By Jack El-Hai, (Regular Contributor)
The United States was in the midst of a severe housing shortage in 1946 when Roy Rasmussen, a Marine Corps veteran, spotted a section of a B-29 bomber airplane sitting in a scrap metal yard in Omaha, Nebraska. Along with his wife, Evelyn, and two-year-old son, Roy Jr., Rasmussen needed an affordable place to live while he was taking classes at the University of Minnesota, so he bought the 20-foot-long hunk for $130 and towed it up to Minneapolis.
Over the next several weeks, Rasmussen fixed up the fuselage—formerly the portion of the airplane that housed the crew and radio section— and installed a cooking range, stove, sink, closet, fold-down tables, and a davenport that doubled as the couple’s bed.
“One day I saw this thing coming down the street,” recalled Charles Amble, the owner of a service station at the corner of Eighteenth and East Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. “The man pulling it said he was looking for a place to park it. I thought it was kind of a novelty, so I said he could park it next to my station.”
For the next year, the Rasmussens lived in the bomber on Amble’s property. They used the service station’s bathroom, and Roy Jr. played in back of the airplane in a sandbox made from a bubble window of the fuselage. Evelyn Rasmussen did not recall whether the home received much attention from her neighbors. “It was located in the back and under a tree, so I don’t think too many people noticed it,” she said.
Soon, however, the Rasmussens sold the bomber to another couple, Galen and Elayne Armstrong. Elayne remembered that she and her husband frequently hosted parties there, watched the trains pass on the nearby tracks, and “loved the view of the bubble where the gunner was [and where we] could lay in bed and look at the stars.” After about seven years, the Armstrongs sold the home to a Mr. Lewis, who, Elayne believed, moved the bomber about 90 miles north to a location near Lake Mille Lacs.
Roy Rasmussen’s strange living space had at least temporarily saved the day. “I thought it was wonderful that he thought of it, and there was no place else left to live,” said Evelyn Rasmussen.
This is an excerpt from Jack El-Hai’s book Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places (University of Minnesota Press).
Jack El-Hai is a writer of books and articles who covers medicine, science, and history. His books include The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (PublicAffairs Books, 2013; optioned for screen and stage by Mythology Entertainment), Nonstop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness (Wiley, 2005), and many volumes of regional and business history. He teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and serves on the board of The Loft Literary Center.