by Jim Foreman
"Gentlemen," said Joe to the City Commissioners at their monthly meeting. "I have some great news for the city of Amarillo. In my capacity as Mayor, I have been working behind the scenes and have obtained signed agreements from two airlines to begin service to Amarillo."
"That's great, when does it begin?" asked one.
"What is it going to cost us?" asked Eldon Farris, who was a member of the commission at that time and the self-appointed watchdog over the city's spending. He approached all expenditures as if any money that the city spent came out of his own pockets. In a way, one might say that it did because the city deposited all their money in his bank and he had the use of if while it was there.
"We will have to have a Municipal Airport for them to use, but with two airlines, each landing airplanes here twice each day, gasoline sales alone will repay our investment in short order," said Joe.
"What's wrong with them using the strip where Howard Irving and the airmail planes land?" asked another.
"The Army is going to stop flying the airmail very shortly and it will be turned back over to the airlines to haul. That runway is far too short for big airplanes like the airlines will be using and if we want to keep airmail service, we will have to have a adequate place for them to land," replied Joe.
"Just where did you have in mind to put this airport?" asked one of the commissioners.
"There is a section of land east of town which the operations people for both airlines have looked at and they feel would be a perfect location for an airport. It is level, right on the highway and most of all, it is properly aligned with the new weather station and radio navigation facility that is going to be build two miles to the east," replied Joe.
"What do you mean by a radio navigation facility?"
"It's a new thing called a radio range station which sends out radio beams that the pilots use to guide themselves at night or when they have to fly in or over clouds," replied Joe. "They are designating airways all over the nation and two of them will cross right here at Amarillo. One runs from Kansas City to Wichita to here and then extends on to Clovis, New Mexico and finally to Phoenix. An airline called Western Air Express will be flying big, ten passenger Fokker Tri-motor airplanes along that route. They will have one flight going west and one going east each day. The other airway begins in Los Angeles and runs east to Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahoma City and finally ends in Washington DC. The Transcontinental and Western Airline will be flying Tri-motor Ford airplanes along that route. They will also have one flight in each direction each day."
"What is all this going to cost?" asked Eldon Farris.
"I haven't gone as far as approaching the owner of the land which we will need for the airport because if he gets wind of what we want it for, the price will jump considerably," replied Joe.
"Is that all we have to do to have an airport, just buy a section of land?"
"Naturally, we would have to put in a few facilities such as gasoline tanks and pumps, along with a rotating beacon which is required for all airports where airliners land."
"I still haven't received a single answer to my questions," said Eldon Farris. "Just what in hell is all this going to cost?"
"Mr. Farris has a good question, but at this point in time, I am unable to give him an exact answer because I don't know what the land can be bought for," said Joe. "If the commission would like to give me the authority to explore the cost of the land and authorize something like a couple thousand dollars with which to purchase an option if an agreeable price can be reached, I will have an answer by the next meeting."
"I move that we authorize a maximum amount of one dollar per acre for buying a one year option on land for the airport," said Farris.
The motion was seconded and carried.
In the meantime, Howard Irving had located a small piece of land a mile north of the new zinc smelter, which he leased for use as an airport. After a whirlwind romance, he had also married Grace Hammond, who it turned out was not as much an actress as most had thought. She had been given walk-on spots in a couple movies because her father had been the financial backer for them. Actually, she was basically a rich, spoiled brat who was accustomed to having her own way. Even after she married Irving, her father continued to send her a thousand dollar a month allowance because he realized that Irving`s total worth was less than a month of Grace's allowance. He figured that this marriage wouldn't last any longer than most of her other whims and she would dump Irving as soon as the excitement of flying wore off.
At the next monthly meeting of the city commission, Joe told them, "Gentlemen, I am sorry to report that the piece of land which I had in mind was sold about two months ago and the new owner won't give us an option on it."
"Who owns it now?" asked Eldon Farris.
"I contacted the lawyer who is the administrator for the estate of Mr. Bergin and he told me that the land had already been sold. Then I asked him to see if the new owner would be interested in giving us an option on it. When he got back to me, he said that the new owner was considering some other offers and would not tie it up with an option."
"Who owns it now?" asked Farris, repeating his question.
"It looks as if Roger Bates beat us to it," replied Joe. "It now belongs to the Bates Land Company."
"What are you trying to feed to us?" asked Farris. "Bates is your man, isn't he?"
"Roger worked for me several years ago, but he now has his own company."
"Who else would be interested in that land except for us?" asked one of the commissioners.
"It would be simply a wild guess, but I have heard that some of the airlines are buying their own airports in cities where no municipal airport exists. Once that they own the field, they refuse to allow any other carrier to land there, thereby eliminating the competition," replied Joe.
"Amarillo would be in one hell of a shape if either of those two airlines opened their own airport," said Farris. "We would instantly lose half of our airline service to some place like that new town of Lubbock."
"Or even worse, suppose that little cotton patch town down south was able to grab both airlines away from us," said Joe. "They already have a municipal airport and it probably wouldn't be too much out of the way for the airplanes to stop there instead of here."
"I move that we adjourn long enough to get Bates in here to talk to," said Farris.
"I second that motion, said several others in unison."
An hour later, the meeting was re-convened with Roger Bates present. "I understand that you own the old Bergin place now," said Farris.
"That is correct," replied Roger. "I bought it a couple months ago."
"Do you want to sell it?" asked Farris.
"Anything that I own is for sale, with the possible exception of my wife, and at times, I would even consider offers for her," replied Roger with a laugh.
"The city of Amarillo might be interested in that section of grass. What would you take for it?" asked Farris, who had assumed the position of price negotiator for the city. This pleased Joe to no end since he had considered Farris to be the main stumbling block when it came to the city getting an airport.
"Fifty an acre, for the whole thing or eighty an acre for either half of it," replied Roger.
"That's outrageous!" shouted Farris. "That grass isn't worth more than ten dollars an acre."
"True, it isn't worth much for the grass that is on it, but as a potential airport, it's worth a lot more."
"Where in hell did you ever get such an idea as that?" stormed Farris.
"You gentlemen seem to have forgotten that I was a Potter County Commissioner up until last election when I decided not to run again because there might become a conflict of interest if I remained," replied Roger.
"Is the county is considering that land for an airport?" asked Farris.
"Mr. Farris, you know that it would not be ethical for me to discuss confidential county business which transpired while I was in office," replied Roger.
"Mr. Bates," said Joe. "Would you please step outside for a few minutes so we can discuss this matter in private."
"We can't allow Potter County to jump in and grab the airport right out from under our noses," said Farris. "If they got control of the airport, they could rob us every way except Sunday."
"Could we build an airport on half of that section ?" asked one of the other commissioners. "Bates offered to sell half."
"With the prevailing wind from the southwest, half of the section would be adequate, but half will cost us almost as much as we can get the whole thing for," replied Joe.
"I move that we use our emergency powers and authorize $32,000 to buy the whole section of land today while we still can," said Farris.
Joe spoke up before the motion could be seconded and said, "Let's not be hasty, gentlemen...."
"Hasty, my ass!" shouted Farris. "We have to act now or the county will have the airport."
"Please allow me to finish my statement, Mr. Farris," said Joe. "I was going to say that we should not be hasty in voting only enough money to buy the land when we will obviously need some more for building adequate facilities. I was going to suggest that Mr. Farris amend that motion to $60,000. We would look awfully silly if we had to tell the citizens of Amarillo that we had bought a piece of land for an airport but didn't authorize the money needed to make it work."
"That's a good suggestion," said Farris. "I amend my motion to $60,000."
"The motion was seconded and passed by a vote of four to three without Joe having to enter into the fray. He stepped to the door and said, "Roger, would you please step back inside."
"Mr. Bates," said Farris. "We have discussed buying that section of land but considering the financial condition of the city, we can pay only twenty-five thousand dollars for it."
"I'm sorry Mr. Farris, but I have an offer to buy half of it at eighty dollars an acre and that is more than what you are offering for the whole section," replied Roger.
"You are an astute businessman, Mr. Bates and I'll not try to play games with you any longer. We could go as high as thirty thousand for the whole section but that will be stripping the city treasury to the bone. I'm sorry, but that is all the money that is available at this time. I'm sure that you can see our point and are not going to let a mere two thousand dollars stand in the way of our making a deal." and are ready to close the deal today."
"Since we both know that you want the land for an airport for the city, I'll make you a deal," said Roger. "I'll sell the land to you for thirty thousand, but with one small condition. The land belongs to the city as long as it is used as a municipal airport. Should it ever cease being used for that purpose, either I or my heirs have the option to repurchase it for the two thousand dollars difference between what I want and what you are willing to give."
"That`s a rather silly condition because if we make it into a municipal airport, it will remain one from now on," said Farris.
"Perhaps so, but I want some assurance that the city will never decide to close the airport and sell the land or use it for some other purpose. I`m willing to gamble two thousand dollars on that," replied Roger.
"Agreed," said Farris. "The city attorney will draw up the papers and the treasurer will issue a check to you."
"See how I saved the city a cool two thousand bucks on that deal," said Farris. "I'd call that pretty good negotiating."
"Perhaps," said Joe. "But some day, that could become the most expensive two thousand dollars this city ever saved."
"LUCKY LINDY LANDS IN PARIS!" shouted the headlines of the newspaper Joe was reading while he had his breakfast. Now is the time to strike and make the airport into something really nice, Joe thought to himself as he read the story of the first solo crossing of the Atlantic in an airplane.
The section of land had been purchased and underground gasoline tanks installed. A beacon atop a steel tower swung its dagger of light across the sky from dusk to dawn and an orange windsock opened its mouth toward the constant southwest wind. Joe had driven out to the airport to watch the daily arrival of the westbound Transcontinental and Western Ford Tri-motor. It came rumbling in, following the highway from the east. It veered off to the north, then made a sweeping turn to the left, aligning itself into the wind and bouncing down on the dry grass. Seconds later it rolled to a stop beside the man who was holding the gasoline hose. The three polished aluminum propellers rotated to a stop.
While a hundred gallons of gasoline was being pumped into the tanks, the door on the right side of the ship opened and the pilots and four passengers stepped to the ground. The passengers stood around looking very uncomfortable until the pilot said something to them. They walked out past the tail of the airplane and added a bit of moisture to the dry grass. None of the four people aboard were stopping in Amarillo and no passengers getting on. As soon as the tanks were filled with gasoline, everyone got back on the airplane and it took off.
Joe had attempted to get the airline to locate their ticket office in the Armitage Hotel by offering to provide a free room to the pilots if they had to lay over in Amarillo for any reason, but he lost out when Brewster offered to provide free office space for the first year.
"We can't keep the airline service that we have and certainly can't attract any other carriers without basic facilities at the airport," Joe told the commission. "There isn't even a crapper out there and the passengers have to piss on the ground. What would happen if there was a woman aboard?"
"Well, hell," said Farris. "We can get a crapper from Chic Sales for twenty bucks if that is what it will take to improve the airport."
"I'm not talking about an outhouse," said Joe. "What we need are the things which all modern airports have, like a hangar, waiting rooms, offices and decent parking for the people who drive their cars out there."
"I can see building a toilet and even a place where people can wait out of the sun and wind, but why the hell do we need a hangar?" asked Farris. "There's only two airplanes in the whole damn Panhandle and they belong to Howard Irving, and he has his own airport out by the smelter. So what would be put into this hangar that you are suggesting?"
"If we build the hangar, the planes will come," replied Joe. "According to the CAA, there is an average of twelve airplanes in every city the size of Amarillo. Take Wichita, Kansas; they are not as big as Amarillo, yet they not only have more than fifty airplanes based there, they also have three factories building them."
"I say that if the airplanes come, then we build the hangar," said Farris. "You didn't build your hotel in the hope that people could come some day, they were already here."
"No, but I certainly built a town when there wasn't a soul around to occupy it," said Joe. "Just look at what we have now. If I had waited for the people to show up first, you'd be living in a shack over by Wild Horse Lake."
"Well, how big does a hangar have to be, fifty by fifty feet?" asked Farris.
"More like a hundred feet wide by a hundred-sixty deep," replied Joe.
"You could put one of those German Zepplins in a place that big," said Farris. "Who ever heard of an airplane with wings a hundred feet long."
"One was built in Italy ten years ago which had a wingspan of one hundred thirty feet," replied Joe.
"Next thing we know, you are going to tell us that big airplane is going to fly all the way over here from Italy and land here," said Farris.
"Lindburgh just flew a small airplane with one engine across the Atlantic, so it won't be long before big airplanes with several engines will be flying all over the world," Joe answered.
"In order to bring this endless discussion about something which we know nothing to an end," said one of the commissioners. "I move that we table this and turn it over to a Civil Engineer who can give us some costs for building such a hangar."
The engineer submitted his findings to the next board meeting. For erecting a hangar the size that Joe had suggested, the price would be slightly more than thirty thousand dollars; however by reducing the width by only twenty feet, the cost could be cut almost in half. The board voted to build the smaller size, but added a lean-to extension to one side of the hanger to serve as a waiting room with two rest rooms, plus space for two offices.
The hangar was built according to the engineer's plans. It was an impressive structure with clay tile walls laid to a height of sixteen feet to give more than adequate space between its concrete floor and the bottom of the arched steel beams for any airplane known to exist. Eight massive doors, each rolling on its own steel track embedded in the concrete, could be rolled open to allow an airplane with a full eighty feet of wingspan to be pushed inside. Six huge floodlights, capable of illuminating the full section of land, were installed on towers along either side of the field for night landings.
By this time, the Western Air Express had begun to operate along the other airway and were landing their Fokkers at Amarillo each day. It was not unusual to have two of the giant airplanes on the ground at the same time. Transient airplanes began to land at Amarillo for gasoline and one of the residents had just bought a brand new Travel Air, which he based at the airport. The ultimate justification for the hangar came just two weeks after it was finished when airplanes for both of the airlines were on the ground and a storm came up. They were both safe inside the hangar while hail the size of baseballs began to pound down. Had the ships been outside, they would most certainly have been damaged.
The time had come for the dedication of the new municipal airport and plans were being made. Joe came to the commissioners with some great news.
"I just received word that the national tour of Charles Lindburgh, along with something like twenty airplanes, will be landing at Amarillo three days from today for fuel. We can schedule the dedication of the airport to coincide with their arrival and have none other than the Lone Eagle himself as the featured speaker. I suggest that we consider naming our airport Lindburgh Field, in his honor."
"That will really put us on the map," said Farris. "We might even get publicity in some of the big newspapers like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Sun."
A frantic effort was made to have everything in readiness for the arrival of the tour. A platform was built for the speakers, The local Texaco wholesaler sent four trucks loaded with gasoline to the airport to make refueling faster and the waiting room walls were painted. There wasn't time to have a local painter go to the airport and paint "Lindburgh Field" across the front of the hangar, so they settled for a big banner bearing the name. The high school band would play and both of the airlines agreed to keep their ships on the ground until after the dedication.
People began to arrive early on the appointed day and by noon, the scheduled time of arrival of the tour, there was more than a thousand people milling around the airport. The two big airliners were parked wingtip to wingtip and excitement ran high.
"Here they come!" was the shout from a photographer who had climbed to the top of the hangar in order to get better photos. Three specks appeared in the western sky. By the time they arrived over the field, four more airplanes could be seen approaching. The airplanes began to touch down on the grass and taxi to where the fuel trucks waited in a roped-off area in front of the hangar. As soon as an engine would stop, a hose would be put into the tank and gasoline would be pumped aboard.
"Where's Lucky Lindy?" was the shout from the crowd.
More airplanes appeared and landed as Joe waved his hands for quiet. "One of the pilots had just told me that Mr. Lindburgh will be a little late because a small mechanical problem had delayed his takeoff from Albuquerque, but he will be here."
Twenty-two airplanes were filled with gasoline and pushed into two long rows while they waited for the arrival of the hero. Finally, out of the west came a single airplane. "He's here! came the shout from the top of the hangar. A sleek Lockheed Vega ripped across the airport and pulled up into a steep climbing turn. The Vega was far faster than any of the other airplanes in the tour and had taken barely half of their time to make the flight from Albuquerque.
It touched down on the grass and came rolling to the ramp at a high rate of speed. The engine was still rotating to a stop when the door popped open and a lanky figure stepped out. The high school band struck up a lively Sousa march. A shout went up from the crowd as he emerged from beneath the wing, took one look at the banner hanging above the hangar door and walked briskly toward the bathroom. While two hoses pumped the tanks full, one of the other people who were aboard the ship checked the oil in the engine.
People were busily pulling the propellers through on the parked ships and engines were coming to life in clouds of blue smoke and noise. The ladders, which had been used by the men who had filled the fuel tanks on the Lockheed, were carried aside and the tail of the ship was pushed around.
The Lone Eagle walked toward his ship and Joe held his hand up for quiet. The crowd fell silent and the band stopped playing. "Mr. Lindburgh," said Joe in a loud voice. "Could you come say a few words for us."
Lindburgh glanced toward the stands, turned his back and quickened his pace to the waiting Vega. The door slammed, the electric starter whined and the engine coughed to life. Seconds later, the engine revved up, sending a cloud of dirt rolling into the waiting crowd as the ship bounded across the grass field. As the Vega lifted into the sky, the other ships in the tour began to pull into position and take off. Within five minutes, they were nothing more than dots fading into the eastern sky.
Joe looked around at the crowd which was rushing toward their cars to leave while the city commissioners and others in the reviewing stand sat in shocked silence.
Joe turned to the commissioners and said, "I think this calls for a special meeting of the city commission. Does anyone here have any objections if we forget about calling this Lindburgh Field and simply call it Amarillo Municipal Airport?"
They quickly agreed and Joe announced to the empty field, "I hereby dedicate this place to be Amarillo Municipal Airport."
As they stepped from the reviewing stand to leave, the Texaco man walked up and said, "Glad that I caught you men. Somebody owes me for nine hundred sixty gallons of gasoline, who gets the bill for it?"
"You mean to say that the pilots of the planes didn't pay for the fuel that they took?" asked Farris.
"Nope," replied the Texaco man. "I asked a couple of them and they said that fuel was always furnished at airports where they landed in return for the publicity they got from Lindburgh landing there."
As Joe was gathering his papers to leave the airport, Buck Henry came roaring up in his new Oldsmobile. He walked quickly to Joe and said, "Joe, I have some bad news for you. I just got a call from Austin and your father has been killed."
"Oh, God. No!" said Joe as he sank onto one of the folding chairs. "How did it happen?"
"Lloyd Brewster shot him."
"If they don't send that sun of a bitch to the electric chair, I'll kill him myself," Joe said in a quiet voice.
"You won't have to, he's also dead. Your father killed him. From what I was able to learn, the two senators got into a shouting match, followed by a fist-fight. Then Brewster pulled a pistol and shot your father in the stomach. Mr. Armitage grabbed a pistol from one of the guards who was trying to help him and shot Brewster. Lloyd died on the spot and your father died an hour later in the hospital."