11.21.2014

Come Fly with Me: Air Travel Images from the Golden Age

Next week, we'll be entering the busiest travel week of the year as the Thanksgiving holiday. Millions will hit the roads, rails, and air to reunite with family and loved ones.

As if by sheer coincidence, I just acquired a modest collection of slides in old Airequipt trays off of ebay taken in 1957 and 1958.  I had very little to go on with regards to their contents, aside from the years, and that some were taken in snow and at least two trays were taken in Florida.  I managed to get them at opening bid of $15.00, and hoped for good things, but didn't get those hopes up, bracing instead for the likelihood of an excess of static photos of Aunt Maude, Fido, and that pretty flowering bush in the back yard.

I wound up being very pleasantly surprised, as the photos inside were actually REALLY nice. The photographer had a good camera, and got out and shot a fair deal of scenes of the day, even liberally sprinkling classic cars throughout the family slides in the batch.  These slides are a noticeable notch above the typical snapshots of the era, with crisp focus and very lifelike compositions in many of the shots.  I must have pulled at least 60 to 80 from the lot to set aside to consider scanning for future features.

Among the appreciable amount of keepers in the lot were a number of Kodachrome shots showing an air voyage taken between Ohio and Florida taken around 1958, with lots of shots in and around the terminals, as well as of airplanes of the era.  Given my own longstanding interest in transportation, the travel industry, and history, I wanted to share this nice little baker's dozen images with you, as I try to piece together the bits and pieces based on what is here.  I would definitely welcome any input regarding locations and other items I may have missed.  

Enjoy! 

Our voyage begins (or ends) at a small regional airport in Ohio or perhaps Indiana, based upon both the Ohio license plate of the car in the immediate foreground, as well as other photos in the batch showing a historical marker in Greenville, Ohio, as well as family cars with Ohio places.  Given the western location of Greenville, I did a Google Image search of a number of Ohio airports, as well as Fort Wayne and Muncie in Indiana, but can't find an image to match.  The terminal appears too small for a large city like Cincinnati but too large for many of the other smaller towns in the area.  



The tower in view to the left of this photo definitely links this as being at the same airport of the previous view, while the tail of the wings on the portable stairway to the right is definitely similar to the Eastern Airlines logos seen later on in this feature.  A look at the Eastern Airlines route map of 1957 shows its Midwestern stops as Evansville, Louisville, Lexington-Frankford, and Indianapolis. I'm unable to locate old photos of Indianapolis, but its history notes that it opened a new "two story" terminal in 1956, which does not seem to click with the photos here.  


One final possible clue as to the whereabouts of the airport above may be this image of a United Convair 340, which seems to show a smaller airfield behind and shadows of a similar direction, though the sky from this viewpoint appears much less cloudy than the previous photos.  I tried looking for a late 1950's United Map, but regrettably, most people are more interested in selling such maps than showing you what is on them aside from the cover. 


Fortunately, this terminal shot is a great deal more definitive than the first one, and appears to indicate where most of the airplane photos were taken, based upon both the airlines serving it as well as the consistency of overcast and wet pavement in the photos.  Welcome to Palm Beach!  


While air travel was a luxury afforded only by the well heeled, airports themselves were particularly more spartan than they are today.  There were no layers of TSA secure areas, Frequent Flyer Elite Lounges, or jet ways to be seen here at Palm Beach, but instead a collection of portable stairways parked behind a simple chain link fence.  Off in the distance are a number of planes and structures to support the air terminal infrastructure.  


Taken on it's own, the twin engine propeller plane seen here would appear fairly small. However, when the fuel truck and people are added to the scene, this craft is actually pretty sizable after all.   This and others in this group appear to have been taken from an observation deck at Palm Beach.  


A view of the tarmac at Palm Beach reveals an amazing potpourri of aircraft in view, from small "puddle jumpers" to more sizable mainline craft of the day, as well as a scattering of military aircraft as well.  Certainly a marked departure from today's "737 heavy" scenery at many airports today.  


A National Airlines Douglas DC-7 taxies off for departure on the tarmac at Palm Beach.  I have to admit a liking for the simple classic stripe schemes prevalent in this era compared to the modern looks seen today.  


Nattily dressed passengers alight a Lockheed L-649 Constellation at Palm Beach while a United States Air Force plane photo-bombs the scene in the distance.  The circular windows of this aircraft, one of only 22 which were built between 1946 and 1951, definitely recall a much earlier era of airline travel. 


If I had to pick a favorite of this batch of shots, this would have to be it: a sharp and well framed Kodachrome image of an Eastern Douglas DC-7B pulling up, with propellers still spinning, lit with evening sweet light, and against a backdrop of dramatic clouds.  Definitely one of those photos that makes you feel as if you are there! 


A Mackey Airlines Douglas DC-3 loads at Palm Beach.  This carrier served a number of Caribbean destinations, and had a pair of incarnations, of which this was the first.  Palm Beach and Miami were the primary mainland cities serviced by this carrier.


It is obviously anyone's guess where this photo was taken, but it is still interesting.  The plane appears to be at a fairly low altitude as if it is on an approach, but I have a feeling someone more qualified than me can determine that based on the wing alignment.  


Thankfully, this slide was actually labeled to tell of its location to be the Miami Airport. Interestingly, the roadway arrangement leading up to the passenger terminal seems very slapdash, confusing, and congested compared to the airport at the top of the page.