The long shuttered Hotel Beale in Kingman, Arizona is linked to pioneering aviation history, and a number of Hollywood celebrities. Photo postcard Steve Rider collection.
He was possessed with an unbridled imagination. He was capable of visualizing amazing things, and then making them a reality. A means to balance high speed steam turbines and electric razors are two examples. Cruise control is another.
But, perhaps, the most amazing thing about Ralph Teetor wasn’t his ability to transform dreams into reality. It is that he did so while suffering from what many people would consider a debilitating handicap. As a child he had been injured in his fathers machine shop. Mr. Ralph Teetor was blind.
I stumbled on to Mr. Teetor’s story while researching stories for a monthly column entitled The Independent Thinker written during my tenure as associate editor for Cars and Parts. Even though the magazine has been defunct for more than a decade, I still recieve notes about the inspiration that inspired.
From a financial standpoint that column was not my most rewarding venture. But it remains one of the most satisfying things I have done in my career as a writer. And it has inspired everything I have done since my tenure at Cars & Parts.
Our tag line at Jim Hinckley’s America is telling people where to go, and sharing America’s story. Linked with that is my infatuation with people that inspire. People like Ralph Teetor, Eddie Stinson, and Andy Devine, the character actor whose childhood years were linked to the Hotel Beale in Kingman, Arizona.
In my presentations, books, articles, and podcast programs it is my intent to inspire road trips as well as dreams of innovation, and to wrap these in tales that share America’s story. That often leads to irritation when a publisher wants to cut material or when there are issues with social media accounts such as the locking of the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page.
Recently, working with program producer Stan Hustad, I began reviving the independent thinker series as an audio podcast, Car Talk From The Main Street of America that is sponsored in part by Visit Tucumcari. On the episode for Friday, January 13, 2023, I shared the story of aeronautical pioneer Eddie Stinson.
Edward Anderson Stinson was born on July 11, 1894 in Fort Payne, Alabama. He and his sister developed a fascination for airplanes at an early age. His sister Katherine was one of the nations first licensed pilots.
Eddie, while still a teenager, traveled to St. Louis and talked his way into a job as a test pilot for an aviation company. At the time his only experience with airplanes were books that he had read! During World War I he served as a flight instructor for the U.S. Army Air Corps, and a decade later he would launch Stinson Aircraft.
The dawn of a new year has filled me with eager anticipation. I am creating an extensive archive of inspirational stories for the podcast. And I am also working on a new series of programs for presentations. It is also my intent to dust off an idea from the pre COVID era. Stay tuned for details!
In a mere twenty years, two short decades, the world had been transformed. In 1909 manufacturers in the United States had produced 828,000 horse drawn vehicles, and about 125,000 automobiles. In 1929 automobile production had soared to more than one million vehicles, and the manufacture of horse drawn vehicles had plummeted to fewer than 4,000 units. By the 1920s more American families owned an automobile than had indoor plumbing. In 1919 the first tricolor lights began regulating traffic in Detroit. Ten years later the first cloverleaf interchange opened in Woodbridge, New Jersey. And on July 7, 1929, an entirely new concept in transportation made its debut.
On this date passengers boarded a special Pennsylvania Railroad Airway Limited train at New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. It was an overnight trip to Columbus, Ohio. At the city’s new airport terminal two Ford Tri-Motor airplanes emblazoned with the name of Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) transported them west to Waynoka, Oklahoma. IN that city the passengers boarded an Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train for an overnight trip to Clovis, New Mexico. The next morning wo other TAT airplanes were boarded for a three-stop flight that would end at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California. It was unprecedented, people could now travel coast to coast in a mere forty-eight hours.
Mirroring the first decades of the American auto industry, TAT and the pioneering airline industry is a conflicting story of merger, buy out and corporate raiding. TAT was founded in 1928 with a goal to establish fast and safe coast to coast passenger service. Comfort that mimicked what was available on passenger trains was also a part of the company’s mission. This amazing feat would be accomplished by using established Pennsylvania Railroad and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway trains, and new state of the art Ford Tri Motor airplanes. Two years prior Jack Frye, Paul Richter and Walt Hamilton had launched Standard Airlines (SAL),to provide passenger service between Los Angles and Phoenix, Arizona. In March 1930, Standard Airlines was sold to Western Air Express (WAE). Jack Frye served as the company’s Chief of Operations. In October of that year, TAT and WAE merged to create TWA.
POrt Kingman, the TAT terminal in Kingman, Arizona. Photo TWA Museum
TAT was born in an historic informal meeting at the Engineers’ Club in New York City. In attendance of this 1927 gathering were Colonel Paul Henderson, the former Assistant Postmaster General and current Vice-President of National Air Transport, C.M. Keys, an aviation executive, banker and an ardent aviation enthusiast, and Charles Lindbergh. During the discussion about passenger air service, Henderson drew a rough map of the United States on the back of an envelope he pulled from his vest. Then he began identifying logical stopping points connected by a line that indicated available rail service. In the months that followed there were meetings with potential investors and attorneys, funding was secured, arrangements were made with Ford Motor Company, limited partnerships were established with railroad companies, and Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) was established.
Equally as ambitious was the plane to establish airfields and terminals in relatively remote western communities such as Winslow and Kingman, Arizona. As an historic footnote, Lindbergh was tasked with this project and often stayed at the Hotel Beale in Kingman, Arizona during construction of Port Kingman. Amelia Earhart stayed at the hotel during the ribbon cutting ceremonies. This terminal building has survived into the modern era as the headquarters for Brown Drilling. And recently the site of the Western Air Express airfield was rediscovered.
The TAT endeavor was relatively short lived. A crash that resulted in the death of all on board near Mt. Taylor in western New Mexico on September 3, 1929 dramatically curtailed the company’s ambitious plans. It also led to the implementation of safety initiatives and hindered development of confidence in passenger air service. Still, the TAT endeavor stands as a milestone in transportation history. The surviving remnants, such as the terminal in Kingman, are tangible links to the dawn of a new era, changing times that forever transformed the world.
The recently discovered plans for the Western Air Express airfield in Kingman, Arizona
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Moving buildings from the Kingman Army Airfield to Kingman. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts
Kingman, Arizona has a long and colorful aviation history. Each chapter has led to a number of diverse contributions to the community. In 1919 the Gulf-to-Pacific Squadron set up to use the airfield in Kingman, roughly the location of Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill Road today, as a base for a series of historic flights over the Grand Canyon. From High in Desert Skies by William Kalt III, “On February 24, 1919 locals provide “70 high-test” gasoline and Mobil “B” oil for the aircraft and Lt. Jones pilots a history making aerial exploration of Arizona’s spectacular chasm.”
“Returning to Kingman, the aviators attempt to fly above a fierce wind, but the capricious currents play mean all the way. After landing, Lt. Searle telegraphs Arizona Governor Thomas Edward Campbell, writing, “Lt. E.D. Jones and I made first flight over Grand Canyon today. Very cold, scenery wonderful, impossible to describe. Wednesday expect to make moving pictures.”
In 1928, T.A.T (Transcontinental Air Transport) came to town. Pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh was in charge of establishing air ports for the fledgling airline, and in 1929 he arrived in Kingman to survey a site and oversee construction. The Hotel Beale served as his headquarters, and Amelia Earhart attended ribbon cutting ceremonies when “Port Kingman” opened. Surprisingly the terminal building survived decades of urban sprawl and is today a part of the Brown Drilling complex.