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."

New Record Is Set for Seattle-San Francisco Route Trip
(United News Leased Wire)
    SAN FRANCISCO, March 25.--Postmaster J. E. Power announced that the new airmail service between Seattle and Los Angeles has demonstrated its effectiveness by setting a new record for the Seattle-San Francisco hop.
    The space between the two cities was negotiated in six hours and 40 minutes.as compared with a scheduled time of 9 hours and 20 minutes, he said.
    Remainder of the test flight will be made tomorrow, and Postmaster Power said that the San Francisco-Los Angeles jump probably would be made in less than the scheduled five hours.
    Actual airmail operation along the coast will begin in two weeks. Planes will leave Seattle in the morning, touch here seven or eight hours later and then depart for Los Angeles the next morning. The postal rate between Los Angeles and Seattle will be 20 cents for an ounce or less. From Seattle to San Francisco will cost 15 cents for a similar weight, while the San Francisco-Los Angeles delivery will cost 10 cents.
    The Pacific Air Transport Company of Medford, Ore. is in charge of the transportation.
Bakersfield Californian, March 25, 1926, page 1

    VANCOUVER, Wn., May 15.--Lee Schoenhair, pilot of the Pacific Air Transport, contractors for the coast air mail service which is to start next month, hopped off from Pearson Field here at 7 o'clock this morning, in an attempt to make a nonstop flight to Los Angeles.
    Schoenhair, in a Ryan M-l plane, equipped with the Wright Whirlwind motor, carried an extra supply of 90 gallons of gasoline in addition to the regular 50-gallon supply.
    In order that the trip would be under mail-carrying conditions, the plane carried 900 pounds extra weight, exclusive of the pilot.
Santa Ana Register, Santa Ana, California, May 15, 1926, page 1

Portland-L.A. Flight Without Stop Succeeds

    LOS ANGELES, March 15.--Lee Schoenhair, pilot of the Pacific Air Transport, arrived here at 4:20 p.m. today on a non-stop flight from Portland, Ore.
    Schoenhair was nine hours and 20 minutes in the air, completing successfully the first non-stop flight along the Pacific Coast.
    He flew a Ryan M-l plane, equipped with a Wright Whirlwind motor.
    Schoenhair is one of the several pilots of the Pacific Air Transport who will make regular mail carrying flights along the new coast air line starting next month.
    He carried 900 pounds extra weight, equivalent to a load of mail, in the test flight today.
Oakland Tribune, May 15, 1926, page 23

Monoplane Gives Bakersfield Thrill
    Preparing Bakersfield for what will soon be a common sight, a pilot of the Pacific Air Transport Company, which will carry the airmail through Bakersfield, flew a Ryan M-1 mail monoplane over the business district in a demonstration of speed and maneuverability shortly after noon today.
    The pilot is in Bakersfield in connection with the equipping of the flying field for night landings of the mail ships.
    Though the present tentative schedule of the Pacific Coast airmail calls for the landing of the planes here between midnight and 3 a.m., President Gorst of the air transport company is believed to be working to revise the schedule so that landings will be made here during the daylight hours.
Bakersfield Californian, August 21, 1926, page 9

Monoplane Makes Trial Night Flight
    LOS ANGELES, Aug. 29.--(By the Associated Press.)--A monoplane of the Pacific Air Transport company hopped off from here at 12:03 a.m. today in a trial night flight to San Francisco, with stops scheduled at Bakersfield and Fresno, Calif.
    SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 29.--(By the Associated Press.)--Completing the first night test flight over the airways of the Pacific Coast air mail route, a monoplane of the Pacific Air Transport company arrived here from Los Angeles at 5:30 a.m. today.
    The plane left Los Angeles at 12:03 and made stops at Bakersfield and Fresno, where lighted landing fields were used. The test flight was entirely successful, Vern Gorst of the company announced. The company will be able to inform the postmaster general that it is ready to begin mail service over the route in a few days, Gorst said.
    Another night test flight is scheduled soon for the route between Seattle and Portland, which is also lighted. The mail schedule calls for day travel between Portland and San Francisco.
    George W. Allen of Los Angeles piloted the test plane and James Mushett, superintendent of the division, was a passenger. They were able to see the light beacon at Turlock, seventy-five miles away, as soon as they took off at Fresno, they said.
    The planes have a capacity of 600 pounds of mail and two passengers.
Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, August 30, 1926, page 2

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 31.--(AP)--Service on the Pacific Coast contract air mail route between Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles will be inaugurated September 15, Postmaster General New announced today.
    LOS ANGELES, Aug. 31.--(AP)--The schedule of air mail service between Los Angeles and Seattle, which according to Washington dispatches will be inaugurated September 15, calls for planes to leave the two terminals at 12:05 a.m. every day except Mondays, it was announced today by C. N. Comstock, president of the Pacific Air Transport.
    The flight will require about 12 hours and stops will be made at Bakersfield, Fresno, San Francisco, Medford, Ore., and Portland.
Oakland Tribune, August 31, 1926, page 27

Northbound Plane Trims Time Half-Hour in Trip from South to S.F.
as Coast Service Is Started

Fliers Acclaimed by Crowds and City Officials Along Route;
Reducing of Schedule for Trip Is Forecast

United Press Staff Correspondent.

    SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 15.--Seattle and Los Angeles became 13 hours apart today when airplanes whirred north from the south, and south from the north, to inaugurate the Pacific Coast Air Mail.
    Flying in better than schedule time, the northbound plane, off from Los Angeles at 12:03 o'clock this morning, terminated its hop to San Francisco at 5 a.m., exactly 30 minutes earlier than contemplated.
    The southbound plane hopped off from Seattle at 3:45 a.m., and at Portland was seven minutes behind schedule, according to advices from the north. It took off for Medford at 5:52 a.m., whereas its schedule called for departure at 5:45 o'clock.
    The southbound plane was still behind schedule when it arrived at San Francisco at 12:27 o'clock this afternoon. It took off for Fresno and Los Angeles at 12:40.
    The northbound plane was expected to beat its schedule all the way to Seattle. It was due to arrive in the Puget Sound City at 2 o'clock this afternoon. The southbound ship was believed likely to regain lost time and arrive at Los Angeles according to schedule, at 5 p.m.
    Notwithstanding the slight slipup in the southbound schedule, Vern C. Gorst, president of the "Pat" line, contraction of the name Pacific Air Transport under which the contracting company operates, announced.
    "The first flights indicate that we may be able to reduce the 13-hour schedule between Los Angeles and Seattle. We easily cut a half hour off the flying schedule from Los Angeles to San Francisco with poor weather conditions to contend with, and I am sure that after a trial of a week we will be able to improve the schedule."
    The northbound plane came to rest at Concord field, Contra Costa County, the San Francisco landing field for northbound planes--with 14 sacks of mail.
    Four were transferred to a special plane for conveyance to Crissy Field, San Francisco Presidio. The others, with four sacks from San Francisco, were dispatched north to Medford and Portland.
    Municipal recognition of the airmail inauguration was scheduled on an elaborate scale today in the cities directly located on the airmail route--Los Angeles, Fresno and San Francisco, California, and Portland and Seattle.
    San Francisco bestowed its official recognition at noon, when Postmaster James E. Power, Mayor James Rolph, Jr., and officials of other bay cities gathered at Crissy Field, landing place for southbound planes, to welcome the machine from the north.
    Postmaster Power announced that the post office department is designing a special 15-cent stamp for use between Los Angeles and Seattle.
    San Francisco, virtually the halfway point on the 1009-mile air mail route, is now, for mail purposes, eight hours from Seattle and five hours from Los Angeles.
    The present flying schedule of the "Pat" line calls for one flight south and one flight north daily. Nine planes are in operation, with others in reserve.
First Coast Mail Plane Reaches Concord
    CONCORD, Sept. 15.--Just before the sunrise this morning the first airplane on the new Los Angeles-Seattle airmail run landed at the government mail field here. It was piloted from Fresno by Vance Breese. Another waiting plane was rushed northward, leaving at 5:37 in the hands of Paul Starbuck, who will carry the mails from here to Medford, Oregon.
    The plane used to transport the mail from here on the northern leg of the trip was brought to Concord yesterday by its builder, L. Gilmore, from Grass Valley. The flight from Grass Valley was made in a little over an hour.
Ship Is 35 Minutes Ahead at Medford
    MEDFORD, Ore., Sept. 15.--In the initial night of two planes in the Pacific air mail service the ship from the north arrived here at 8:38 a.m., 23 minutes behind schedule time, and departed at 8:45 a.m. The San Francisco ship arrived here at 8:40 a.m., 15 min. ahead of schedule, and went on at 9:30 a.m.
    One hundred and fifteen pounds and three ounces of mail came from Portland for Medford.
    The two planes took on here 10,040 pieces of mail, weighing155 pounds.
    The plane from Portland encountered fog the entire distance until it reached the Rogue River Valley. The plane from the south traveled in fog until it reached Mount Shasta and from there both foggy and clear conditions were encountered until the Rogue River Valley was reached, where clear atmosphere prevailed.
    An enormous crowd witnessed the landing and leave-taking of the planes, and the pilots were greeted and congratulated by city officials and local post officials.
    TRACY, Sept. 15.--The monster beacon light located at Tracy is in readiness for the inauguration of the Pacific Air Transport Corporation coast air mail service. This is one of the large lights of 7,500,000 candlepower and revolves at the rate of six times a minute. It is placed on a 50-foot steel frame. There are ten of the large beacons and 14 of 400,000 candlepower at intervals on the route. By the aid of these searchlights a direct night-flying route will be possible.
Oakland Tribune, September 15, 1926, page 1

    Airships that pass in the night, speeding U.S. mail and enterprising passengers to their destinations, no longer grope their way uncertainly through the midnight clouds.
    Powerful beacon lights erected on steel towers guide the mail planes of the Pacific Air Transport from Seattle to Los Angeles just as the lighthouses along the coast keep ships at sea on their bearings.
    C. N. Comstock, vice president of the Pacific Air Transport, says 26 of these automatic rotating beacons have been established, at a cost of more than $25,000, to complete the first and longest electric lighted airway in the West.
    There are 17 of these huge beacon towers between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and nine between Seattle and the Golden Gate.
    In order to provide adequate light to guide the airmail pilots into their various airports over this 1100-mile route and keep them on the safest course, the beacons are divided into two sizes. Nine of them have 7,500,000-candlepower globes erected on 50-foot towers at strategic points. The 17 smaller lights are 400,000 candlepower each and rotate on 40-foot towers, set at necessary intervals between the larger beacon towers.
    The Hollywood beacon is one of the smaller lights and is located on the top of one of the highest knolls in the Hollywood Hills directly north of the Los Angeles P.A.T. airport.
    These beacons are connected with electric power lines along the coast and are operated automatically by a clock attachment which turns them on and sets them rotating at nightfall and extinguishes and stops them at daybreak.
    J. L. Mushett, division superintendent for Southern California, who has his headquarters at the Los Angeles terminal of the Pacific Air Transport at Exposition Boulevard and Angeles Mesa Drive, sends a man out once a week to inspect the string of beacon lights in his division and see that they are in good working order.
    "We certainly appreciate those lights," said Vance Breese, veteran pilot, who is one of the regulars in the airmail service for the company. "Although it is almost always possible to pick out roads and railroads from the air, even on the darkest nights, these beacons tell us just which way to head, and about how high to fly, for most of them are on the highest point in each beacon section.
    "The flying time from Los Angeles to San Francisco is five hours and to Seattle, 14 hours for both mail and passengers. Only 1000 miles a day."
Oxnard Daily Courier, Oxnard, California, December 9, 1926, page 3


    Nearly 300,000 letters and parcels were sent by air mail between all coast cities last month, reports A. K. Humphries, vice president of the Pacific Air Transport Company. The total weight was 7365 pounds, a gain of 565 pounds over the preceding month's cargo.
    Improved facilities for overcoming treacherous weather are believed to account for the increasing patronage of the air mail service between coast cities. Extra planes are stationed at strategic points in Southern California and the air mail is rushed to these planes when the airport is fogbound.To combat adverse weather in the Pacific Northwest, a specially built motorcycle manned by a former race driver is held in readiness to carry the mail to the southbound plane beyond the bad weather area.
    Fred Speers and Claude Conn, editor and business manager of the Daily, will take the Pacific Air Transport line to Seattle Sunday.
Stanford Daily, Palo Alto, California, October 14, 1927, page 1

Seattle Concern Acquires Big Interest in Pacific Air Transport Company
System to Be Operated Along Same Lines as the N.Y.-S.F. Planes.
    Announcement was made Friday noon from the Boeing Air Transport, Inc., offices, Newhouse Hotel building, of interest to airmail operations, when Vice President Edward Hubbard, returning from San Francisco, gave out the information that his company operating the transcontinental route from Chicago to the Pacific Coast had acquired a substantial interest in the Pacific Air Transport, operating the airmail line between Seattle and Los Angeles. Acquisition of this interest in the coastal line gives the Boeing Air Transport full operation and a share in the operation of 3100 miles of air transport. Coincident with the announcement, Mr. Hubbard said that from this date the Pacific Air Transport will be operated along the lines of the policy of the Boeing company.
    Under the new arrangement, Philip G, Johnson, president of the Boeing Airplane Company of Seattle, and the Boeing Air Transport, Inc. becomes president of the Pacific Air Transport; A. K. Humphries is vice president and general manager, and Vern C. Gorst, former president and manager, becomes a vice president. For the time, there is to be no other change in the P.A.T. personnel, Mr. Hubbard announced.
    Mr. Hubbard also announced that the Pacific Air Transport is to re-equip its line with planes from the Boeing plant in Seattle, an order having been placed this week. The coastline has operated with eight planes and the replacement calls for the latest model Boeing ship, which is a four-passenger type, with Pratt-Whitney motors. These new ships will be on the line before the first of May, it is announced.
    The Pacific Air Transport has been in operation since September, 1926, when the bid for the route was awarded to Mr. Gorst, who organized the company. For several months now the company has been carrying passengers in addition to its mail contract, and there has been with that line, like all others, a steady increase in mail poundage.
    Until the beginning of operations, July 1, by the Boeing Air Transport of the Chicago-Salt-Lake-San Francisco transcontinental line, the Pacific Air Transport was the longest contract route in the United States, with the Chicago-Dallas line second. The distance from Chicago to San Francisco is approximately 2000 miles.
    "We are in the midst of severe tests on airmail transport," said Mr. Hubbard, who has been on an inspection trip of the western end of his lines, "as weather figures as a big factor. And while all lines are experiencing delays because of storms, I find the private operators are maintaining a schedule above the average maintained by the government during its period of operations."
Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 21, 1928, page 24

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.
    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!"
    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.
    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!
    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.
    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 November 30, 2019