Let’s Explore America! #1
Now that school is out and families are going camping and on vacations, let’s go exploring! Can you find these in your neck of the woods?? . . . .
Back in the early 1900’s, as expansion to the West was picking up speed, the country depended on the Pony Express for mail delivery. With all the increasing ground to cover, however, the Pony Express and stage coach lines could not hope to keep up with demand, so on August 20, 1920, the US Postal Service opened its first coast-to-coast airmail delivery route.
Aviation was a new field back in those days so there were no good aviation charts, GPS had not been invented, and there were no navigational instruments in the cockpit save maybe a compass. It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants endeavor. Flying in bad weather or at night was nearly impossible just keeping the plane in the air, never mind ending up at the right destination on schedule. There was no FTR (Follow The Road) flying like many private pilots do today, because there weren’t any roads!
The Postal Service came up with a solution by building the world’s first ground-based civilian navigation system: huge 70-foot concrete arrows painted bright yellow dispersed across the flight path every ten miles or so! The spacing was closer in the mountains and farther apart through the plains. Each arrow was accompanied by a 51-foot steel tower lit by a 5-million candlepower rotating beacon run by a generator to make night flying possible. The beacons flashed identification numbers in Morse code so pilots could tell where they were. The code sequence was “WUVHRKDBGM” which prompted the training phrase pilots memorized “When Undertaking Very Hard Routes Keep Directions By Good Methods.” Think lighthouses across the prairies of America! Even a very poor pilot could follow the Yellow Brick Road across the country!
By 1929, the “yellow brick road” spanned the entire continent uninterrupted to provide mail service in just 30 hours or so from one side of the country to the other, a postal system the whole world envied. Once again, American ingenuity prevailed. At its peak, there were 1500 arrows outlining 18,000 miles of delivery routes.
By the 1940s, new inventions in technology and navigation made the arrows obsolete and during the WWII period, the steel towers were dismantled to provide steel for the war effort. Many arrow markings were removed during WWII to prevent aiding enemy bomber incursions into the mainland, because remember, America was very fearful after Pearl Harbor that the mainland would be attacked next. Lots more of the arrows became overgrown or were destroyed to make way for expansion construction projects, but many arrows are still out there – can you find one this summer?
Per Dream Smith Photos (www.dreamsmithphotos.com), there are confirmed arrows remaining in the following western states:
WA 1 arrow, 17 beacons, OR 5 arrows, 14 beacons, CA 9 arrows, 12 beacons, ID 7 arrows, 12 beacons, NV 17 arrows, 19 beacons, UT 11 arrows, 29 beacons, AZ 1 arrow, 26 beacons, WY 13 arrows, 10 beacons, NM 18 arrows, 15 beacons, TX 11 arrows, 12 beacons, OK 4 arrows, 4 beacons, KS 5 arrows, , 8 beacons, NE 1 arrow, 18 beacons
(Hint: if you go to the dreamsmithphotos link, the exact location of each of these arrows is given . . . ) Take the family and find a little bit of American history!