COAST-TO-COAST (Part I)
We'd like to take you on a trip from New York to Los Angeles. Been there... Done that? Not like this. The year is 1929 and a most incredible journey is about to begin with a train ride from New York's Pennsylvania Station to Columbus, Ohio. Upon arrival there, a Ford Tri-Motor airplane awaits. And that's just the beginning...
Whatever time of day you're reading this article, our guide can tell you with a large degree of certainty that there is an airplane flying from New York to Los Angeles. He checked. On the day this was written, 52 scheduled passenger flights made that non-stop trip. Thirty-seven flights originated at Kennedy Airport and 15 departed Newark Airport. The distance is about 2,500 miles. "Gate to gate" times vary, but flights average a little over six hours1. Every day, thousands of passengers fly the route. We doubt they think much about it, as they traverse the country at 35,000 feet. They might give it some thought, however, if they knew what you're about to find out.
Our journey begins 88 years ago. Then, the airline that would eventually become TWA inaugurated its legendary train/plane service between New York and Los Angeles. On July 7, 1929, twenty passengers (among many others) boarded the Pennsylvania Railroad Airway Limited at New York City's Pennsylvania Station, for an overnight trip to Columbus, Ohio. Once there, two Ford Tri-Motor airplanes2 bearing the name of Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), were waiting to fly them further west. After four en route stops, they would arrive in Waynoka, Oklahoma, where a Santa Fe Railway3 train was then boarded for an overnight ride to Clovis, New Mexico. From Clovis, two other TAT Tri-Motors were boarded for a three-stop flight, terminating at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California (near downtown Los Angeles). The final tally: Two overnight train rides, two flights and nine landings. Elapsed time: About 48 hours.
A Story to Tell
We have a story to tell. It's one of those that has a little of everything - vision, innovation, the indomitable human spirit, money and politics. There's even a cartoon rabbit thrown into the mix (more on him later). We'll follow the journey through photographs, documents and artifacts contained in our museum and archives. There's so much to tell, we'll do it in two parts. Part One will take us from New York City's Pennsylvania Railroad Station to Columbus on the evening of July 7 and we'll then spend the next day flying Columbus-Indianapolis-St. Louis-Kansas City-Wichita-Waynoka. At that point, our guide will need a very long break, so we'll end there. Part Two, will find us pulling into Clovis, after our overnight train ride from Waynoka. Aboard another Tri-Motor, we'll take a four-stop flight to Los Angeles. Ready? Well... before we roll out of Pennsylvania Station, we'll need to give you some background history. Our guide thinks it'll be very helpful to know and promises he won't bore you. Once that's taken care of, we'll be on our way, finding out some interesting things about TAT, its Tri-Motors and the cities along the route. At each stop, we'll fast- forward and describe what things are like there today, 88 years later.
|The Airway Limited at New York City - ready To roll.|
(image courtesy of State Historical Society of Missouri)
As you can imagine, the amount of material published about this event is voluminous. For this article, our guide will focus on the journey itself, using a variety of sources, including all the 1929 issues of Plane Talk, TAT's company newspaper. Fortunately, the State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO) maintains a digital collection of all the 1929 Plane Talk issues, which allowed us to fill in some we didn't have in the TWA Museum's collection. They also made the digital images from all those issues available to us, relieving us of the delicate task of handling the actual newspapers. You'll notice SHSMO referenced in several photographs.
SAL + WAE + TAT = TWA
Since this is the TWA Museum Guides blog, it's probably a good idea to take a minute and let you know how this whole story adds up to TWA.Throughout this article, we'll refer a lot to Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT). Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, TAT would become part of the newly formed Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA4). It's a complicated story, so our guide will give you a very broad overview, as a lot happened in a very short period of time. TAT was founded in 1928. Their expressed purpose was to establish a fast, safe and comfortable means to travel across the United States. It would be accomplished by using a combination of TAT aircraft and established Pennsylvania Railroad and Santa Fe Railway trains. In 1927, Jack Frye, Paul Richter and Walt Hamilton started Standard Airlines (SAL), flying between California and Arizona. In March 1930, not long after TAT began its transcontinental operation, Standard Airlines was sold to Western Air Express (WAE), with Jack Frye becoming its Chief of Operations. Finally, additional mergers followed, resulting from the Airmail Act of 1930. Three large airlines emerged. One of them was TWA, formed in October 1930, when TAT and WAE merged. After some sorting out of the executives from the merged companies, Jack Frye would become TWA's President in 1934, with Paul Richter and Walt Hamilton serving as Vice-Presidents.
Got it all? Good. Oh... one more thing. Not long after starting transcontinental service, TAT merged with Maddux Air Lines and was officially known as TAT-Maddux. To keep things simple, we'll reference the company as TAT throughout the article and up to its merger into TWA in October 1930.
New York City, 1927
To best understand the formation of TAT, we need to examine what the world was like in the spring of 1927. Passenger air travel in the United States was in its infancy, mostly scattered and experienced by only a select few people. Then in May 1927, Charles Lindbergh completed his historic flight from New York to Paris. A wave of air travel enthusiasm swept the country and some people of vision seized the opportunity. Not long after Lindbergh's return home, a small meeting took place at the Engineers' Club in New York City. Colonel Paul Henderson, former Assistant Postmaster General and then Vice-President of National Air Transport, started the meeting by drawing a map of the United States on an envelope. He added a line across the map, identifying a route of logical stopping points, to be traveled by train and airplane. The proposed route would run reliably and consistently, using the most modern aeronautic and navigation technology available. Colonel Henderson made certain the people best suited to undertake the task were in that room with him. One of them, C.M. Keys, was an aviation executive, banker and an early proponent of passenger air service in the United States. Also present was Charles Lindbergh. Less than a year after that meeting, funding was procured, commitments were signed and Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) was born.
|Good guys to know: Lindbergh, Keys and Henderson.|
(TAT Plane Talk images courtesy of SHSMO)
By the way, we know you're wondering, so we'll address it up front. It was decided to use trains for part of the journey because of some concerns:
- Flying in east coast weather.
- Flying across the Allegheny Mountain range.
- TAT "did not think the time right to transport human cargo in the darkness."5
Quite a Plan
The plan was ambitious. After first obtaining five million dollars in capital, TAT started by identifying Columbus, Ohio as its easternmost terminal and began building infrastructure westward to Los Angeles. It was an unprecedented effort. A state-of-the-art communication system was engineered and constructed, allowing each (train and plane) station along the line to talk with the others quickly and reliably. The need for clear and consistent air-to-ground communication capabilities was also addressed. To supplement the existing structure of the U.S. Weather Bureau, TAT built the largest (up to that time) private weather observation and reporting network, utilizing the latest scientific methods for atmospheric measurement and weather forecasting. Airfields from Columbus to the west were chosen and then brought up to standards necessary to land heavy airplanes on well-drained and solid runways. Of special importance was the establishment of comfortable passenger terminal facilities. And if no airfield existed (a common situation in the southwest), TAT built one from the ground up. Lighting to properly illuminate the airfields was installed and beacons were placed along the entire route (again, to supplement the less comprehensive existing system). As mentioned, night flying was not initially planned, however, lighting and beacon systems were installed for potential delays or emergencies. It was also foreseen that night flying would eventually become a reality. TAT selected Ford Tri-Motors for its fleet and a nationwide search identified the best aviators to fly them. C.M. Keys became TAT's President and Colonel Henderson its Vice-President. Colonel Lindbergh accepted the Chairmanship of the airline's Technical Committee. Lindbergh's contributions would be key, including surveying potential airfields, selecting equipment (most notably, the Ford Tri-Motor) and overseeing pilot/mechanic recruitment and training. Every contingency was considered. Keys made it very clear, "We begin operations only when we are properly ready."
|Getting it done!|
Top: The terminal in Columbus, OH, being constructed by the city.
Bottom: TAT was on their own in much of the west, here literally building
an airfield at Waynoka, OK.
(TAT Plane Talk images courtesy of SHSMO)
They Weren't Alone
It should be noted here that TAT's idea was not a new one. There was competition. In fact, the first organized transcontinental air/rail journey had already taken place earlier in 1929, when Jack Frye's Standard Airlines flew between Los Angeles and El Paso, TX, connecting with a train of the Texas and Pacific Railway to and from the east coast. Other airlines utilized air/rail transitions in places like Kansas City, Mo, Cleveland, OH and Garden City, KS. We chose to highlight TAT because of their scale, reach and the comprehensive structure they planned and built.
Opened in 1910, New York's Pennsylvania Station was a true landmark. Covering roughly eight acres, trains arrived from and departed to every direction, through massive rail tunnels dug under the Hudson and East Rivers. On July 7, 1929, the station saw a major event as the Pennsylvania Railroad Airway Limited prepared to depart for Columbus. A Ford Tri-Motor graced the station's massive central hall, with Amelia Earhart standing close by. Truth be told, Amelia was just doing her job, as she was a TAT employee, serving as Assistant to the General Traffic Manager. At 6:05 PM, Charles Lindbergh sent a message from Los Angeles to New York. The message activated a huge bell at Pennsylvania Station, signalling the departure of the Airway Limited. Ms. Earhart and about fifty VIPs were among the passengers on board. As the train rolled west, TAT prepared two Tri-Motor aircraft at Columbus, awaiting the train's arrival the next morning, scheduled for 7:55 AM.
|Amelia Earhart standing by the Ford Tri-Motor, the City of New York,|
at Pennsylvania Station, July 7, 1929.
(photo from the Collections of The Henry Ford)
Upon arrival in Columbus, passengers officially entered the TAT network. The city of Columbus developed their airport with TAT in mind. An impressive new terminal building and hangars were erected. The Pennsylvania Railroad constructed a train platform adjacent to the terminal. The transition from train to plane was little more than a short walk. Two runways (the longer being 3,500 feet) were constructed with a concrete base and paved with bituminous macadam to handle the heavy Tri-Motor aircraft. Don't worry, our guide had no idea either. Bituminous macadam is actually a type of pavement made of crushed stone, held together with a binding material. That technique is still in use today, in the paving of vehicular roads. We point this out because throughout our guide's research, the words "pavement" and "drainage" were seen numerous times. Most U.S. airfields in the 1920s were little more than cleared tracts of land. Landings on muddy and bumpy ground often occurred. Such conditions were unacceptable to TAT.
It was a big day in Columbus. Despite rain, 3,000 spectators were on hand to watch the two Tri-Motors take off to the west. Amelia Earhart joined passengers on one of them. Despite the rain in Columbus, TAT's meteorological bureau was cranking out observations and reported clear skies to the west. So at 8:15 AM (only twenty minutes after the Airway Limited's arrival), the Tri-Motors were on their way to their next stop, Indianapolis, Indiana. After the departures, TAT hosted a breakfast in their Columbus hangar. Attendees included Henry Ford and his son Edsel. We must assume the Tri-Motor's tires were Firestones, as company founder Harvey Firestone was present as well.
|Goodbye Columbus! TAT aircraft (the City of Columbus and the City of Wichita)|
prepare to head out on July 8, 1929.
(TWA Museum photo)
TAT's original hangar still stands as well, adjacent to the terminal. As the airline industry grew, the city of Columbus quickly outgrew its original terminal. It was expanded and remodeled many times, almost tripling its size. In 1958, a new terminal complex was built elsewhere at the airport. After 1958, the original terminal building was put to alternative general aviation uses and began to experience a slow decline. In 1985, a major deconstruction and renovation was undertaken and the aforementioned expansions were removed, exposing the original structure. For almost two decades the structure was a viable business complex. By 2008, the building was empty and quickly deteriorated thereafter. In 2013, a civic-minded group stepped forward to preserve the old terminal building. POCAT (Preserving the Original Columbus Air Terminal) was formed to stabilize and redevelop the terminal. Working with the CRAA (Columbus Regional Airport Authority), aviation, community, architecture-related organizations and individuals, POCAT raised sufficient funds (including a matching gift from the Columbus Foundation) to stabilize the building. CRAA has since installed a new permanent roof and the building is ready for creative re-development. POCAT's goal is the completion of a careful and historically-relevant renovation, with the building eventually becoming a permanent, profitable and self-sustaining entity.
(Note: Our guide thanks Tom Kromer and Jim Thompson of POCAT, for their assistance in writing this section).
On to Indianapolis
During the 180-mile flight from Columbus to Indianapolis, it's likely many passengers unfolded bound maps provided by TAT. Since the Tri-Motors typically flew at 5,000-6,000 feet or below, the maps were useful in spotting cities and landmarks along the way.
|An original TAT passenger route map, on display in our museum.|
"Of compact construction, the machine itself weighs less than eight pounds. With screen and batteries, the total combined weight of the equipment is 34 pounds, a vital factor in its adaptation to the airplane."6
So, the next time you're at 35,000 feet, deciding which episode of House Hunters to stream to your iPad, remember the photo below:
|What's a WiFi? Viewing on-board movies in 1929. |
(TAT Plane Talk image courtesy of SHSMO)
Fast-forward to today: As a passenger airport, Stout Field's time was short. By 1931, TWA (and other airlines) were using the newly-constructed Indianapolis Municipal Airport (today known as Indianapolis International Airport). Stout Field was used briefly as an Army Air Corps base during World War II and eventually as an airfield for the Indiana National Guard and Indiana State Police. The last active runway was closed in 1961. Today, the area partly contains commercial buildings and is home to divisions of the Indiana National Guard. What was Stout Field's longest runway is now part of Stout Field Drive, the main roadway through the area.
Meet Me in St. Louis
Leaving Indianapolis at 9:28 AM, passengers likely got hungry during the two-hour flight to St. Louis. Because the first "hostess" was not hired until 1935, TAT "couriers" offered refreshments. These versatile young men, mentioned in an earlier blog article: Presenting The Case for TWA's Flight Attendants , provided a variety of passenger services. Duties included baggage handling, passenger pick-up and cabin meal service. Food service on this leg? We'll let passenger, Mr. S.S. Smith describe it: "The hot bouillon with wafers served aloft about 9:30 in the morning is a wonderful feature for the passengers."7
A 12:03 PM scheduled arrival brought passengers to Lambert Field in St. Louis, a place that would become very familiar to later generations of TWA passengers and employees. At the time, Lambert was viewed only as a temporary location for TAT service. TAT and the Curtiss Flying Service acquired acreage right across the Mississippi River, in Illinois and intended to move their operation there. It never happened. As development of the new airport moved forward, pressure from Missouri politicians influenced TAT to remain at Lambert. TAT agreed to house their company headquarters on the Missouri side as well. TAT's passengers were likely unaware of such political gyration, instead thinking about the full lunch that was going to be served en route to Kansas City.
|The TAT "nerve center" at its St. Louis headquarters. The two|
teletype machines were constantly "clicking out" information
about weather, flight activity and passenger reservations.
(TAT Plane Talk image courtesy of SHSMO)
On to Kansas City
After another fifteen-minute stop, TAT passengers left St. Louis at 12:18 PM, for the 227-mile leg to Kansas City. As mentioned earlier, a luncheon was served aloft, prepared by the Fred Harvey Company. The "Harvey House" was among America's first successful restaurant chains, known to many in the mid-western and western United States. Harvey's company also provided meals aboard the Santa Fe Railway (to be ridden by passengers later that evening). The Harvey meals on TAT were generally well received and we can tell you they were more substantial than bouillon and wafers.
Kansas City Municipal Airport was reached in about 2 1/2 hours. Of all the stops on the TAT route, Kansas City is our guide's favorite! His attitude is understandable, as TAT airplanes literally rolled past the site of what today is our TWA Museum. Scouted as an airport site by both the Army Corps Reserve Association and Charles Lindbergh, it was built by the city and opened in 1927. Three months after his flight to Paris, Lindbergh landed at Kansas City in his famed Spirit of St. Louis aircraft to attend the airport's dedication. In 1929, the city constructed a modern passenger terminal, again to the standards requested by TAT. Interestingly, the airport's two runways were not paved but were surfaced with cinders and coated with heavy oil. After their fifteen-minute stay, passengers were headed to the next stop, Wichita, Kansas.
Fast-forward to today: Kansas City Municipal Airport quickly grew in size and popularity. In 1931, the newly-formed TWA selected the airport for its headquarters. The headquarters building is today the home of our museum. The original 1929 passenger terminal and airport infrastructure were constantly expanded to keep up with the evolution in commercial aviation. The inability to expand the airport's footprint dictated a new airport in a roomier location. In 1972, commercial passenger traffic moved to the new Kansas City International Airport, constructed twenty miles to the north. Today, the original Municipal Airport (now known as the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport) remains quite active, handling mostly general aviation traffic.
Leaving Kansas City just after 3:00 PM, Wichita was reached in a little under two hours. TAT divided operations into Eastern and Western Divisions. Wichita represented the westernmost station of the Eastern Division and as the plane landed at Wichita, passengers began to see the transition. In Wichita, a combination of drier climate and "perfect natural drainage" allowed TAT to land Tri-Motors right on the prairie turf. A true passenger terminal was not yet constructed, so TAT used part of a sixty-foot wide hangar (surrounded by a concrete apron) for early passenger facilities. Construction of a true terminal (by TAT standards) began in 1930, however, the Depression resulted in the terminal taking five years to complete. On a more pleasant note, we're certain Amelia Earhart was pleased to be in Wichita, TAT's only station in her home state of Kansas (even if only for fifteen minutes).
It became a long day for the passengers aboard the two Tri-Motors that left rainy Columbus that morning. There was one more leg left, a short flight to Waynoka, Oklahoma. At 5:11 PM, they were once again in the air.
Fast-forward to today: The site of TAT's Wichita stop eventually became Wichita Municipal Airport, one of the nation's busiest airports in the 1940s. The United States Air Force established a presence there and in 1952, the property was officially given to the Federal government. This served as the beginning of today's McConnell Air Force Base. In 1954, all commercial operations were moved from McConnell to the present Mid-Continent Airport (recently re-named the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport). The beautiful 1930s original Wichita Municipal Airport Terminal has been renovated and today is the home of the Kansas Aviation Museum and Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame.
|The interior of today's Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita.|
(photo from kansasaviationmuseum.org)
A 6:24 PM landing in Waynoka, Oklahoma ended the day's flying. Passengers had by now logged over 1,000 air miles and five takeoffs and landings, all in an eleven-hour period of time. Waynoka was the entry for TAT's Western Division. A hangar erected there served as a transfer point, as all passengers and their baggage were directed to TAT's "Aero Car". This unique conveyance was actually a luxury 16-passenger trailer (with very comfortable seating) that was pulled by a Chrysler Roadster (a Studebaker President was used at some other TAT stations).
The Aero Car's destination was Santa Fe Railway's Waynoka Station. There, passengers ate dinner at the Harvey House restaurant before boarding their overnight train to Clovis, New Mexico. At Clovis, two new Tri-Motors awaited.
|Hop aboard the "Aero Car"|
(TAT Plane Talk image courtesy of SHSMO)
Fast-forward to today: Waynoka's moment in the sun was short, as the plane/train transfer there was needed for just over a year. In 1939, TAT's hangar was dismantled and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas (where it still stands). Today, the former runways are wheat fields. Waynoka's railroad station (built in 1910) still stands and is on the National Register of Historical Places. It serves as a museum and the home of the Waynoka Historical Society.
Good Night, Waynoka
As the Santa Fe train (named "The Missionary") leaves Waynoka at 11:00 PM, our guide will take a break. Part Two will follow in a few weeks and we'll pick things up in Clovis, New Mexico. In Part Two, we'll explore the trip through the incredible landscape of the southwestern United States as our Tri-Motors fly from Clovis to Albuquerque, NM, Winslow and Kingman, AZ and then Los Angeles. We'll have many more interesting facts and images to share with you, including the inauguration of service eastbound from Los Angeles, piloted by Charles Lindbergh. The train is rolling. We'll see you in Clovis.
|The entrance to Waynoka's railroad station, in 1929.|
Photo from the Waynoka Historical Society
On a Final Note
About a month ago, the Airline Archivists/Historians Association held their 2017 conference at our museum. At the time of the conference, our guide was beginning work on this article and the timing was superb! At the conference our guide connected with some people who had in depth resources about the subject of our article. In addition to Tom Kromer and Jim Thompson from POCAT (mentioned in the Columbus portion of our journey), he met Don Peters, a former TWA pilot who also works with POCAT. Great historical information about our home, the Wheeler Kansas City Downtown Airport, was provided by Lezley Mix, the Assistant Airport Manager. Our guide also gained access to priceless information thanks to Archivist Whitney Heinzmann of the State Historical Society of Missouri. We suspect you are now pretty familiar with their TAT-related collection items. If you would like to see SHSMO's entire digital collection of TAT Plane Talk and later editions of TWA's company newspapers, check them out at: http://digital.shsmo.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/twa .
Article Written by Wayne Hammer
Edited by Larry Dingman
Copy editing by Pam Tucker
Special thanks to Ruth Richter Holden, the daughter of the late Paul E. Richter.
2. For TAT's inaugural eastbound and westbound flights, two Tri-Motors flew, in tandem. Once operations normalized, one plane per flight was used.
3. The line's official name was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. In the article, we'll refer to its more familiar name of the Santa fe Railway.
4. Transcontinental and Western Air's official abbreviation was T&WA, although the"&" was often omitted from publications, signs and airplane liveries. In 1950, the corporate name of the airline was officially changed to Trans World Airlines.
5. Airway Age magazine, Vol. 10, Nbr. 7, July 1929.
6. TAT Plane Talk newspaper, Vol. 1, Nbr. 10, October, 1929
7. TAT Plane Talk newspaper, Vol. 1, Nbr. 12, December, 1929
Digital issues of TAT Plane Talk are cataloged at the State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center, Kansas City. Folder:Trans World Airlines (TWA) Records (K0453).
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