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Vern Gorst's Story

The following is a copy of a speech given to the Rotary Club by James L.
Mushett in about 1947 regarding the founding of Pacific Air Transport which
was later to become United Airlines.  

Christopher Columbus did more than just while way his time but studied the movements and formed a basic opinion that the world could not be flat but must be round because of the manner in which the ships disappeared from sight.  There is no doubt that he had no idea as to what a great distance it would have been necessary to have to travel to have reached the real goal he had envisioned.  He was a true pioneer.  There is no doubt but that many of those who accompanied him were adventures'.   The Pilgrims who set out to develop a new land were pioneers.  They to were accompanied by some adventure seeking people.  Benjamin Franklin and his kite Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Wilbur and Orville Wright and so many others that I could spend the whole time reciting their names.  These were true pioneer's.  Many of  the pioneers that came West were also adventures seekers, fortune hunters but mostly were those many who planed to settle and develop the West.  The hazards they encountered were many, the hardships great.  They cleared and planted the soil and built houses.

My Grandmother on my Mother's side crossed the plains in a covered wagon.  My Grandfather with nine other men came west in 1851 on horse back with pack animals.  My father's mother and father came to California in 1853 and 1856 by ship from New Orleans and then by mule train across a narrow land isthmus where later the Panama Canal would be built.  On the Pacific Ocean side a waiting ship took them on to the port of San Francisco.  I'm only telling you this to find an excuse as for a reason that I took the job as pioneer Superintendent of the coast air mail system #8 this industry which has developed into such a great enterprise and to think of its progress in the few short years to date.  Now to start from the first we had to finance the enterprise then secure equipment, survey the proposed the route, install beacons and emergency landing sites.  As Mr. Gorst had come to the conclusion that to give a service that would be beneficial to the business and public it would be necessary to leave Los Angeles at 12:01 midnight and delivery the mail in San Francisco in the first delivery in the morning.   So we set out to select the sights for four beacon lights between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

In this job I selected a crew of men that I believe can be classified as
pioneers.  Their pay was not too great, their hours long and the work far
from pleasant.  We walked miles over the rough mountains of the Ridge Route.  Of those in the crew I want to name personally, first of all Geo. W. Allen, pilot, Don Rossiter, and a young fellow by the name of Johnson, these three were my first crew.  

The planes selected were the Ryan M1 monoplane.  Then only on a drawing board powered by Wright whirlwind motors the first air cooled radial motor.  This motor had never been used commercially at this time.  The experimental development was conducted by the Navy and all of our information as well as other cooperation was volunteered by the Navy personnel and contributed greatly to our success.  When we took delivery of our first plane to be used here in Southern California we went to the Navy at North Island and obtained permission to use their  compensating turntable, the then only one to my knowledge in the West.  We installed an extra magnetic compass and compensated both to insure accuracy in charting the course to be flown.  We then proceeded to Los Angeles and made one survey trip to Bakersfield and return looking over the terrain.  Then after our return we spent many hours far into the night forming a definitive plan establishing our next move.  

Our first job was to establish a course.  We decided to fill some five pound paper sacks with flour and repeat the previous days trip and dump the sacks from the plane on the likely beacon sites.  We wanted to install them in the highest points in four different positions.  We then went by car as close as possible to the different places and proceeded on foot through under brush to locate the places where we had dumped the flour sacks.  We located them and the couple of instances were only disappointed to find out that there was another peak in debt vicinity that was higher this could not be determined by flying above it at 1000 feet or more the next problem was a to establish our exact location and find out to was the owner of that area.

In a our first location was in the Hollywood Hills and only available
location was the property of Colonel Lancashire.  He volunteered any place we located and to give us a dollar a year lease for an indefinite period.  We had already placed the material on that site when Ted W. Hass Development Co. on which owed the crest of Lookout Mountain volunteered a more desirable site on the same terms.  The our next site was to the north of the Newhall tunnel this property was owned by Henry Clay Needham the nation's prohibition leader he likewise give us a lease at one dollar a year for an indefinite period of time.  Our next site was a difficult one.  The owners were a couple who were separated and each one was suspicious that the other was getting more out of the granting of the lease then the other.  The next and last one was the El Tejon Ranch up in the mountains overlooking the San Joaquin Valley and Henry Chandler was the principal owner.  

The installation of the beacons was completed with many difficulties as well as some comic happenings.  The preliminary work was completed in August 1926.  The first Air Mail flight left Los Angeles at 12:01 September 15th.  On August 26th at 12:03 AM George Allen and myself left Los Angeles on ourfirst test flight.  At 1:15 AM we arrived in Bakersfield.  There was a large crowd there to greet us but we arrived ahead of their anticipation so we were force to land in the dark with no lights except for lone automobile that rushed madly to the field when he heard our plane pass over Bakersfield.  We then arrived in Fresno at 2:56 AM and were met by a huge crowd.  After a great deal of official discussions we took off for our final lap at 3:30 AM.  After a few thrills we landed at Crissy Field in San Francisco.  Another pilot was to complete the next lap to Medford Oregon and then another to Portland.  Mr. Gorst announced that we were ready to start the of this Air Mail line.  The actual conducting operations would to the ordinary person read like a story book.  

It today seems like quite a simple matter to direct the operation of an
airline but then it comprised many a headache, if the plane delayed due to
weather or any mishap the phone would start ringing and one after another; "What happened?, I mailed a letter last night and just had a phone call (or a telegram) saying it wasn't delivered."

Each member of this crew worked continuously to see that the mail got
through.  Our slogan was; "No wind nor sleet or hail shall stop the midnight mail."  

When the plane was grounded a car loaded the mail and took it to Bakersfield.  If the weather there was also bad we proceeded to Fresno and if was still bad we raced the train that had left Los Angeles at 7:30 PM the previous evening to Madera and entrained the mail there.  Service was what we had to give to promote this service.  

There was also tragedy, our first of which cost the life of Don Rossiter.  In
those day most of the flying was "contract" flying.  Don was the passenger
going north to get his motorcycle at Concord.  The pilot got in the fog and
bailed out.  Don tried to crawl back to the controls and right the plane but
only got part way when it crashed.