COAST-TO-COAST (PART II)
|Image from the collection of Bjorn Larsson (www.timetableimages.com)|
Welcome to Part Two of our New York-Los Angeles journey. After an overnight ride aboard the Santa Fe Railway's "Missionary" from Waynoka, Oklahoma to Clovis, New Mexico, it's time to again take to the skies and head west. There are new cities to visit, sights to see and things to know. So... let's go!
A New Horizon
It's 11:00 PM in Waynoka, OK and our Santa Fe Railway sleeper car is ready to roll. The 300-mile ride, primarily across the Texas panhandle, will take about 9 1/2 hours (with several stops along the way). It's likely most passengers will sleep well after a very long day of flying from Columbus, OH. A new horizon awaits as the train pulls into Clovis, NM. After the relatively flat landscape of the Midwest, their journey will now find them flying over the mountains, canyons and desert of the Southwest. The eventual crossing of the San Gabriel mountains will reveal the city of Los Angeles and the end of their trip. The western half of the journey begins.
A Quick Refresher
It's been a few weeks since we published Part One, so we wanted to briefly refresh your memory concerning some key facts:
- On both the eastbound and westbound inaugural trips, TAT (Transcontinental Air Transport) flew two Tri-Motors to handle the many VIP passengers who desired to be a part of the event.
- When TAT and Western Air Express eventually merged in 1930 to form TWA, the company's official abbreviation was T&WA (Transcontinental and Western Air). The "&" designation was typically dropped from the abbreviation. Finally, in 1950, the corporate name was officially changed to Trans World Airlines.
- Many of our images are identified as from "SHSMO". That's the State Historical Society of Missouri. They supplied us with digital copies of TAT's Plane Talk company newspaper from 1929.
Good Morning, Clovis
At 8:20 AM (CT), Santa Fe Railway's "Missionary" pulled into Clovis, New Mexico. For those on the inaugural westbound trip, it was now July 9, 1929. The trip from New York City began over 39 hours ago. The scheduled 5:52 PM (PT) arrival in Los Angeles meant they were about 11 hours from their final destination. Our guide is no math whiz, but he knows that 39 hours + 11 hours = 50 hours. So, now we know that while TAT advertised "Coast-to-Coast in 48 hours", it was in actuality a couple of hours longer going westbound. We doubt anyone complained, requested to speak to a supervisor or demanded an upgrade to compensate for the inconvenience.
The railway station in Clovis housed a Harvey House restaurant, so TAT passengers had breakfast there. After breakfast, it was time again to board our old friend, the "Aero Car". In addition to Clovis and Waynoka (where Aero Cars were needed for planned airport-train terminal connections), every station on TAT's system had an Aero Car on hand, in case there was an unexpected need to transport passengers to or from the nearest train station. At Clovis, the Aero Car embarked on a five-mile drive west to the TAT airport at Portair, NM. Breakfast in Clovis was an efficient exercise as TAT scheduled only 50 minutes to eat, take the Aero Car to Portair and then head skyward.
Portair Field, NM
As mentioned in Part One, most airports in TAT's Western Division were developed and maintained by TAT. For the airfield near Clovis, TAT literally bought a town. Blacktower, New Mexico measured about one square mile and had been abandoned several years earlier. There were a few buildings in Blacktower, including a railroad station that had never been used. TAT remodeled that station into an airport terminal building. All other buildings were torn down. TAT plowed a mile-long east-west runway and sealed it with oil. TAT also felt Blacktower was no name for an airport city, so they renamed it Portair. And here's the really odd thing about Portair: Clovis was in the Central Time Zone. Back in 1929, the Mountain Time Zone began just west of Clovis, which meant (you guessed it!), the time in Portair was an hour earlier than in Clovis. Below is an excerpt from among the first TAT published schedules. Note the 8:20 AM arrival in Clovis and the 8:10 AM departure from Portair.
|Keeping all on their toes! Time change at Portair.|
(TWA Museum photo)
Fast-forward to today: As was the case with the previous air/rail interchange at Waynoka, OK, the stop in Clovis was no longer needed once complete coast-to-coast air service was initiated by the newly formed TWA in 1930. Amarillo, TX then became the stop between Wichita and Albuquerque. Portair Field, however, continued to function as a municipal airport serving Clovis until the outbreak of World War II, when it became Clovis Army Air Field. In 1948, it was recommissioned as Clovis Air Force Base. In 1957, it was renamed Cannon Air Force base and housed various bomber groups during the Cold War Era and the Vietnam War. Cannon remains an active base today.
An Elevating Experience
During the 191-mile flight to Albuquerque, passengers watched the topography of the United States change right under them. As the Tri-Motor approached Albuquerque, the eastern ranges of the Rocky Mountains began to appear. The picturesque scenery meant the Tri-Motors had to fly at altitudes higher than passengers experienced the previous day. Cruising up to 8,000 feet (once in a while, even higher) was sometimes required. "Ear popping" became a larger issue, so TAT's resourceful on board "couriers" provided plenty of chewing gum and advice on how to best handle the more pronounced effect of pressure on passengers' inner ears. It should also be noted that pressurized airplane cabins were still ten years into the future, so cruising at 8,000 feet was still within the average person's oxygen comfort zone. When going higher was necessary, pilots had to be thoughtful. Also, if the cloud ceiling was below 8,000 - 10,000 feet, it could get pretty rocky up there. Which brings up an interesting topic:
We haven't said anything yet about airsickness, so it's time for our guide to deal with it. Airsickness was a problem. Changes in air pressure and flying into turbulence did take a toll. TAT management was more than aware of this and took measures to reassure everyone. In the September 1929 issue of TAT's company newspaper, Plane Talk, an entire section was devoted to airsickness. We have a feeling this was not a scientific study. From the article:
"Some interesting figures on air sickness have been compiled by Parker B. Sturgis, Chief of Transportation of TAT for the first two months of operation.
The compilation reveals only 7.3 per cent of all passengers suffered in any degree from air sickness. Sixty-five per cent of those who were affected recovered before their journey was completed.
The causes of air sickness are equally interesting. Only 40 per cent of the air sickness was caused by rough air; 20 per cent was caused by nervousness or apprehension and 20 per cent of those who became sick were subject to seasickness or trainsickness.
Other causes noted by the Couriers are found to be overeating and failure to eat anything. An upset mental condition caused by occurrences not connected with the flight, were responsible for several cases of airsickness.
TAT Couriers have been instructed and have had experience in the best methods of caring for air sickness. The success of their treatment is indicated by the large number who recovered."1
So now that we have that information, let's move on. As the flight from Clovis was reaching its completion, it flew just north of the Sandia Mountains and south of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to make its approach into Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Sitting at an altitude of 5,200 feet, the airfield at Albuquerque was the highest in TAT's system. Accordingly, it was essential that a large landing and takeoff area be provided. That infrastructure was in place for TAT, as the privately owned airfield was already developed. TAT leased usage of the field, only one of two in TAT's Western Division not owned and developed by TAT (the other being the field serving Los Angeles). Two earth/oil blended runways (the longest being 4,000 feet) were available. Existing airport buildings had a unique Spanish-style pueblo architecture, and in keeping that theme, TAT constructed a pueblo-styled terminal of stucco and hollow tile. It was a handsome building, containing a central lounge area, fireplaces, a dining facility, restrooms and even showers. Unfortunately, westbound passengers had only a fifteen-minute stopover to enjoy the facility. For eastbound passengers, Albuquerque was a scheduled dinner stop giving them an extra fifteen minutes to enjoy a quick meal prepared by the Fred Harvey Restaurant.
|A look inside a part of Albuquerque's terminal lounge area.|
Note Lindbergh's photo above the fireplace.
(TAT Plane Talk image courtesy of SHSMO)
Flying the Southwest
We now head to Winslow, AZ, the second-longest air leg of the journey. Time and distance: 2.5 hours, 240 miles. In clear weather, passengers on the Tri-Motor were treated some awe-inspiring scenery. After flying over the San Mateo Mountains, the flight passed over the Painted Desert just east of Winslow. While stunning, this landscape could also be dangerous. This became tragically evident on September 3, 1929. While attempting to navigate around stormy weather, the Tri-Motor City of San Francisco flying just north of Grants, NM, crashed into the side of Mt. Taylor. All eight people on board were killed. The cause was likely poor visibility, strong downdrafts or both. It took five days to discover the wreckage from the air and an additional day for searchers to reach the site. The accident was widely publicized and was a shock to TAT. In an effort to ease public concern, TAT went on record emphasizing the safety measures built into their operation. E.I. Lewis, the Chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a statement in support of TAT and commercial aviation. Here is an excerpt:
"... It is inevitable that there will be accidents. It is simply a repetition of what occurred one hundred years ago on steam railroads when people were made very apprehensive of traveling in the new vehicles because of accidents. It is inevitable, of course, that air travel is going to come and it is unfortunate that this distressing accident occurred."2
|A plaque commemorating the Mt. Taylor accident is displayed today at|
the Grants-Milan Municipal Airport.
(photo from the Cibola Country Historical Society)
A 1:12 PM arrival brought TAT passengers into Winslow for what had become a routine fifteen-minute stopover. The airfield was owned and developed by TAT. Charles Lindbergh himself played a major role in the design of Winslow's airfield (as well as other fields in TAT's Western Division). At an altitude of almost 5,000 feet, a long runway was again required. TAT designed a three-runway "letter A" configuration with the longest runway measuring 5,000 feet. Although Winslow was not scheduled for a plane/rail interchange, the field was built adjacent to Santa Fe Railway tracks. As noted in Part One, TAT favored airfields being close to rail tracks, just in case an unscheduled switch between plane and train was needed. TAT constructed a pueblo-styled passenger terminal and hangar on the field's east side.
Fast-forward to today: The site of the 1929 field is today the Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport. Owned by the city of Winslow, they proudly regard it as: "The best preserved of the original TAT airfields and a lasting tribute to Arizona's important role in aviation history."3 The original TAT-constructed hangar and terminal remain at the airport, having been renovated. TWA continued to fly into Winslow until 1953. Today, no scheduled airline service is available however Winslow-Lindbergh is a busy airport, handling over 20,000 operations in 2016. Tenants include the U.S. Forest Service, which uses the airport as an operations base for aerial firefighting.
A Grand Trip to Kingman, AZ
If the weather was good and your Tri-Motor flew its preferred route, the 186-mile flight from Winslow to Kingman clearly was a sightseer's delight. Shortly after takeoff, Meteor Crater came into view. Created 50,000 years ago by the impact of a meteorite, the crater sits at an elevation of 6,000 feet. Its diameter is 3,900 feet and the floor of the crater is 600 feet deep. It's likely the Tri-Motor flew over the crater at about 8,000 feet. There was more to come. Nearing Flagstaff, AZ, the eastern reaches of the Grand Canyon could be seen to the north. As the plane continued west, the canyon turned southward, offering even better views. A TAT passenger, Mr. A. A. Garthwaite, was brief and right on point when he wrote:
"People who have not taken your service to the coast have missed the greatest experience of the age. The flight over the western country was a revelation I never expected this side of Heaven."4
By the way, if the above weren't enough, lunch was also served on this leg.
|Meteor Crater, as shown in the November 1929 issue of Plane Talk. The original|
caption suggests it was taken from a TAT flight.
(TAT Plane Talk image courtesy of SHSMO)
The airfield in Kingman was reached in about two hours. Upon landing there, passengers were officially on Pacific time. Another TAT creation, the Kingman airfield had intersecting runways, with the longest stretching 5,200 feet. TAT built passenger terminal and hangar facilities, which closely resembled those constructed at Winslow. Kingman was yet another fifteen-minute stop, however, we suspect it had a special meaning. The next leg (covering 300 miles in just over three hours) would be the last, as its destination was Glendale, CA.
|This picture of a TAT Tri-Motor at Kingman provides an excellent view of the|
pueblo-style passenger terminal.
(TWA Museum photo)
Fast-forward bonus: The current Kingman Airport and Industrial Park is also the home of one of the infamous Southwestern aircraft "boneyards". A number of TWA's L-1011s were retired to Kingman in the 1990s. Though it's not the original TAT airfield, it still is a meaningful and interesting coincidence.
The Home Stretch
Taking place at 2:46 PM, the departure from Kingman was the ninth and final one of the journey. The airfield at Glendale, CA (serving Los Angeles) lay ahead. Departing Kingman, the landscape again changed as the mountainous terrain gave way to the Mojave Desert. Flying southwesterly, the Tri-Motor made its only crossing of the Colorado River, near Needles, CA (offering a view of the intersection of Arizona, California and Nevada). Passengers spent the majority of their three-hour trip flying over the desert until an increase in altitude signaled the upcoming crossing of the San Gabriel Mountains. Desert landscape gave way to the lakes and rivers embedded into the lush green mountain range. Again, assuming clear weather, Mount Wilson and its iconic observatory were easily spotted. Shortly thereafter, the mountains disappeared as the plane descended over Pasadena, CA. TAT passenger Walton Forstall, of Philadelphia, traveled TAT to Los Angeles enroute to Honolulu (via ship from Los Angeles). He wrote extensively of his journey, often creating vivid images with his words. Our guide thinks you'll enjoy his account of his flight into Glendale:
"That journey across Southern California! So swift and with such varying scenery. Mountains, valley and plain, desert and irrigated orchards; one ever-changing kaleidoscope. Again, the symmetry of cultivation. Square and rectangles of green dots, probably most of them orange trees. Three mountain lakes, towns more numerous as we approach the coast; finally, perhaps the greatest spot of all- Pasadena, and then as our motor slows we know we are at journey's end and glide down in Glendale, which that day witnessed the coming and going by airway of several hundred people."5
|Flying over the San Gabriel foothills.|
The flat land that comprises cities around Los Angeles
is at the upper left.
(TAT Plane Talk image courtesy of SHSMO)
Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, CA
A 5:22 PM (PT) touchdown in Glendale, California marked the end of the westbound journey. Dedicated in February 1929, the Grand Central Air Terminal (GCAT) in Glendale stood about ten miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Among others, TAT and Maddux Airlines rented space from the owner, the Curtiss Airport Corporation. Among the airfield's landmarks was a massive hangar owned by the Slate Dirigible Company. The passenger terminal (privately built) was an excellent example of Southern California Spanish colonial revival architecture. A tower rose from its northwest corner. The main northwest/southeast runway (3,800 feet long) was constructed entirely of concrete. TAT (and eventually TWA) used GCAT for only seven years, moving then to the nearby airport in Burbank. It should also be noted that in 1934, Howard Hughes became a neighbor at Glendale, leasing a small building in which he built the Hughes A-1 Racer aircraft. The paths of Howard Hughes and TWA would cross again in just five years. During the 1930s, GCAT was also an excellent location for stargazing, as many Hollywood film legends came and went through the terminal.
After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, GCAT was converted to a defense base and only military air traffic was permitted. The Army did a masterful job camouflaging the airport terminal, hangars, ramps and runway. After the war, GCAT reopened to civilian traffic (as Grand Central Airport), however, it saw little activity and was finally closed as an airfield in 1959. It again changed names, becoming Grand Central Business Park.
In the 1950s, the Walt Disney Company rented an industrial building at the airport for use by the company's design staff. Some years later, Disney rented the original terminal building for use by the development teams for Disney World and Epcot Center. Finally, in 1997, the Disney Company bought all the original airport land. In doing so, Disney planned to create the Grand Central Creation Campus (GC3), envisioned as a location for Disney and other creative companies to house offices.
|A postcard of Glendale Grand Central Air Terminal in 1929.|
The passenger terminal is on the lower left (note the tower).
The Slate Dirigible hangars are on the upper right.
(photo courtesy of Airport Journals (www.airportjournals.com)).
Fast-forward to today: After several years of planning, construction of GC3 moved forward and today is a huge complex of buildings, including those serving several Disney divisions. In 2012, work began to renovate the original terminal building. Today, it sits proudly, brought back to its 1929 grandeur. The main road through the campus today is Grand Central Avenue, occupying the space of what was once GCAT's runway.
|Restored GCAT terminal building, as it appears today.|
(photo by Paul Turang for the Los Angeles Conservancy)
The trip we just took covered the westbound inauguration of TAT's coast-to-coast air/rail service. There was, of course, an eastbound inauguration as well. That took place on July 8, 1929 (the same day the first two westbound Tri-Motors left Columbus). It was a grand event. Two TAT Tri-Motors, sitting on the apron at Glendale, were christened. The first was the City of Los Angeles, with that ceremony performed by Mary Pickford. The christening of the second ship, the City of Philadelphia, was done by Gloria Swanson.
At 8:45 AM, on July 8th, the City of Los Angeles took off first, with Charles Lindbergh at the controls. Lindbergh's contributions to TAT were frequently mentioned in Part One of our story. His overall involvement in TAT's operation was enormous, from his presence at the first planning meeting to recruiting, training, surveying airfields, overseeing construction and periodically "flying the line". His association with TAT (and eventually TWA) was among the most significant events in the development of commercial aviation.
All of our historical sources agree that Lindbergh flew the City of Los Angeles to Kingman and then Winslow. From there, accounts differ. Some report he spent the night in Winslow and then piloted the westbound Tri-Motor on July 9th, for the first TAT landing at Glendale. Other sources report he flew onto Clovis, spending the night there before his westbound return. Plane Talk (which we consider out most accurate original source), takes him only as far as Winslow. It's hard to trace all this because there were plane and crew changes throughout these journeys. Our guide thought, however, that you would enjoy playing history detective with him. Up for it? OK... let's look at the following document:
The document above is one of the most historically significant in our museum's archives. You may recall from Part One that each passenger received a map upon boarding his or her TAT flight. Each map contained a space to record flight details. This map belonged to passenger S.W. Higgins, who received it upon his boarding in Clovis on July 9 (Mr. Higgins was also a passenger on the City of Columbus, the first westbound TAT departure from Columbus on July 8th). There are several autographs, including Amelia Earhart, Anne Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh (we digitally circled them). Were they signed in Clovis? We can't be sure. We do know the plane Lindbergh flew back to Glendale was the City of Philadelphia, so was he on the City of Washington from Clovis to Winslow? Or did Higgins get Lindbergh's autograph in Winslow, or maybe in Los Angeles, after landing? And what of the signature on the lower right, labeled "Pilot"? Was he the captain from Clovis? Or maybe was he Lindbergh's co-pilot from Clovis? And you thought writing this thing was easy?
Whatever the circumstances, we do know that the first TAT westbound arrival into Glendale on July 9th was piloted by Lindbergh. Amelia Earhart was a passenger on board. We're also sure that July 8 and 9, 1929, were days to remember in Glendale, as well as every city that witnessed the arrivals and departures of TAT's Tri-Motors.
And So it Went
This grand experiment of Transcontinental Air Transport evolved quickly, changing soon after it started. On November 16, 1929, TAT merged with Maddux Airlines, resulting in the formation of TAT-Maddux Airlines (in both parts of our article, we referred to the combined airline only as TAT). Maddux brought with it several Ford Tri-Motors, legendary aviators and a west coast route network. As a result of the latter, TAT-Maddux extended its coast-to-coast service to additional west coast cities, including San Francisco (with flights from Glendale). But, there was an even bigger change to soon come.
Herbert Hoover's Postmaster-General, Walter Folger Brown, envisioned mail and passengers being profitably carried by a small number of large airlines. He felt this would best move mail and people by air while allowing the government to carefully regulate mail contracts. In 1930, Brown held a conference mandating that several airlines merge to form a limited number of large airlines. To that end, Brown insisted that Western Air Express and TAT-Mattux combine. The deal, closed in July 1930, resulted in the formation of Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA).
In retrospect, TAT had little choice. The timing of TAT's initial existence was poor as the stock market crash in November 1929 and ensuing Great Depression rocked the country. TAT's ridership (consisting mostly of wealthy individuals who could afford high fares) dropped noticeably. The September 1929 Mount Taylor crash also damaged TAT's image. And while in this article we have mostly highlighted the triumphs of the TAT experiment, there were many setbacks. Delays, cancellations, missed train/plane connections and a series of minor to moderate accidents were widely noticed. Some even commented that TAT stood for "Take A Train". During its relatively short life, TAT did not turn a profit, showing a three million dollar loss at the time of its merger with Western Air Express. Despite this, it would be shortsighted to consider TAT a failure. The determination, ingenuity and courage of many gave birth to and maintained its short but significant existence. In the opening section in Part One, we referenced the ease and speed of flying from New York and Los Angeles today. We put forward the thought that if passengers on these flights today knew of TAT, they would be amazed. We have no doubt that would indeed be true.
|(TWA Museum photo)|
On A Final Note
Our guide has thoroughly enjoyed taking you on this journey. Reading original words written and looking through photographs taken almost 90 years ago was an amazing experience. He never got tired or bored. It's what he does. His one regret? There is so much more to tell. The references we used (listed at the end) are loaded with an impressive array of additional stories and facts. An example: TAT's radio communication system allowed passengers to make radiotelephone calls from air to ground (advertised as to be used only in an emergency). When you have some time, we suggest taking a look at the 1929 issues of Plane Talk on SHSMO's website (the link is listed at the end). We guarantee it will be quite an experience. For now, it's time for our guide to wrap up both parts of this article and clean his really cluttered desk. He'll see you again in our next article.
For Your Information
We are pleased and privileged to celebrate our blog's first birthday. We believe it has been a success and we thank you for your interest and readership. You'll notice the credits are a bit longer this time, as we'd like to recognize everyone who has been involved with the production of the eleven articles we've brought you in our first year. As we enter the "terrible twos" (we'll try to behave), we have some interesting articles on the drawing board for you. There will, however, be a delay in the publication of our next article, as we will be hard at work producing our museum's audio tours. We'll provide more information about that as production moves along. We're excited and feel it will be a great opportunity for us to enhance our visitors' experience. And speaking of visitors, we hope you'll be among them soon. We'll look forward to seeing you!
Author: Wayne Hammer
Editor: Larry Dingman
Editing and Proofing: Pam Tucker
Blog article review team:
Pam Blaschum, Carol Emert, Karen Holden Young, Art Lujin, John Mays, Jon Proctor and Milo Raub
1. TAT Plane Talk newspaper, Vol. 1, Nbr. 9, September, 19292. TAT Plane Talk newspaper, Vol. 1, Nbr. 9, September, 1929
3. Flying Through History - The Kingman-Winslow Regional Airport (www.oldtrailsmuseum.org).
4. TAT Plane Talk newspaper, Vol. 1, Nbr. 9, September, 1929
5. TAT Plane Talk newspaper, Vol. 1, Nbr. 11, November, 1929
Primary Reference Sources (Parts One and Two)
Transcontinental Air Transport, Airway Age Magazine, July, 1929 (Vol. 10, Nbr. 7).
Coast-to-Coast by Plane and Train, memoirs by Aurel J. Knarr, 1930.
Transcontinental Air Transport, by Ed Betts, Journal, American Aviation Historical Society, Fall, 1997
Transcontinental Air Transport, Inc., by George Hopkins, American Heritage Magazine, December, 1975 (Vol. 27, Iss. 1)
Plane Talk, TAT newspaper. Jan.1929 - Dec, 1929 (Vol. 1, Nbrs. 1-12). Collection of Missouri State Historical Society Research Center, Kansas City. Folder:Trans World Airlines (TWA) Records (K0453):
Click here to see the SHSMO 1929 Plane Talk collection
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