Sunday, December 08, 2013

Fwd: Shelbyville Concrete arrow. RE: Giant concrete arrows

From: "Combs, Michael
Subject: Shelbyville Concrete arrow. RE: Giant concrete arrows

For those interested there is one located at Shelbyville Airport (GEZ)
Google coordinates 39.576753,-85.799642.

They really exist: Giant concrete arrows that point your way across

Every so often, usually in the vast deserts of the American Southwest, a
hiker or a backpacker will run across something puzzling: a large
concrete arrow, as much as seventy feet in length, sitting in the middle
of scrub-covered nowhere.

What are these giant arrows? Some kind of surveying mark?
Landing beacons for flying saucers? Earth's turn signals?
No, it's The Transcontinental Air Mail Route.

On August 20, 1920, the United States opened its first coast-to-coast
airmail delivery route, just 60 years after the Pony Express closed up
shop. There were no good aviation charts in those days, so pilots had to
eyeball their way across the country using landmarks. This meant that
flying in bad weather was difficult, and night flying was just about

The Postal Service solved the problem with the world's first
ground-based civilian navigation system: a series of lit beacons that
would extend from New Yorkto San Francisco. Every ten miles, pilots
would pass a bright yellow concrete arrow. Each arrow would be
surmounted by a 51-foot steel tower and lit by a million-candlepower
rotating beacon. (A generator shed at the tail of each arrow powered the

Now mail could get from the Atlantic to the Pacific not in a matter of
weeks, but in just 30 hours or so. Even the dumbest of air mail pilots,
it seems, could follow a series of bright yellow arrows straight out of
a Tex Avery cartoon. By 1924, just a year after Congress funded it, the
line of giant concrete markers stretched from Rock Springs, Wyoming to
Cleveland, Ohio. The next summer, it reached all the way to New York,
and by 1929 it spanned the continent uninterrupted, the envy of postal
systems worldwide.

Radio and radar are, of course, infinitely less cool than a concrete
Yellow Brick Road from sea to shining sea, but I think we all know how
this story ends. New advances in communication and navigation technology
made the big arrows obsolete, and the Commerce Department decommissioned
the beacons in the 1940s. The steel towers were torn down and went to
the war effort. But the hundreds of arrows remain. Their yellow paint is
gone, their concrete cracks a little more with every winter frost, and
no one crosses their path much, except for coyotes and tumbleweeds.

But they're still out there.

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