On Saturday, we got a musical arrow to the heart courtesy of Lake Street Dive, but what about those gigantic concrete arrows pointing the way across America? Do those things really exist? What are they doing out there, and what purpose do they serve?
Turns out they served an important purpose in the 1920s, guiding the frail little biplanes of the fledgling U.S. Airmail service across the country, and that Ernie Allison, chief pilot and operations manager of the China National Aviation Corporation during the 1930s and late 1940s, was one of the pilots using those concrete arrows to find his way across the United States.
Allie was one of the Airmail Service’s original pilots, and he had mind-boggling adventures flying the mail, pony express style, before he went to China in 1929, experiences ably described in chapters 5-8 of Nancy Allison Wright’s book about her father, [amazon asin=&text=Yankee on the Yangtze] [amazon asin=145079131X&template=thumbnail] Here’s one of Nancy’s stories posted at AirMailPioneers.org, an interesting site.
This article at BonnevilleMariner.com describes the concrete arrows and light towers that once pointed the way across America. Apparently, one of the rotating one-million candlepower beacons that stood next to the concrete arrows is in the Smithsonian.
Since the route went from New York to San Francisco, one or two of these arrows must have been relatively close to my house in Walnut Creek, CA. Does anybody know if the arrows in the Central Valley between SF and Sacramento still exist, and if so, where they’re located? I’d like to check one out.