NASA Surprise

In a teeny tiny town in Oregon, there is a teeny tiny NASA museum.

Some of the best adventures are those that are completely unexpected.

The ladies of the Belle Brigade decided to get together on Saturday to catch up on each others’ lives and re-tell our stories of The Big Race. The host lives in a town that is close to where Tara and their partner, Cameron, live. We all decided to show up in the town early and spend a few hours together before I went to my gathering.

I had selected a restaurant in the tiny Oregon town of Aumsville that looked like a good meet-up place, and we all pulled into the parking lot at noon and saw that the restaurant was closed. Cameron checked his phone and invested about 23 seconds, then suggested a new place that had 4.8 stars in Yelp reviews. Cam, Tara, Pedro, and I hopped into our cars and drove a few miles to Stayton, the next town over. Though the circumstances leading us there were accidental, the Gardner House Bed & Breakfast and Café turned out to be a GREAT stop. There was a fabulous surprise ….AND super great food and drinks.

The Gardner House Bed & Breakfast and Café in Stayton, Oregon.
In an unassuming neighborhood, it’s a relaxing place for tea.

James Loftus met us as we walked in, led us to a table, and handed two menus to each person. The first menu was just drinks, front and back. There were so many coffees and chais and juices and teas teas teas. I was delighted with all the tea, and picked a favourite: jasmine pearls. The others asked for fancy coffee drinks. Each of us chose a different breakfast plate. Though it was just after noon, James told us he serves breakfast all day, and that’s what we all wanted. Pedro got a breakfast panini, I had a Belgian waffle with fruit, Cameron asked for corned beef hash, and Tara wanted scrambled eggs, home fries and sausage.

Our host was very comfortable in his element, efficient and knowledgeable, and joked with the other diners in our cozy dining room in the front of a restored  1898 Queen Anne Victorian house. He came over to our table and said, “I’m caught up and have a few minutes. Would you like a quick tour of our museum?” The answer was obviously “Yes!”

James Loftus is the son of Joseph P. Loftus Jr., who left his career as an Air Force pilot and had a long and distinguished career with the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. Joseph Loftus retired from NASA in 2001, after his pivotal contribution to one of the main challenges of space exploration today. Loftus was one of the first to bring up the concern of space debris, and worked many years on researching and educating the scientific community about the dangers of orbital debris.

Naturally, his son James developed an enthusiasm for things NASA related, and began a collection. He calls it the JPL Museum, for Joseph P Loftus, but also as a tease to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As James explained, the different departments had a good-natured rivalry, and it was fun that the museum name is the same as a department his father’s department was in a rivalry with. This museum collection has been increased by items gifted to the museum by NASA, such as space boots and an Apollo Spacecraft attitude control engine.

Inside the café, where you can see framed documents on the walls, and one of the museum display cases next to the pastry case.
This is a shot of just the case from the above photo. Oh hey, I’m in this photo!

There are curio cases and framed documents and photos covering the walls of the café. We were led to each one and got a little back story and insight into what we were looking at. Tara was impressed with an image of a thin section – a piece of “lunar rock” that was photographed at macro level and turned out to be an Earth rock that ended up on the Moon as a result of the proto planet-Earth collision that caused the Moon to form. My favourite were the two skulls that were likely from among the 40 chimpanzees in the Mercury Chimpanzee Program, who were trained to travel to space and take the risks, until we were ready to send humans to space.

James’ dad is in this photo, but I was too far back and didn’t see which one.
This display case is behind the cash register.
James has good reason to believe this skull once belonged to a chimpanzee named Phil, who was in the Mercury Chimpanzee Program.

The tour began in the main dining area, then moved into the next room. While James talked, two of the guests got quiet when they stopped eating and talking, and listened. As our group began to move away, one of the women exclaimed, “I want to come!” and James laughed and said, “Well, come along, then.” Then he led us to another display case behind the cash register. While we were back there, he pointed to a framed article and blue ribbon, which he said with pride was earned by his daughter at the fair for her baking.

He interrupted his talk for a couple of minutes when new guests arrived for High Tea. He greeted and settled them comfortably in an adjacent room that we hadn’t yet noticed, then returned to finish our tour while the new guests looked at their menus.

NASA stuff at eye level, and family stuff up the stairs.

The JPL Museum is dedicated to education, and gives special attention to Oregon students. Funding is through donations. James seemed especially excited to be able to talk about NASA to kids in the area, to help make a career in space seem more accessible to them.

If you’re anywhere near Stayton, do consider stopping in. The food was delicious. The drinks were delicious. The museum is a delight.

Cameron and Tara wait for their coffees to cool.
The kids on our way out.

As you can see from the photos, it was a splendid day. We returned to Aumsville and went to Aumsville Ponds County Park, to enjoy the weather while we talked some more and waited for my 3pm gathering. Then it was time to say goodbye. I hugged and kissed my kids and sent them back to Corvallis, and we went over to Amy’s house.

Pedro and Tara at one of the ponds’ information signs.
There is a trail around one of the ponds.
It was such a pretty day. I think the Mallards were enjoying it too.

6 thoughts on “NASA Surprise

  1. I love finding new and fascinating places to stop and visit. I’ve never been in that area but know a lady from Stayton. Looks like everyone had a fun day. Glad you all got a chance to spend time together.

    1. It’s sort of close to you – just an hour down 213. Cute little town with multiple Victorian style houses, like this one. We did have a fun day. The very next day, Tara and Cameron took Cam’s younger sibling out to the pumpkin patch on Sauvie Island. So their weekend was pretty fun.

  2. I read this days ago and keep getting distracted. How wonderful that there is such a cute place to have lunch with those you love. I’ve not been but I have a friend that has family in Stayton. She was always talking about it. How fun to see such interesting things while you are having lunch and so generous of the owner to take the time to show you around. So rare these days. Hope you are doing well and staying happy. I know without a doubt you are very busy as usual.

    1. I’m busy just like you, Marlene. Thinking about your sewing machine that needs some quality time with me. I just spotted a rip in a skirt and added it to my sewing “To Do” pile, and realized it’s time to get all those repairs taken care of! I am pretty happy. I stayed mostly happy even through the worst of the pandemic. I have to admit that retiring is the likely culprit. I’ve been happier more often than not ever since I left my job. Too bad, cuz it was a good job and I loved my vets, but I’m sure I’m going to live longer now.

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