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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Pacific Air Transport
For footage of a P.A.T. trimotor at the Medford Airport, see the circa 1930 Harold Kem film "The Haunted Camera."
The Sky Trail of Oregon
    Motoring over the Pacific Highway through Northern California and Oregon, and delighted with the beauty of that route, I am thrilled through and through with the amazing wonder of the shortcut back by the skyways, and ready to commend a vacation in the air to all who will listen, especially if taken with mail pilots.
    With some excitement, I tucked away in my purse a small ticket which declared my right to a place as passenger aboard the mail plane leaving Portland at seven the following morning for San Francisco and Oakland. The thrill of the adventure had begun.
    Having called the office of the Pacific Air Transport Company in Portland, to ascertain weather conditions in prospect, the kind of plane, the name of the pilot, I was asked to "wait a moment." In a brief minute came the answer, clear and concise: "Good weather all of the way through is predicted; a Travel Air to Medford; Mr. [J. Russell] Cunningham is the pilot. A change of plane and pilot will be made at Medford." If I wished, the person would be pleased to remain at the office in order to give me my ticket. I promised to be right down--swallowing a little!
    A great remedy for last-moment timidity is to pay your fare and possess your ticket. The purchase of an air voyage ticket is accompanied by bright enthusiasm and hearty good wishes for a wonderful trip--and is not just a matter of a rubber stamp or so, with a blasé pocketing of your money. It is a simple method for everyday folks to indulge themselves in the emotions of Columbus.
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    So, at six the next morning, through the streets and over the bridges of Portland, with starlight lasting into dawn, we motored to the airport at Vancouver, Wash. "Hello!" I said to the occupied young man in the office at the hangar. "I'm your passenger this morning!" "All right-o--I'll be with you in a jiffy." He brought out a very long, bifurcated garment, with familiar Lindbergh collar, and placed its long length on the floor.
    I stepped into the middle of it, knickers, coat, sweater, everything--enveloped by the capacious garment, which was made snug at ankles and wrists and zippered to the chin. A soft wool helmet was adjusted to a snug fit. Monstrous goggles were mounted on my forehead, ready to be slipped into place when needed. This, we felt, was going to be a genuine flight!
    The Travel Air was wheeled out and the motor tuned up. The pilot took his place, and I climbed into the small open cockpit in front of him and directly back of the engine--with all its busy little things going smartly up and down. I hoped they would keep on going smartly up and down, with nary a stop, for on that ability of theirs depended our staying in the sky and traveling on our way.
    Mail sacks were jammed in beside me, my Gladstone lay across my legs, my hat took rough chances in the crevices. I was securely strapped in, and then a folded parachute was placed on top of the mail at my side with the remark, "You will have to put that on at Medford for the flight over the Siskiyous!"
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    My first trip by air a few months ago had been taken in a Boeing transcontinental plane, a brief half hour from Concord, Calif. to Sacramento, sitting comfortably in a cozy cabin, with no more breeze than we wished, and wearing street clothes suited to a warm day in Sacramento. This open cockpit experience, bundled up and strapped in, was going to be something very different of a primitive pioneer sort, but an experience which I had hoped to have before all passenger flights should become deluxe and commonplace.
    The blocks were pulled away from before the wheels and the motor whirred madly. With a wave to friends, off we rushed along the runway, and rising easily in a short space we mounted into the sky, becoming that speck in the sunny distance we ourselves so often watched from the stolid ground. The sun rose at the same time, and we were joyous at the thought of taking "the wings of the morning" and flying to "the uttermost parts" of the earth.
    The day was clear to the wide horizons. Mt. Hood gleamed in fullest grandeur, and all of the other snowy peaks rose in magnificent outline on this rim of our huge horizon. The Oregon landscape swept below us, in swiftly changing, happy variety of forest and stream and rolling hills.
    Fog lay in little valleys far beneath, and treetops reaching above threw long penciled shadows on soft white slopes as the sun slanted through in the early morning. A fairy scene! There was too much to see at once--I tried to take a nap, just to rest from thronging impressions and to keep perceptions keen.
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    From seven until about nine-thirty we sped along the skyways over Oregon, reveling in the most gorgeous adventure of a lifetime rather filled with varied adventures, from pioneering in the woods of Washington to gypsy-jaunting through the Balkans close on the heels of the Great War, and sightseeing just offstage from the battlefront of the Greeks and Turks in Asia Minor.
    No longer had we "roots to our feet"! No longer did Old Earth claim us in the grip of gravitation (provided the motor kept going)!  We sensed the mightier forces of the universe, the perfect law of stabililty, the tremendous movement of the spheres through space, and man's right to his place in the sun and among the stars!
    Watching for Medford--there it was just around the corner of some hills--down we swooped upon the racetrack, now being made into a landing field. Banking sharply, straightening out, dropping softly down upon the ground, there was a playful bounce, or two, a hop, and a skip, and our Travel Air rolled sedately to a stop in front of the hangar. Friends awaited us, and they had their thrill in watching us approach from one far horizon and later vanish over another.
    Mr. [James L.] Rutledge for pilot, a tiny plane, but the same passenger and the same mail sacks. The parachute was fastened to my back, the straps made secure by three pair of willing hands, and I was instructed how to pull the ring if needs must. A box lunch was handed to me, and I was shoehorned into the little cockpit, close to the busy Wright Whirlwind motor with its funny little things going smartly up and down just before my eyes.
    I was not strapped in this time, but there was small chance of falling out of those close quarters with that sky-hiking pack on my back, even though we should do capers in the sky. With another mad whir of the motor, off we shot once more, and with a wave of the hand to our friends and the dog climbed high, heading straight for the snowy Siskiyous and glorious old Shasta.
    The flight past this grand old mountain was one of superb grandeur--deeply covered with snow as it was far down its slopes. We flew close, and marveled every minute. Nine thousand feet high we spun along at 120 miles an hour! The Siskiyous extended as far as one could see in snowy ridges. The railroad twisted its crooked, laborious way far below. The auto highway was clearly defined in its white curving and sharp turning through the mountains.
    After days of driving over those twisting and sometimes frosty curves, the straight path through the sky seemed in contrast a blessed relief, and sane and beautiful as a mode of travel, and so swift!
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    Farther south the blossomy orchards rested like soft, fluffy powder puffs upon the earth. We were tossed about somewhat, and took long glides downward at times, when I found myself reaching for the parachute ring just to be sure I had its location memorized! But we did no loops nor somersaults, and the marvel was that the plane under the clever guidance of the pilot held so stable and even on her keel amidst all of the buffeting. The waves of the ocean looked like blue rolling hills, and the hills seemed undulating waves of the sea--an impressive sight.
    We ate our lunch sky-high. The sandwich released from its wrapping began to dry up with the first bite. Our lips fluttered and cheeks shook, the rush of wind was so great, and eating was a funny business. We tossed the apple core overboard. It is against the rules to throw anything overboard from a cabin plane, but there were no signs about--they would have blown away themselves--and I had to toss something overboard, so it was the apple core.
    My scarf whipped off in a jiffy--the quickest disappearance of anything that could be imagined. I had held it across my mouth for comfort in breathing when over the snowy ranges, and later above California it was loosely knotted about my neck. Off it went, and the only sense I had of its going was that it was gone. I turned in an endeavor to see it sailing through the blue--and my pilot handed it back to me! He had reached out swiftly and snatched a corner as it whipped past him. He was quick, that pilot chap.
    A few trips later he landed safely by parachute, the motor having stopped for lack of gas after a battle with the glaze, and like a flash he was over the side and on his way to earth. With a passenger along the pilot does not jump until he has pried his fellow traveler loose and seen him on his way--it is the air code.
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    When we drew nearer Mt. Diablo I hoped we might fly above my home, as the planes to and from the East do, but we swung off at Carquinez Bridge and headed toward the Golden Gate for San Francisco. It was with a little feeling of excitement when I saw we were really going out over the bay and I found myself hoping that there was gasoline enough to finish our trip nicely.
    We flew directly over Alcatraz Island and I looked at the prison buildings and grounds. Poor fellows, they have "roots to their feet" certainly, and all their wings are clipped! Soldiers ran to get the mail when we dropped down upon Crissy Field. Ten minutes longer for me, they said.
    Another expert takeoff, flying straight into the Golden Gate. Then, swinging about, we sailed along over the ferryboats and other bay craft, past Goat Island, evading some fog banks, and finally found ourselves landing in style at the splendid Oakland Airport. Tired a little, stiff from the cramped quarters, having flown from seven in the morning until one o'clock in the afternoon--five hours and forty-five minutes actual flying time my certificate reads--I was loosed from my burden of the parachute and helped out of the cockpit, ears ringing from the motor noise, and wobbly on my feet, but thrilled to the marrow with the gorgeous adventure in the air!
    I would [not] have missed it for the world, and am happy to have done it pioneer fashion while flying is still so wonderful and eventful an experience for almost anyone. My warmest tribute to the air mail pilots; they are fine, skilled and remarkable men, all of them!--Christian Science Monitor.
Medford Mail Tribune, June 24, 1928, page 12



Last revised March 2, 2018