It was a technological breakthrough. The United States launched its first coast-to-coast airmail route on August 20, 1920. A team of seven WWI-trained pilots navigated across the continent by watching for geological or man-made landmarks.
Pilots relied on their eyeballs and compasses. When darkness fell, the trains took over. It could get dangerous.
So the US Postal Service acted. They lit up a concrete roadmap from New York to San Francisco. The Transcontinental Airway System cut the amount of time it took to deliver a letter across the United States by two business days. One pilot could do it all — and Lovelock played a starring role.
Once the PO launched the system, a pilot flew over a concrete arrow about every ten miles along the transcontinental route. Workers splashed bright yellow paint on most of them. At seventy feet long they were impossible to miss, even in the dead of night.
Generators powered million candle-power rotating beacons. Fifty-one-foot steel towers housed the whirling signals. A man or woman lived on-site to maintain the works.
By 1929, over a thousand beacons, towers, and arrows stretched from New York City to San Francisco, about 18,000 miles. They steered pilots between the thirteen stops on their route across the country.
Lovelock’s arrow remains. To get to it, take Upper Valley Road past EP. The arrow is visible from the roadside as the Frontage Road veers to the left.
While you’re there, have a look around. Nearby horses swish their tails back and forth in a losing battle against fly bites. Mary Ann Alice Spence lived her entire life (five years, ten months, and fifteen days) on this ground before she succumbed to cholera.
In Mary Ann Alice’s day, Oreana housed the Montezuma Smelting Works. She died in 1867, according to the engraving on her white marble headstone. Her grave sits on top of a hill overlooking the valley that once brimmed with saloons, restaurants, and boarding houses.
In 1949, Mackie Duncan rescued the Spence headstone from disintegration when she and her husband started their ranch. She maintains the grave to this day.
Nearby, the Humboldt River flows — a good place for watching dragonflies. On Monday, one perched on the bank, a living symbol of courage, strength, and happiness.
By the 1940s, radio and radar navigation made the Transcontinental Airway System obsolete. The government tore down most of the towers. They needed the steel for WWII. But the arrows remain. Nevada has at least six, with the majority of them along I-80 from Reno to the Utah border.