Barabara McQueen signs copies of her book, “Steve McQueen, The Last Mile” at the Santa Paula Airport Saturday night. Her husband died 28 years ago. For several years he had a hanger at the Santa Paula Airport and took flying lerssons there. (Photo by Seymour Botan)

McQueen: Airplanes, motorcycles and memories dominate tribute event

December 10, 2008
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesSaturday’s tribute to film star Steve McQueen was dominated by airplanes, motorcycles and memories of the “King of Cool,” who found his “kind’ a country club” at Santa Paula Airport. Hundreds of people - from intimates to fans - gathered to celebrate the life of McQueen and to stand in line for a signed copy of “Steve McQueen: The Last Mile” with photographs by Barbara McQueen, who left their Santa Paula ranch after the film star’s 1980 death.The tribute benefited the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula (AMSP), and Board Director Janice Dickenson said the enthusiasm and turnout were “awesome! People are having fun, everyone is having fun... Steve was very important to our airport and we miss him.” As do others: “There are so many people with stories” that Dickenson said reflected on McQueen’s friendships and life.“We’re very excited about our new home,” the hangar that AMSP President Judy Phelps said would be the museum’s headquarters as well as offer exhibit space. The museum, the “dream” of Bob and Sally Phelps and Bruce and Janice Dickenson, has become, noted Phelps, “a reality.”Carla Edwards, who organized the Citrus Classic Balloon Festival held at the airport, noted the McQueen tribute “adds to the momentum of entertainment and fun” that is offered in Santa Paula. When asked to give Barbara McQueen a tour of the city, Edwards said she jumped at the chance.“The airport was so tremendous” about the balloon festival, “that’s why I was so happy to help” in welcoming Barbara home. “Even if you’ve never been to Santa Paula,” Edwards added, “it looks like home.”Displays included motorcycles, cars and airplanes that had belonged to McQueen, as well as other memorabilia. A signed oversized poster of the film star - “McQueen Drives Porsches” it proclaims - was set up next to a vintage 1942 Indian Scout motorcycle.“It’s a beautiful old machine,” said Reg Pridmore, who met McQueen in 1978 when he rode a motorcycle past his hangar. Pridmore rode the Indian over to the display area and said it gave him an “eerie feeling, but it was a privilege to ride it,” and to know McQueen.“That’s why I’m here tonight... I’m saying my thank you. I was a fan before I met him; he was a special guy who played his parts. He could be a nice guy and a tough guy and I liked that.”
When they first met, Pridmore said he asked McQueen if he could look at his motorcycles. “He said just don’t touch,” and when Pridmore gave him his card, “Steve said ‘Oh, I’ve heard of you.’ I was quite flattered,” said Pridmore, the holder of three consecutive mid-1970s AMA Superbike Championships and a member of the AMA Hall of Fame.Henry Schaufus traveled from San Luis Obispo for the event because he “felt a connection with Steve’s hangar... I worked there before he bought it. It was a three-hour drive to get here, and now that I’m here it’s really cool.”Stories abounded about Steve and Barbara’s time in Santa Paula: their favorite restaurant Familia Diaz, their love for their ranch, and Steve’s love of the adopted city he called “my church.”Mayor Ralph Fernandez and Councilman Bob Gonzales were among the crowd, and the former said he was “absolutely pleased” about the event. “I’m pleased at all our events,” which Fernandez said all seem to center on a “part of Santa Paula’s history.”“We feel a special connection to Barbara,” noted Sue Harding before the slide show tribute to McQueen that included his life in Santa Paula.“We liked the same things, it was chemistry,” said Barbara McQueen of her late husband. Married only four years, Barbara told the crowd of their life - first sleeping in their hangar and later at the ranch.“Whatever moved and had motors” was McQueen’s passion, and “one of the nicest times of his life” was spent in Santa Paula. “I loved the airport, and he was passionate about flying. This morning I saw a yellow Stearman fly in,” similar to the one owned by her husband, “and I burst into tears.”

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