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The Airplane and the Eagle
Oakland Tribune,May 4, 1923, page 15
Rexford B. Levisee    William F. Blanchfield    Claire K. Vance

By Jack Bell

King of Air Performs Some Maneuvers as War Plane Evading Enemy, Banks, Sideslips, Folds Wings and Nose Dives Like Meteor

By Jack Bell

THAT the great American bald eagle has an uncanny sense where his own safety is concerned is shown by a little circumstance that was viewed by Pilot [Rexford B.] Levisee in crossing over the rough, terrible spires that cover the edges of the Hump. To quote Levisee:

"Quite a long time before I reached the Hump, I saw a speck far above me in the sky - right over the Hump, in fact. I was flying at about 12,000 feet. I nosed her up a bit, thinking maybe I would get a closeup view of this magnificent bird.

"Well, when I was over a mile away he circled up and up. I still nosed the ship heavenward. Then that old fellow must have got the idea I was some monster bird after his carcass. He banked as gracefully as any ship, and then he folded his wings and nose dived and dropped into space like the fall of a meteor. "As I crossed the vantage point I could dimly make out that he was almost on the rugged peaks far below.

It was a mighty interesting sight, and reminded one of the evolutions of a plane in the hands of a master pilot. It was also instructive in many ways - particularly in the distance the great American bird took that nose dive."


Pilot William F. Blanchfield, now flying the Elko-Reno run, tells how the airmen sometimes chase tamer birds than eagles. The short cuts of the Red Line air road cross over that vast expanse of desert known as Carson and Humbolt sinks. For the most part these immense areas are covered with shallow waters, with tule bays and wide grasses, a summer nestling place for the mallards and less non-edible duck family. In the spring and fall these same uninhabited acres are the resting places of water fowl as they migrate. Millions can be seen during the periods of their flight.

Now there are days after days on this run when the weather is fine. The winds are about normal, and the sun shines in all its wonderful beauty and bright glory. Up where these boys take their level it, at times, becomes very warm, and the driver of the air bus gets drowsy. There is not a "kick" in the heavens; it's just gaze and picture as the great silver bird thrums its way through the perfect day. Strange as it may appear this condition palls upon the driver, who has been accustomed to be on the alert every second of his flight, with hands and feet on controls, keen in his watchfulness of change of gale or scurrying cloud in the beyond. Down they will hurl their ships in a beautiful glide towards the earth and then level off and fly closer to the ground in the desert wastes. They will chase the water fowl squawking and frightened out of their resting places, and then nose the ship up out of any possible danger of striking the circling birds.

"We get a bit of a kick out of it," says Blanchfield. "It breaks the [xx] weather up-stairs - making the water birds come out of their hiding places in the tules and watching them scamper over the miles of shallow water into another sanctuary.

"Over along the edges we often see bands of wild horses. They don't pay much attention to us any more. The cattle and sheep on the hillsides along this route hardly ever, even raise their heads when we pass over them."


THE Reno postoffice has the distinction of having a real "Devil Dog" in its service. The squad of Marines that guard the mails in Reno were never more zealous for the safety of the U. S. mails than is this offspring of forebears of the mongrel dog "Bum" that rides the AIr Mail pick-up from depot to Postoffice.

This dog does not appear in the A. K. C. official stud book: his [xx] or bench shows; he is just "Bum," a known cross of Collie, shepherd and coyote. was picked up as a puppy by Arthur Stoner, who has the job of hauling the mail from the depot to the Postoffice, a short distance of four blocks, but as in every other city a hazard in the open streets.

Stoner picked up the dog, a lonely, timid little half starved bunch of black and tan fur over a year ago. The little fellow was not of the very friendly sort when young; he was a bit doubtful about kindness; the coyote blood showing in that respect. Stoner soon had the confidence of the little tramp, and began by hauling him on the loaded wagon seemed to have entered the intelligent beast's head.

Without any urgine he began to ride on top of the valuable mail sacks and when anyone would make a motion of nearing the cargo, his ruff would rise and along [xx] stiffly, while two rows of beautiful fangs would shine out in glistening white under the curled lips. With every muscle tense he was ready to slash anything that approached the mail.

Stories have been told that would indicate that had it not been for this 'Devil Dog' more than one sack of mail would have been taken from the trucks and postoffice wagon at the depot. Even a friendly dog cannot come within striking distance of the mail load, much less a man.

There is not a mail clerk or a railroad employee who does not know and pet the dog, when the Devil Dog is 'off duty." Postmaster Jackson of the Reno postoffice considers "Bum" a member, a valuable member of his high class personnel.


ANOTHER of this band that handles the valuable U. S. mail is the broomtail that hauls it back and forth from depot to postoffice. "Stamps" is the name that has fallen to this old time cow pony that Stoner uses to pack the mail. "Stamps" and the dog "Bum" [xx], are pals in every sense of the word. The old range pony would take his load and deliver it to the postoffice without a driver. Back and forth, back and forth, almost the same turns and backings and obstacles, are met each day. He knows them all, knows when to halt for a street car, when to measure the distance of an approaching motor car, perks up his ears when the mail trains whistle, wants to leave his station on the time that indicates the schedule daily, for months without end. This combination of competent postoffice employee and his animal helpers is one of the interesting sights to watch among the many colorful features on Reno streets daily, with gaudily dressed Indians, Washoes and Piutes; the incoming desert rat with his string of jacks, the emigrant still driving his fours and schooner-topped wagon; the cowboy in all his finery; the miner in his digging clothes; the sheep herders, speaking in the languages of the Spanish border; the old-time gamblers, the square shooters of the long ago, the gambler of the [xx] that was responsible for the money collected that built most of the edifices on the Western frontier, the modern business men and ranchers. Among all this gathering of the old and the new West this "Devil Dog" and his pal "Stamps" stand out.


When [Claire K.] Vance made his wonderful flight against the elements on February 26 and made his record-breaking forced landing in the lap of the snow-covered, deadly Hump, the train dispatcher at Sacramento who saw the struggling plane over that city notified his operators along the line of his division as far as Sparks to be on the lookout for the United States Air Mail ship that was having a terrible struggle in the sky two miles above the earth. The Reno and San Francisco mail fields were in turn notified. When the report came from Soda Springs, right on the crest of the Hump, that the ship was heading for the ground, the air mail fields knew exactly everything that was happening. When the two fields had been given the information the dispatcher busied himself in arranging for the Overland Limited to stop for the Pilot and his mail.

Ordinarily the pilot must pay his own fare, as the rules of the road are very stringent in the matter of carrying any person without transportation. However, all this was quickly taken care of by the dispatcher at Sacramento. The deluxe Overland Limited stopped in the snow sheds, took on the pilot and the section hands took care of his mail.

To Clara Henson, telegraph operator at the local station at [xx] immediate notification of the train dispatcher at Sacramento, telling him of the plane gliding down out of the high sky on to Soda Lake.

"I ran out of the office when I heard the roar of the ship suddenly stop," she explains. "And there it was skimming over along the snow-covered pond. Then it upended. I caught my breath and my heart stopped a beat. It did not seem probable, or even possible, that the pilot could be alive. I ran down to the ship. It was only a matter of a few hundred yards. Before I reached the spot I could hear the muffled figure using language that is not for parlor use - not a-tall!

(Copyright, 1923 by Jack Bell)

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