide the brewery with the name for its new IPA: “Transponder.”

What else can you find at Vagabond now? A full menu from head chef Victor Deras, formerly of Olympia Provisions, features 16-hour house-smoked ribs and a towering fried chicken sandwich. Vagabond also features a “great googly moogly” of a work-week happy hour, with discounted fare and all pints priced at $3.50. Throw in the fact that the outpost started serving brunch this past weekend—and a retractable glass garage door for when the sun starts finally shining—and you might be hard-pressed to find a reason not to stop in for an hour or two. 

Just be careful not to hit any switches on the plane.

Inside the cockpit of Vagabond's 1958 Cessna

Image: Ryan Ashby


Filed under
Show Comments