There seems little question that some people pack more life into their years than others. Jim Estep of Eagle Point is one of those folks. He served in the Navy during two of our country’s wars, flew missions all over the world, lived in the jungles, raised a family, and amassed one of the most amazing collections of model houses, trains and airplanes that anyone has seen. During that time, he has been a flight engineer, and served on one of the earlier classes of destroyers in the Navy. He has chipped ice at 40-below on his ship and was captured by the Greek army—twice—even though they are our allies. He was witness to the first ever hydrogen bomb blast and has lived to tell it. This man, now in his 80s, has been there and done it—all.
Jim was born in Portland and early on moved with his family to Corvallis. Following graduation, there was trouble brewing in Asia, so Jim joined the Navy and quickly found himself on one of the earlier classes of destroyers. Life at sea wasn’t as glamorous as might be expected, especially during the 40 degrees below zero Korean winter. His ship didn’t have inside passageways, so to move from one area to another required that sailors walk along frozen decks, covered with ice. Three years of combat followed by a stint in the south Pacific, where the U. S. was experimenting with the Hydrogen bomb. That was supposed to have been under the tightest of security, but word quickly leaked out and soon everyone knew of the “secret” tests.
Following the tests, Estep and his fellow crewmen went to some of the nearby islands where they had to treat and assist natives who suffered blindness as a result of the blasts. They flew inhabitants from their homeland to treatment facilities elsewhere.
Following that initial tour of duty, Estep returned to civilian life, and got a degree in aeronautical engineering. He became a flight engineer, though he held all the certifications required for flight crews. Once again in the Navy, he flew combat support missions in Vietnam in his C-118. It was during this stretch that the Greek military was attempting to overthrow the Greek government. They nabbed Estep because he was an American. It was just a few hours before gaining his freedom, but he and his crew made the mistake of flying to Crete, again a Greek island, where they were promptly arrested and spent more time in captivity at the hands of the rebels. Released unharmed they flew back to their base in Italy where they enjoyed a few days R & R before resuming their duties.
Now a veteran flyer, Estep transitioned into the DC-9 aircraft, a twin jet engine plane that took him around the world many times over. Following his service time, he flew for Wycliffe Bible Translators. That organization required him to learn different languages and learn about the cultures where he was flying.
Over the years, Estep began collecting models of houses. During that time, the collection grew and he included railroad stations, churches, more houses and tiny models of retail stores, lighthouses and other models. So with all those models taking up space, Estep added model railroads and incorporated them all into table-top communities. His RV storage area is covered with table-top models, each with an operating train—or two—and tracks that take the models around in circles as they make authentic train noises and carry an imaginary cargo. Each of the small buildings contains tiny lights, fed by the electric wires that run under the bottom of the panel on which the houses rest. Table tops are covered with outdoor green carpet, intended to look like lawns. Each of the tables, seven in all, is literally covered with houses and trains.
That would be more than enough of a assortment to satisfy the most dedicated collector, but that is not all that is in Estep’s collection. Out side walls of the RV barn are not filled with tools, as the average shop, but with more trains, models of airplanes and an amazing collection of both past and more modern aircraft. The airplane buff will quickly notice the pictures of the P-40, the P-41, of course there is the DC-9. But that collection also boasts the SR-71, an incredible aircraft capable of flying Mach 3, at incredibly high altitude.
Each time you look around the Estep collection, you notice something that didn’t at first catch your eye. There is a set of stairs, and up those are more collections of trains, airplanes and other memories.
It is said that if you find an interesting person, it is because they have interests. Saying that Jim Estep has interests is an understatement. This man is not a book, but an entire encyclopedia. What can be learned from him could take years.
And, oh, by the way, did I tell about the episode where he swam with the sharks?