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Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society & Museum

Preserving aviation's past for future generations.

75th Anniversary of the Pick-UP

by Charlie Pyles

  At Latrobe, PA on May 12th, 1939 a gathered crowd stood in anticipation; their eyes on the sky. Three bright maroon All American Aviation Stinson Reliants had departed Allegheny County Airport only 18 minutes earlier. It was 11 AM. The crowd could hear the drone of the big Lycoming engines approaching from the West.

Two 30 foot tall vertical masts had been set in the ground with 60 feet between them. They resembled football goalposts only with a rope strung between them. The rope held a 50 pound leather bag filled with outbound pieces of mail while a big shock absorbing loop of rope hung down to the ground. Each mast was topped with a bright orange flag.

The crowd looked with apprehension toward the West. Suddenly, as the planes approached, two of them circled while the third descended in a sweeping turn into the wind lining up with the vertical masts. As the spectators watched the approaching airplanes against the bright blue sky; some checked their watches. "Right on schedule, 11 o'clock," could be heard as the 260 horsepower Lycoming’s roar reverberated.

NX2311 kept coming lower and lower on its approach. Two lines hung below with one holding a bag of mail similar to the suspended bag. Down and farther down the plane dropped and, as it approached, the breathless crowd could see two lines trailing from the belly of the airplane. One was a rope holding a container similar to the one suspended from the masts; the other was a 50 foot long cable, trailing out behind the rope and ending in a grappling hook.

Norman Rintoul slowed his Stinson to about 100 miles per hour at an altitude of only 60 feet. Crossing above the masts, his grappling hook caught the suspended bag of mail which was quickly reeled in to the airplane by Victor Yesulaites while the bright maroon airplane zoomed back up in the beautiful sky.

Before Norm & Vic had reached their altitude, Postal Officials were already opening the inbound bag which had rolled to a stop. They were very excited as they began removing scrolls, documents and stamps contained in the bag.

The crowd and gathered officials were rightfully excited as they had just been witness to history. A new method had been born for small town America to receive and send mail. Mail would be picked up from the East coast at Wilmington, Delaware and small towns along the way eventually extending all the way to Cincinnati, Ohio which was the westernmost terminal. 54 towns and cities along the route would be served. Small town America was now linked with the national airmail system without having to build an airport.

The 75th anniversary of this historic event is May 12th, 2014. Why is this important to Cincinnati? The Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society & Museum at Lunken Airport has one of the three Stinsons in their collection. It will be rolled out for photos on May 12th although it remains uncovered except for the tail bearing the number NC18496. Lunken was the end of the line where mail from Small Town America was transferred to the main line carriers such as American, TWA and Delta C & S.

All American Aviation changed its name to All American Airways in 1948 as the carriage of passengers became more important to their future. AAA has now morphed in to American Airlines in 2014.

At present, visitors can only view the CAHS Collection by special arrangement since no public accessible hangar is available due to financial constraints. CAHS is a 501c3 Ohio corporation and donations are deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
CAHS is a membership organization and aviation enthusiasts are welcome to join. Forms are available on their web site at http://www.cahslunken.org. They are on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cahs. Contact the museum at 513-208-8145 or email history@cahslunken.org.