Correspondent discovers airmail history
Published 2:46 pm Wednesday, September 25, 2013
While searching for information on the U.S. Post Offices in Climax, I found something that pricked my imagination and interest — huge giant yellow cement arrows.
Reading from “The History Mystery Examiner,” I found that ever so often, most of the time in the vast desert of the American Southwest, someone will run across something puzzling, a large concrete arrow, as much as seventy feet in length sitting in the middle of nowhere, according to the Examiner.
One wonders what are these giant arrows. Some ask, are they some kind of surveying mark? Or maybe landing beacons for flying saucers? Or earth turn signals? No, none of the above!
They are Aviation Navigation Arrows, or get this, “The Transcontinental Air Mail Routes! I was flabbergasted, to say the least.
In 1902 the first U.S. Post Office in Climax was located on Front Street in the back of Mrs. Inez Allen’s store. Today the window is covered with vines. Then the second location for the Climax Post Office was across Main Street next to the Client hotel. Then the Post Office moved across Broad Street to what is now known as the Kudzu Cottage. In 1982 the brick post office on Broad Street was dedicated as the main Climax Post Office and remained so until last year 2012. At that time the Climax post office as many knew it was closed and moved again to Ware’s on Broad Street and is now called a village Post Office.
For 110 years Climax had a busy functioning Post Office, In August 1920 these strange yellow arrows appeared. On August 20 of that year the United Stated opened the first coast to coast airmail delivery route only 60 years after the pony express closed.
Due to there being no good aviation charts in those days the pilots had to find their way across the country the best way they could using landmarks as guides. That meant flying in bad weather was difficult and night flying was almost impossible. The Postal Service solved the problem with the world’s first ground-based civilian navigation system, a series of lighted beacons that would extend from New York to San Francisco.
Every ten miles, pilots passed a 70 ft. brightly painted yellow concrete arrow on the ground with a 51 foot steel tower in the center of the arrow topped by million-candlepower rotating beacons. Below the rotating beacons were two course lights pointing forward and backward along the arrow. The course lights flashed a code to identify the beacon’s number. If needed, a generator shed at the tail, (or feather end) of each arrow powered the beacon and lights.
By 1924 a year after Congress funded it, the line of giant concrete markers stretched from Rock Spring, Wyoming to Cleveland, Ohio. The next summer, it reached all the way to New York and then all the way to San Francisco by 1929. In 1926 a 650-mile air mail route linking Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and passing through Washington County was proposed by the U.S. Postal Service. This was designated as Contract Air Mail Route 4 (CAM-4). Western Air Express Inc. was awarded a contract to lay out the route and carry the mail. Their first flight was made on April 17, 1926 in a Douglas M-2 airplane. By 1928 the route had been marked with the bright yellow cement arrows and beacon towers.
In 1926 the Postal Service turned the beacons and arrows over to the Department of Commerce, because airmail was becoming more important, leading to the development of airlines. The Postal Service said they only wanted to take care of the mail not any airlines. By the 1940’s new advances in communications and navigation technology made the huge giant arrows obsolete and the commerce department decommissioned the beacons. The steel towers were torn down and went to the war effort. Many of the arrows were removed, however, some of these giants were left, some said to confuse future archaeologists born years after the beacon towers were removed.
Today the yellow paint is faint and almost gone, the concrete cracks a little more with each passing year. No one crosses their path much anymore except for maybe a coyote and a few tumbleweeds. But they’re still out there in places you might not expect, especially in the West. But alas, no one has reported finding one near or around Climax; but the City of Climax was incorporated and had a post office about 18 years before the airmail arrows began. Climax’s Post Office was in the pony express age! Good luck finding a huge giant cement arrow unless you take a trip out West; then you might put this on your to do list.