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the shrouds of night closed in, more impenetrable than before.

Behind that wall a steady, distant droning became audible, swelled to a roar, leaped suddenly to a crashing crescendo of sound, as Allison split the curtain of the night and flashed into view a bare hundred feet above the tiny oasis of light. An instant's view of the gleaming propeller disk, the flame-spewing exhaust, and he was across the light into the storm again.

But in that instant the pilot had marked the lighted wind cone on the hangar, standing out stiff before the gale, and.

knew which way he must approach the field to land.

"Heaven help us!" whispered a halffrozen "grease-monkey" through his chattering teeth. "He'll crack up, sure; he'll never get back to the field."


As Allison turned with the wind, the roar of his engine ebbed rapidly away, swelled again as, somewhere out in the darkness, he banked toward the field, and sank to a throttled rumble in the glide. Then silence, agonizing silence, save for the ceaseless whining of the storm and the creak and rattle of the shelter doors.

"Everybody out to locate Allie!" yelled the Superintendent, above the gale. "He must be somewhere on the field! And don't lose your direction away from the lights."

It was a quarter of an hour before he was found, hidden by the swirling snowflakes, near the far corner of the fieldmail, pilot, and plane unhurt.

Impossible? Yes; but true. The Air Mail is daily translating improbable facts into truths.

"The flying visibility isn't as bad as you think," Allison was telling the protesting Superintendent, while sprawling in his big fur flying suit on the bench by the office stove and plucking gingerly at his half-frozen cheek.

"The snow is most all in the last fifty feet. This forty-mile breeze has been picking up dust off a hundred miles of snow-covered prairie, and it's traveling too fast to let go. That's why, on the ground, you can't see a hundred feet across the field. But 'upstairs' I could see down through it pretty well."

He leaned forward wearily to unbuckle his snow-encrusted parachute harness, while an admiring mechanic helped him remove his moccasin overshoes. "The real trouble in this country," he added plaintively, "is that there's too precious little to see.

"The towns in Nebraska and Wyoming must all roll up and go to bed at 9 o'clock. The South Platte is almost invisible-just a wobbly string of bare cottonwood trees. And the emergency field beacons look like pocket flashlights held behind red tissue


Photograph Courtesy U. S. Post Office Department


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The variety of air-mail packages is surprising. News reels, motion-picture films, ladies' gowns, candy, and even golf sticks have been mailed by air between New York and San Francisco at a cost of 24 cents for each ounce.


Photograph Courtesy U. S. Post Office Department

Many of the illustrations in this number of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE were made with apparatus of this type.

paper. Who was that newspaper humorist who called this 'the Great White Way' ?"

Outside, above the dark field, the defiant searchlight had taken up its endless circling course again, flashing in each periodic passage against the frosted windowpane. At the door was the mail truck with the Denver pouches taken from the incoming plane, waiting to rush them to Cheyenne, whence they would be relayed southward by train.

"But, Allie." interposed the eager, wondering mechanic who had assisted him with the moccasins, "how in blazes could

you see to get down through all this snow?"

Allison paused on his way to the door. "I didn't," he said simply. "Just squatted her down in the blizzard. First thing I knew, we were rolling over the drifts. 'Betsy' landed herself, I guess."

An impatient honk sounded from the mail truck and Allison moved stiffly forward. "You know," he flung over his shoulder, "since we started this night flying, I begin to understand why the birdies sing in the morning."


Collison took the mail through to Salt Lake that night. And Tuesday's mail out of New York was read Thursday morning in California.

Ames had brought that mail out of New York Tuesday, through the morning mist, five hours to Cleveland. Art Smith had hurried it over snow-mantled grain fields, three hours to Chicago. Page had raced with it toward the sinking sun beyond the Mississippi, reaching Omaha long after dark. Allison, alone in the night, above the snow-swept prairie, defied a winter's blizzard to bring it to Cheyenne,

Collison fought his way across the Continental Divide to drop down with it at Salt Lake in the early light of Wednesday. Marshall rushed it over alkali sinks and mountain ranges five hours, to Reno.

And Vance, in the final lap, swept it across the snowy Sierra Nevada to plunge down over the wide Sacramento Valley late Wednesday afternoon and slip in under the fog at San Francisco-thirtytwo hours from New York Bay to the shores of the Golden Gate!


Day and night, seven pilots hurdle the continent at a rate of more than 2,000 miles a day; modest and brave collaborators in many an unsung Odyssey, written-if one had eyes to read-across the

blackened faces of the canceled air-mail stamps.

Something of this great modern epic I already knew, from frequent flying visits to near-by Air Mail fields. Bit by bit, out of informal conversations with the "greasemonkeys" (as the mechanics are called) and with the "beezos" (as the mechanics have nicknamed the pilots), forgotten elements of the unusual story began to come to light. You will not find them in the archives of the Post Office Department; nor in the prosaic records of the Air Mail files; nor are you apt to overhear them in the hangars. Beezos and greasemonkeys alike, after the manner of true men of action, make a common virtue of reticence.

Information must be "stewed out of them." as Mark Twain once said, "like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter."

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The parachute, made of high-grade silk, is tightly folded in the pack. When the pilot wishes to use it, he jumps from the plane and, when clear, pulls a ring which opens the pack and allows the parachute to be caught in the wind.

So it was with keen delight that I welcomed orders from the War Department to take a plane and make an inspection flight along the entire transcontinental airway of the mail.


Flying by easy stages from Washington to Monmouth, Illinois, where the Air Mail experimental shops are to be found, I hurried on after a brief visit and reached the field at Omaha late one afternoon.

The day had been rough and gusty, with banked clouds against the western sky; but, following a crimson sunset, a

passing shower had cleared and cooled the air. "Evening red and morning gray help the traveler on his way"; and I accepted it as a hopeful omen for the 1,600-mile journey that still lay before me.

Far overhead the night hung glittering and resplendent, like an immense drapery. studded with tiny shafts of silver light. I climbed the steep ladder of the beacon tower to watch for the incoming plane from Chicago.

An idle breeze toyed fitfully with the limp cloth wind cone mounted on the floodlighted hangar roof just beneath me.

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