The Route: Cleveland to Iowa City

Pilots flying the mail cross-country in 1921 followed these directions to find landmarks along the way.

Aerial view of an airmail light beacon tower, somewhere along the New York to Chicago route, in the mid-1920s. (NASM (SI-78-12216))

U. S. Air Mail Service
Pilots’ Directions (February 1921)

Cleveland to Chicago

0.      Martin Field, Cleveland—Fly a little west of south for nearly 10 miles or about seven minutes flying and then due west, thus keeping over good emergency landing fields. The country between Cleveland and Chicago is divided into sections, section lines running due north and south and east and west. For the first 15 miles the lake shore is only a few miles north of the course.

20.    Elyria, Ohio—Five miles south of course. Five railroads radiate out of Elyria.

37.    Vermilion—Two miles north of the course. On Lake Erie. The New York Central Railroad follows the shore line of the lake from Vermilion to Sandusky.

55.    Sandusky—Five miles north of the course on Sandusky Bay, a large irregular body of water crossed by the New York Central Railroad. Continues due west from this point, following the east-west section lines.

112.    Maumee River, which you cross about 5 miles northeast of Grand Rapids and 5 miles south of Waterville. Waterville is on the east bank of the Maumee and Grand Rapids is on the south bank of the river where it turns east and parallels the course for 7 miles.

130.    Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad, crossed at right angles. Wausen is 7 miles north of the course and Napoleon is 5 miles south, both on the above-mentioned railroad. By flying about 11 miles north from the point where the Maumee River is crossed and then due west the New York Central four-track railroad will be picked up just before reaching Bryan.

152.    Bryan is located on the south side of the New York Central tracks, where they are crossed by the Chicago & North Western and Northern Railroads. Landing field with hangar and T cinder runway is north of town. Field is two-way, 2,000 feet east and west. Best approach from the east.

172.    Hamilton—Two miles north of course and 4 miles north of Bryan. On the extreme south end of irregular-shaped lake. The Wabash Railroad runs to the south of Hamilton. By keeping the Wabash Railroad in sight for the next 125 miles, you will come in sight of Lake Michigan.

196.    Walcottville—At the intersection of the Wabash and Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroads.

220.    Goshen, Ind.—Three miles north of course. The Chicago & St. Louis Railroad is crossed at right angles 3 miles south and 1 mile east of Goshen.

243.    South Bend, Ind.—Seven miles north of course. The Chicago & St. Louis Railroad is crossed at right angles 7 miles south of South Bend.

265.    La Porte, Ind.—One mile north of course. The New York Central Railroad running east from La Porte parallels the course to the lower edge of Lake Michigan.

289.    Crisman, Ind.—Coaling station with large black coal chute north side of track; has also large race track with course 3 ½ miles north and 1 ½ miles east. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad crosses Wabash at Crisman. Leaving Crisman fly westerly, following shore of the lake, but keeping about 10 miles from waters edge to insure safe emergency landing.

314.    Lake Calumet—Largest and most westerly of three lakes. From northern extremity of Lake Calumet fly northwest on compass course of 315˚ Ashburn Field comes into view to the west and a large gas reservoir to the east. A large drainage canal will be seen ahead. To your left, where the Des Plaines River enters the drainage canal, the canal makes a 45˚ turn to the south. Follow the Des Plaines River for about 10 miles and you will see a large hospital and old race track. This is the speedway and adjoins the air-mail field on the west.

330.    Chicago air-mail field or Checkerboard field.—Three large air-mail hangars in southwest corner of field and private hangar in northeast corner. Four-way field, but best approach from the south. Telephone and high-tension wires to west and wires and trees to east of field. Land on large cinder runways. Sewage-disposal plant with excavations on west side of field. Landing area of this field large and ample. Telegraph and post-office address of this is Maywood, Ill. Field is 14 miles west of Chicago post office.

Chicago to Iowa City

0.    Maywood, Ill.—Checkerboard field. Fly directly west, picking up the third railroad to the north of the field. This is the Chicago & North Western. By keeping on the section lines and flying directly west this railroad can be kept in sight at all times until Iowa City is reached. It has white ballast and is doubled-tracked.

14.    Wheaton—Directly on course. Town rests in elongated U formed by Chicago & North Western Railroad. Water tower serves as a landmark.

24.    Geneva on the Fox River—One mile north of course. Two branches of the Chicago & North Western cross each other here at right angles.

84.    Dixon—Three miles north of course on Rock River.

96.    Twin Cities of Stirling and Rock Falls—One on each side of the Rock River.

130.    Mississippi River—The Mississippi River should be crossed about 6 miles below Clinton, Iowa, which is on the west bank of the Mississippi. Flying in the same direction, the Wapsipinacan [Wapsipinicon] River will show up soon after crossing the Mississippi. The Wapsipinacan empties into the Mississippi a few miles south of the course. Fly in the same general direction with this river in view for 24 miles. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific runs in the same general direction as this river and is never more than 3 miles from it until Dixon, Iowa, is reached.

154.    Dixon, Iowa—One mile north of the course and 1 mile west of the    Wapsipinacan River, which turns north at this point. Dixon lies between the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific and the C. N. W. & St. P., which cross about 1 mile east of Dixon.

173.    Tipton, Iowa—Five miles north of the course. Soon after Tipton is reached, Cedar Rapids will be crossed. The Cedar River flows southeast at this point.

191.    Iowa City, Iowa—On the eastern bank of the Iowa River. The Chicago Rock Island & Pacific has four lines running out of Iowa City. The air-mail field is south of town and on the western bank of the river. The field is small and is longer east and west.

Reprinted by permission from Pilots' Directions: The Transcontinental Airway and Its History, edited by William M. Leary, University of Iowa Press, 1990.




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