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The Transcontinental Air Mail Route.

Discussion in 'Chit-Chat' started by hey you, Sep 6, 2013.

  1. hey you

    hey you SILVER Star

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    Has anyone seen these? Looks like a fun 4x trip to locate the existing ones.

    The Transcontinental Air Mail Route.

    On August 20, 1920, the United States opened its first coast-to-coast airmail delivery route, just 60 years after the Pony Express closed up shop.

    There were no good aviation charts in those days, so pilots had to eyeball their way across the country using landmarks. This meant that flying in bad weather was difficult, and night flying was just about impossible.

    The Postal Service solved the problem with the world's first ground-based civilian navigation system: a series of lit beacons that would extend from New York to San Francisco.

    Every ten miles, pilots would pass a bright yellow concrete arrow. Each arrow would be surmounted by a 51-foot steel tower & lit by a million-candlepower rotating beacon. (generator shed at the tail of each arrow powered the beacon.)

    Now mail could get from the Atlantic to the Pacific not in a matter of weeks, but in just 30 hours or so. Even the dumbest of air mail pilots, it seems, could follow a series of bright yellow arrows straight out of a Tex Avery cartoon.

    By 1924, just a year after Congress funded it, the line of giant concrete markers stretched from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Cleveland, Ohio. The next summer, it reached all the way to New York, and by 1929 it spanned the continent uninterrupted, the envy of postal systems worldwide.

    Radio and radar are, of course, infinitely less cool than a concrete Yellow Brick Road from sea to shining sea, but I think we all know how this story ends. New advances in communication and navigation technology made the big arrows obsolete, and the Commerce Department decommissioned the beacons in the 1940s. The steel towers were torn down and went to the war effort. But the hundreds of arrows remain. Their yellow paint is gone, their concrete cracks a little more with every winter frost, and no one crosses their path much, except for coyotes and tumbleweeds. But they're still out there.

    Origins: In the 1920s, the U.S. Post Office began experimenting with cross-country delivery of mail by air. Before the advent of radio guidance, mail pilots picked their way along from visible landmark to visible landmark, a system that somewhat served where there were recognizable geological or manmade features to be guided by, but not at all in areas such as vast stretches of empty, repetitive desert.

    In 1924, in recognition that its pilots needed more help finding their way, the Post Office began erecting combinations of large concrete arrows and lighted beacons along its established airmail routes. Roughly every ten miles along these paths, mail pilots would encounter 50-foot towers topped with rotating lights at whose base were 50- to 70-foot concrete foundations that from the air looked like arrows. These course lights flashed a code to identify each beacon’s number.

    In 1926, the Post Office Department turned management of the beacons over to the Department of Commerce. The project was finished in 1929, thereby completing a route from New York to San Francisco.

    When visibility wasn't impaired by weather conditions, the light from the next beacon could be seen from the one currently being flown over. Additionally, each arrow pointed to the next arrow, a feature that helped keep pilots on course when bad weather obscured the signal from the next lit beacon.

    The arrow-and-beacon system did not long serve the country's aviators. By the early 1930s, technological advances (radio guidance and radar) began to give those flying over featureless terrain far more reliable methods of finding their way.

    These days, while scant few of the towers remain (many were disassembled for s**** metal during World War II), quite a number of those painted concrete arrows still dot the American landscape.

    Barbara "broken arrows" Mikkelson
    Last updated: 30 August 2013
    Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2013 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
     
  2. hey you

    hey you SILVER Star

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  3. 76FJ40

    76FJ40 Old Fart SILVER Star

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    I thought it was cool.
     
  4. Paul_L

    Paul_L

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    The one in New Mexico looks cool.
     
  5. Haggis

    Haggis

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    Great article. Thanks for posting.
     
  6. thatcabledude

    thatcabledude

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    I love this kinds of stuff!
     
  7. thatcabledude

    thatcabledude

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    Found a pic of the route...... Aparently I-80 was built prettly much the same route.

    Being an on again, off again geocacher, I knew there had to be caches hiden at some of these sites. After a little research on the geocaching site I found a whole bunch of them. Some of the site easy to make out, some just have bits of the tower or shed left. Several I found were built right beside a cliff. Not sure why because the placement wasn't to exact measurements.


    Here is another good one:
    37°10'49.94"N 113°24'1.53"W
     

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    Last edited: Sep 8, 2013
  8. hey you

    hey you SILVER Star

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    Here are few GPS Coordinates in the St. George area and Salt Lake City. I also understand that Montana still maintains 10 or 11 as functional and charted navaids for low altitude VFR night flights across the mountains. I’m not a pilot, not sure.

    I have information on one outside of Vegas, still looking for a GPS coordinate.

    40° 42′ 16.11″N 112° 15′ 12.50″ W (Airway Beacon 61A, photos below)
    37° 3’53.17″N 113°35’43.15″ W (Airway Beacon 37A)
    37° 7’2.66″N 113°29’15.36″ W (Airway Beacon 37C)
    37°10’50.03″N 113°24’1.45″W (Airway Beacon 38)
     

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  9. Doc

    Doc

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    I'm really close to 61A, but I wonder where the 60 series beacons are, they should be closer to me!
     
  10. Haggis

    Haggis

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    Very cool pics!
     
  11. 65swb45

    65swb45 Supporting Vendor

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    One of my desert buds sent me a link to this article about two weeks ago, with more pics. Very cool stuff. You'd think someone would be trying to have them listed as 'historical', filing for grants to preserve them, hosting events, blah, blah, blah. I mean they're willing to drive a hundred mule train down the L.A. Aquaduct next month, right?
     
  12. hey you

    hey you SILVER Star

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    Here’s another arrow just north of Las Vegas. A reporter friend in Las Vegas wrote an article in June about this particular arrow. The concrete arrow marked what was known as Contract Air Mail Route 4 between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

    Here are some driving directions for how to find it: From Las Vegas, go north on I-15 about 58 miles. You will pass the exit for Glendale and the exit for Overton and the Clark County Fairgrounds.

    Shortly after the Overton exit, the highway will crest a hill onto Mormon Mesa and you will see a truck pullout area on the southbound shoulder of the road. To reach it, you will have to continue north another 4 miles or so to the Carp-Elgin exit so you can cross back to the southbound side and drive back to the truck pullout.

    Once there, you will see a fence and a gate and a road leading to the communication towers on the hills to the south, back in the direction of Glendale. The gate was unlocked when I used it. Drive through, close the gate behind you and follow the access road to those towers on the hill. Eventually, you will reach a place where the road splits and a sign says something about authorized vehicles only. If you park right there and look down the hill to the north, back in the direction of I-15, you should see the arrow maybe 50 yards from the road you are on.

    Photo credit- HENRY BREAN/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

    GPS +36° 41' 7.13", -114° 31' 3.55"
     

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    Last edited: Sep 16, 2013

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