« PreviousContinue »
LEAVING ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING, THE AIR MAIL PLANE PASSES BY THIS HIGH
The winds from the west, pouring over ledges into the valley north of Rock Springs, in which the Air Mail Field is located, make climbing out of the field difficult and dangerous at times. It was on the east slope of this table-land that one Air Mail pilot was sucked by the winds into snow banks. The plane was not injured, but was subsequently taken apart and reassembled at the Rock Springs hangar. A picture of this forced landing was shown in a previous issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE (July, 1924, pages 25 and 114).
branch of the Platte, over country "all road" and said to be "not such a bad place for men and dogs, but Hades on women and oxen."
Many a huddled caravan, encamped on the banks of the Platte, had been roused by the murderous war-hoops of Sioux or Pawnee; or had been startled out of heavy sleep by the screams of some stricken and delirious emigrant crying "Where's next water? Team-give out! Hot, hot ! Stop the wagon-stop the wagon!"
From our cool perch in the sky, under
WHERE A NIGHT PILOT “PULLED THE
There we were, flinging along in joy-
thousand feet below, the pale surface of the South Platte glistened in its desert valley and the silent, undulating plains spread out to meet the sky.
Eighty-five miles from North Platte, Pete drew my attention to an emergency field slipping by under our wings-Chappell, Nebraska, the scene of one of the strangest accidents that has ever occurred in the Mail. Here, on a stormy July night, pilot Frank Yager not only "pulled the whiskers of Death," as the Moslems say, but literally crawled in through the chinks between his closed teeth-and out again.
He had taken off from Cheyenne at 8:30 p. m., ahead of an approaching storm. One hundred and twenty miles east, over Lodgepole, the broken cloud. ceiling above him had sealed up tight, shutting out the scattered light of the stars, and a strong head wind clutched at his plane, contesting every mile gained.
Arriving over the Chappell searchlight, he was about to press on, when the flashing beacon at Big Spring, twenty miles ahead, suddenly went out in the brightest part of its arc, completely eclipsed by an
ominous black cloud rolling swiftly down upon him across the dark prairie.
"Guess the 'old man' had better sit down till this fellow gets by," Yager muttered to himself. He banked, and started to glide in across the fringe of boundary lights that outlined the Chappell emergency field.
At that instant the hurricane struck. "My intention was to keep my balance, and clear of the ground," his official report reads. "It didn't last long. Found myself sitting on the prairie clear of the ship, with a terrific wind blowing from the west, exactly opposite to its direction. the minute before. All I could see of the wreck was the lighted cockpit turned toward me.
"Didn't feel any effects of being hurt, so groped for my flashlight in the cockpit, turned out the lights, and stumbled down the hill to the beacon tower. I regret to report that the plane is one of the most thoroughly wrecked aircraft I ever saw."
The mail was an hour late reaching Omaha that night.
Pete got a stirring welcome when we landed at Cheyenne, two hours out of
North Platte. The envious grease-monkeys crowded around to demand how he "wangled the graft." And when he indiscreetly confessed being bound all the way to the coast, I had to hustle him away to save him from sudden and awful death!
AIR PILOTS DISCOVER HIDDEN BEAUTIES IN BARREN LANDS
Cheyenne is the headquarters for the Mountain Division that stretches away over the Continental Divide, 400 air miles to Salt Lake. From the train it appears for the most part a dreary and tiresome waste. League upon league of desert prospect, barren buttes and sand cliffs rising out of the sage, while the hours
drag wearily by and the far-away rugged ranges drift toilsomely across the horizon.
From the air the whole scene is transformed. There are hidden aspects of beauty in this unpromising land, like unmined gold, to rival any of the more manifest wonders one may find elsewhere. But one must take the air way to discover them.
One such we found in the Medicine Bow Range, lying west of Laramie Valley. Far south the snow-cap of Longs Peak seemed to float in the pale blue of the sky. To the north the majestic bulk of Elk Mountain (Big Horn) reared up grandly out of the plain.
From our floating swing at 12,000 feet,
the Snowy Range stretching beneath us spread out its cool treasured secrets to view. Little lakes in the glorious wildness were set like mirrors among the icepolished crags; massed regiments of firs and pines trooped up the canyons, their steep paths flecked by the plumes of crystal streams.
Out of a grassy upland meadow Medicine Bow River hurried over the shoulder of the range down to the level floor of the valley, a dwindling dark avenue of evergreens. It was on one of its forest-clad islets that Owen Wister's "Virginian" had spent his honeymoon; and beyond those dark clusters of oil derricks, standing out like tiny black pins, a group of cowboys once heard his drawling voice say, "Frawgs are dead, Trampas, and so are you."
PILOTS BRAVE DARKNESS AND BLIZZARDS
IN MOUNTAIN PASSES
But the frowning beauty of these ranges makes little appeal to the Mail pilots, engaged in endless lonely combat in the dark, with man's ancient and uncompromising enemy, "winter and rough weather."
That sullen, lifeless belt of the Laramie Range, across the valley, rising 9,000 feet above the sea, has more than once clutched hungrily at a fleeting plane, only to have the pilot slip through its icy fingers. There Jack Knight had been caught in the canyon winds and flung against the mountain side, into a deep snowdrift.
The engine and propeller had buried themselves in the snow, while the entire fuselage had torn itself loose and rolled down the steep slope 80 feet, lodging against an exposed ridge of rocks. When Knight regained consciousness, an hour later, he found himself lying several yards from the cockpit.
Aside from bleeding freely from bad cuts on his face, a broken nose, and aches all over his body, there seemed to be nothing wrong. So he groped down the mountain side in the uncertain light of dawn, over snow and rocks, to a ranch house seven miles distant.
These pine-covered slopes beneath us, gliding by in the glorious light of a midday sun, had been the scene of Jimmie Murray's misadventure, one stormy spring five years ago. That was when the trans
continental mail route had just been opened and the idea of night-flying over this portion was as yet undreamed of.
Murray had attempted to pass south of Elk Mountain, through a rift in the lowering clouds. Advancing as cautiously as possible, he suddenly found himself flying in the midst of a raging snowstorm, the bristling carpet of treetops under his wings disappearing into a white wall ahead and sloping up more steeply than the plane could climb.
It was too late to turn back. With throttle full open, he felt the plane stalling under him, and as the topmost branches of a silver fir brushed his wheels, he cut both ignition switches and pancaked down "as gently as possible" into its snowy
"The plane was very badly wrecked," Murray told me. "I crawled back into the cockpit and took out the compass, but it was broken and useless. There wasn't much to see, the storm was so thick, but I started off down the slope, slipping and plunging through two feet of snow.
"At dark I came on a little lake and spent the night there, under a fir tree,
hoping that when the sun rose it would show me which way was east. But in the morning the snow was still falling heavily and no sign of the sun.
"I reconnoitered around the lake and by great luck discovered a deserted log cabin. A signpost near by read, "Sand Lake-Arlington 14 miles," and pointed along an old hunting trail buried under the snow, that I could see led off down a vague avenue through the pines.
A BEAR PURSUES A WRECKED PILOT "It took me five and a half hours to cover the first eight miles. Then the snow began to thin out and I made Arlington by 3 o'clock that afternoon.
"Just as I was getting into town a cowboy rode up and said he'd run across my broken path in the snow, as he was riding over from Elk Mountain. Thinking I was in trouble, he had galloped after me, for paralleling my trail for miles he had found the fresh tracks of a mountain bear."
Pete and I both leaned over the side of the fuselage and studied the broad shoulder of Elk Mountain, where the rocky,