(10/20/2005)

Travelers around Pleasant Hill (Rt. 16) would not likely know why these two poles stand tall in the yard of Brian and Leisa Jarvis Prunty
(Photo by Jim Bennett)

Single-engine plane swoops down to catch mail bag with hook

Airmail pick-up came to Calhoun County and twenty other West Virginia communities in 1939, an innovative service that continued in rural areas through 1949.

The arrival of a low-flying single-engine airplane caused quite a stir.

The federal government's experimental program was sponsored by Sen. Jennings Randolph, the only known program of its kind in the world.

Calhoun politicos vied for the pick-up site, including Hur storekeeper Will Sturm, who told the government he had a nice meadow on his farm on which to erect the equipment.

But the pick-up site was located at the intersection of White Pine Road and Rt. 16 at Pleasant Hill, a short distance north of Grantsville.

"They came from all over to see the inaugural pick-up," said the late Pleasant Hill resident Jim Burrows, (pictured left) who was only 16 when the service started. "Cars were lined up and down both sides of the road. They brought a picnic lunch."

"Ollie (referring to Grantsville postmaster Ollie Umstead, came and attached the mail bag to a rope between two poles, and then the plane swooped down with a hook and picked it up," said Burrows.

WWI Vet Postmaster Ollie Umstead, who became one of Calhoun's best storytellers

The outgoing bag would snap from the support poles like it was fired from a giant slingshot.

"I saw the plane come through in some pretty bad weather," he said. "Sometimes they would lose the bag down in the woods, and Ollie would have us boys go find it."

A story in Goldenseal magazine quoted a farmer, who brought in a lost airmail bag. Asked how he found it, he said "It found me. Smashed my hen house to smithereens," saying I thought it was a German bomb.

Resident Grace Richards said "Dad and mom would let us go up on the road to watch the plane. We thought it was amazing. But after a while it was sorta old hat."

Richards said "We'd sell eggs for six cents a dozen to buy an airmail stamp, which was six cents," the service frequently used to write soldiers serving in World War II.

The pick-up site was on the old Tallmadge Geho farm, Pleasant Hill, still have the airmail poles in tact. "They have considerable historical significance," said Leisa Prunty. "That's why we've left them in the yard."

The experimental service first connected
Grantsville with 19 other communities

Special postmark of 1939 "first flight" from Pleasant Hill

Robert Yoak remembered the planes coming over White Pine Road. "If the pilot failed to hook the bag, they'd make another pass. Every now and then they'd lose the hook. I found a hook in my field several years ago."

The pick-up site was later moved to an area now located in the Calhoun County Park.

The single-engine "Stinson Reliants" were operated by daring pilots working for All-American Aviation from Pittsburgh. The planes never touched down at the pick-up sites. Several of the airmen were killed over the years.


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