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These concrete arrows point the way across America

Illustration for article titled These concrete arrows point the way across America

When United States Post Office planes took to the skies in the 1920s, they had their own version of the roadway's yellow line. A series of giant concrete arrows and gaslight beacons helped point the way from New York to San Francisco.


Top image of an airmail arrow near Hurricane, UT, from Google Maps.

Illustration for article titled These concrete arrows point the way across America

Airmail planes need to navigate the 2,629-mile-long route regardless of weather and time of day, so in 1923, Congress approved construction of a series of arrows and beacons to guide the planes. The arrows were painted bright yellow, and gas-powered beacons sat atop towers constructed on the arrows' tails. A nearby shed stored gas to power the beacons. By the summer of 1924, these beacons stretched between Cleveland, Ohio, and Rock Springs, Wyoming. By 1929, they spanned the entire route.

Image via BonnevilleMariner.

Improvements in navigation eventually eliminated the need for the beacons, and the Commerce Department decommissioned them in the 1940s. The towers were recycled, but the concrete arrows still dot the landscape, no longer bright yellow, but still pointing the way across the continent.

You can see photographs of the arrows and read more about them at Core77, BonnevilleMariner, CN Traveler, and Messy Nessy Chic.

Tip of the hat to Tanner!


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The airways beacons (electric now) are maintained and still function in the I-90 rocky Mtn. corridor. I have flown with my wife or daughter in every lower 48 state west of the Mississippi, flying a no radio, no nav 1947 Aeronca Champ. All our navigation was by pilotage, using paper maps, E6B computer (mechanical 'whiz-wheel'), iron compass (railroad tracks), and the occasional water tower sign. Never got lost, but was 'misplaced a couple of times. I really feel sorry for pilots up 10,000' or more AGL, droning along in pressurized tincans guided by GPS, glass cockpits, and air traffic control.

Motoring along a couple thousand feet up, with the windows up, or in the case of our last airplane, open cockpit, landing at small rural airfields (the best of which are mowed grass) is by far the best way to see our country.