I had to do some work to locate the starting point for Bob Fowler’s second attempt at a transcontinental flight. For one thing it has been buried under concrete and asphalt for a century. For another, some histories have mis-labeled it as “Wiltshire Field”, but that seems to have been a "spell check mis-correction" of the name "Henry Gaylord Wilshire". If you are familiar with Los Angeles at all you recognize that name. In 1895 Gaylord bought 35 acres around what would one day become MacArthur Park. Gaylord then humbly allowed the city of Los Angeles (above) to build a road right through the center of his property, on the twin conditions that they not lay down any street car tracks, and that they name it after him. Then he promptly packed up and moved back to New York. He left his name no where else in Los Angles.
Wilshire Boulevard’s beginnings were very humble indeed, bisecting mostly beet fields. In 1910 that made the intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue an ideal location for an airfield, close to the budding metropolis of Los Angeles (above) - 320,000 citizens already - but open enough to allow pilots to crash regularly without killing the neighbors, because there weren’t any, except for a few deceased Dire Wolves stuck in the tar of the nearby La Brea Tar Pits (below), just down the street. (BTW: "la brea" means tar in Spanish - so the "La Brea tar pits" translates as 'the tar - tar pits').
There should be a plaque in the sidewalk or something at the corner of Fairfax and Whilshire, because not only did Bob Fowler re-start his transcontinental flight from here on 19 October, 1911, but it is also where, in 1921, Amelia Earhart took her first flight lesson, in a Curtiss Jenny. In fact, lots of aviation history happened at that corner.
Movie maker C.B. DeMille (below) , in town to direct the first blockbuster “Squaw Man”, operated an airline out of there for a year or so (Mercury Aviation- above), until his airline went bankrupt.
Then in March 1921 the air field was bought by pilot Emory Roger and his wife, and was renamed “Rogers’ Field”. Emory then started up “Pacific Marine Airways”, in partnership with Sid Chaplin, brother to Charlie Chaplin. They flew Hollywood vacationers to and from Catalina Island, and sold Curtiss airplanes out of a showroom on the field - at least they did until Emory died in a plane crash in November of 1921. Then Emory’s widow ran the field until 1923, when she sold out to developers, and the airfield disappeared. That is what happens to everything historic in Los Angeles, sooner or later.
But that was all in the future in 1911. On 19 October, 1911 Wilshire Field was just an open space out at the end of Wilshire.
Late on that October afternoon Bob Fowler, at the controls of his new Wright B Flyer, renamed the "Cole Flyer", lifted off and headed east. He made only 9 miles that first day, landing in Pasadena. But the important thing was that he was back in the race.
Bob’s financial backer, Reed Grundy, had always wanted him to start the race from Los Angeles because the mountains Bob had to cross here were so much lower that the Sierra east of San Francisco, and because the Los Angeles Board of Reality was coughing up a $10,000 bonus if Bob Fowler started from L.A. - okay, Grundy mostly liked L.A. because of the bonus.
In fact, early the next morning, on 20 October, as Fowler was preparing to take off from Pasadena, he was called to the phone. It was Grundy. He had just been offered another paycheck if Bob made an appearance down Fairfax Avenue from Whilsire Field at the L.A. Motordrome with Barney Oldfield and other big name racer car drivers. But Bob put his foot down and said he’d rather give up flying all together than start this trip a third time. Grundy got the message and Bob flew on to Riverside, California, probably spitting and cursing all the way about what a jackass his manager was. I’m sure NASCAR drivers feel the same way about their sponsors, once in awhile.
In two days of flying Bob Fowler had covered only 69 miles. And the next day, 21 October, 1911, went even slower, because he was approaching the San Gorgonio Pass (above). The pass is only at 2,600 feet altitude, but it runs 22 miles long between the 9,000 foot tall Mt. San Gorgonio and the 11,000 foot tall Mt. San Jacinto, making it one of the deepest passes in the United States. For a cloth and wood airplane flying at between 2 and 400 feet above the ground, passing between the towering mastiffs meant dangerous cross winds. The Cole Flyer struggled to make progress, and Bob gritted his teeth and kept going.
Just as the 14,505 foot tall Mount Whitney stands just 76 miles west of Badwater, Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level, Mount San Jacinto stands less than 100 miles west of the Salton Sink, at 220 feet below sea level (far upper right in the above photo). The line from the Gulf of California, through the Salton Sea, Death Valley (and north to Mono Lake) is the hing along which California is being twisted, torn apart, bent and ripped between the San Andreas Fault and a newly forming rift valley which, eventually, will fill as a new arm of the Pacific Ocean. Someday, in fourteen or fifteen million years, this is going to be the new west coast.
But having finally left this geological drama behind him, Bob Fowler was now over flat lands and flying in cool winter temperatures across the Arizona desert. On 25 October he landed in Yuma, Arizona (above). Finally, after almost sixty days of starting and stopping and starting and crashing, Bob Fowler had escaped California.
Two hundred miles later, following the Southern Pacific Railroad line, Bob landed at Tuscon, Arizona. And there had a brief encounter with a fellow traveler, the only other man on God’s green earth who truly understood what he was going through; Cal Rogers. They were together barely long enough to shake hands, and nobody had time to produce a camera. And then they separated without so much as a back slap or a pause to compare notes: so much for the brotherhood of the air. After all, there was a race on.
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