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COPYRIGHT. 1925. BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY, WASHINGTON D. C.. IN THE UNITED STATES AND GREAT BRITAIN
ON THE TRAIL OF THE AIR MAIL
A Narrative of the Experiences of the Flying Couriers Who Relay the Mail Across America at a Speed of More than 2,000 Miles a Day
BY LIEUT. J. PARKER VAN ZANDT, U. S. ARMY AIR SERVICE
AUTHOR OF "LOOKING DOWN ON EUROPE," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE
HEN I said I would die a bachelor," remarked Benedick, referring to his Beatrice, "I did not think I should live till I were married." Aircraft, many a good citizen will affirm, no doubt have their use in warfare; but, as for him and his affairs, they are a thing apart.
New facts in time, however, sweep away the most stubborn prejudices. There is a revolutionary fact abroad in the land: aircraft have gone to work. And the Nation is waking to find itself fast wedded to a new handmaid of progress the United States Transcontinental Air Mail Service.
FRONTIER SPIRIT LIVES AGAIN IN THE AIR MAIL
The story of this great overhead, skyline trail linking East and West, along which, through storm or calm, in darkness or in light, a score of winged couriers relay the public mails across three thousand miles of continent in less than a day and a half, is a modern romance of transportation as fascinating as any that comes to us out of the colorful past.
It is the undying spirit of the Old Frontier aflame again, that restless torch
once borne by Daniel Boone and Bonneville, the heritage from two hundred years' invasion of an untamed borderland. It is the spirit that urged the lagging caravans along the old Oregon Trail and spurred on the gallant riders of the Pony Express. It is the quickened temper born out of the Winning of the West, that smolders in the blood of every true American, that is the most American thing in all America.
But picture it for yourself. A bitterly cold December night on the great upland prairies of Wyoming. The air is thick with swirling snow driven by a winter gale that sweeps down out of the hills, hidden far behind the somber curtain of the night.
From the lighthouse tower at the Cheyenne Air Mail Field, the great rotating beacon light ceaselessly flings its multimillion candlepower beam against the encroaching horizon, piercing the snowfilled air for a little way, glinting an instant on the ice-laden telephone wires leading into town, and fleeting across the temporary lean-to shelters for the planes, where a disastrous fire had gutted the hangars a few weeks before. Midnight and minus 36 degrees.
A NEW AIR VIEW OF LADY LIBERTY AND THE NEW YORK SKYLINE There are three zones for the transcontinental route, and the postage rate for each zone is 8 cents per ounce. Chicago to Cheyenne, and Cheyenne to San Francisco.
The zones are: New York to Chicago,
The Post Office Department contemplates ultimately getting out of the air transportation business and having all air mail carried by. private companies, under contract, just as it now contracts with railroads for the carriage of railway mail. As a move in this direction and under authority granted by an act of Congress, February 2, 1925, it has called for bids on several new lines, most of them feeders to the main transcontinental route. A large number of bids were received, many of them from well-organized and financed companies. Government officials anticipate that during the next few years there will be a rapid expansion of air mail routes operated throughout the country by private corporations under contract with the Post Office Department.
Allison, with a special Christmas section of mail that morning out of New York, is due in. The radio operator at North Platte, 215 miles to the east, had reported him out at 9:50 p. m., adding laconically: "Visibility 200 yards, snowing, wind 40 miles an hour, from the north."
The telephone in the little shack serving as temporary office rang noisily, and a sleepy mechanic warming his chilled
hands by the barracks stove responded. The caretaker at the Pinebluff emergency field, 45 miles east on Lodgepole Creek, was speaking: "Westbound plane passed overhead at 12:10 a. m. Snow too thick to see pilot signal with his landing lights, but from the sound of the motor he must be flying with his wheels almost on the U. P. tracks."
"Get my ship warmed up," ordered Collison gruffly, relinquishing his vantage