The mail had to go through
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
In this photograph taken on May 19, 1938, Madera postmaster E.V. Murphy hands a sack of mail over to pilot Pete Schmidt while Madera Tribune reporter Winifred Peck looks on. The bundle was then flown to Fresno in the first ever airmail departure from Madera.
On April 13, 1912, a young man by the name of Glen Martin zoomed over the city and dropped a bundle of newspapers from the sky for delivery at the C.F. Preciado store on Yosemite Avenue.
For hours, Maderans had craned their necks, when suddenly the mail plane appeared out of the sky from the south. The aviator’s aim was not exactly as accurate as it was planned to be. The huge bundle of papers dropped on the lumber company yards, and the first one to reach it was Rudolph Preciado, who was in charge of paper deliveries at that time.
Over the next few years, Madera continued to receive airmail deliveries, but it wasn’t until 1938, that the authorities decided to send some.
With its history of mail aviation to Madera as a backdrop, Madera’s postmaster, E.V. Murphy developed a brainstorm. While Madera had been the recipient many times of airmail, never before had the city been the point of origin for airmail service. Murphy decided that it was high time for Madera to receive this honor.
Now it just so happened that during the week of May 15 to 21, 1938, a national celebration of airmail delivery was being observed. Murphy set out to insure Madera’s participation in this coast to coast observance.
The postmaster consulted his friend, Pete Schmidt, a well-known local pilot and J.E. Beck, a local businessman. Together the two men owned a “Cessna cabin mono-plane.” Murphy convinced the aviator that Madera had the chance to play a significant part in National Air Aviation Week. He laid out his plan, which was received warmly by Schmidt and Beck.
Shortly after 1 p.m. on May 19, 1938, Madera traffic officer, Jack Brammer, drove to the front of the Madera Tribune office on South C Street and called for Postmaster Murphy and Winifred Peck, a reporter on the Tribune staff. Murphy had in his possession a sack of mail, which was to be put on a plane and airlifted to Fresno.
When Brammer, Murphy, and Peck arrived at the Madera airport, which at the time was located on the site of the present day Lion’s Town and County Park on Howard road, pilot Schmidt, Mayor John B. Gordon, and City Councilman Matt Davis were on hand to give the event a proper sendoff. Mail carrier, Richard Gibbs was also present to accompany the mail on the flight.
With the others watching, Murphy officially handed the mail pack to Schmidt, who took formal possession of the 8-pound sack containing 203 airmail letters. Schmidt stowed his cargo and helped his passenger, Mrs. Peck, aboard. It was only right that the media be invited, after all, an occasion such as this could not go unheralded. Schmidt also made room for Gibbs, who would be the official mail carrier for the occasion.
After warming up, the Cessna slowly made its way to the end of the runway. At exactly 1:45 p.m. the plane became airborne, and the very first airmail departure from Madera was accomplished. The plane headed for Fresno with its precious cargo and nervous passengers.
The Tribune reporter stated later that “I felt a little like pushing might help the plane move ahead.” Actually, the craft was soon traveling at a speed of 115 miles per hour.
Air traffic at the Fresno airport did nothing to assuage the uneasiness that Peck felt in the single engine plane. As they neared the landing field, aircraft of all sorts were seen “either soaring up or landing.”
The Maderans, nevertheless, made it. How could it be otherwise? The mail had to go through.
Once on the ground, Gibbs delivered the letters to the TWA mail wagon, and at 4 o’clock, Madera’s airmail shipment began the second leg of its air journey. Once the mail was again airborne, Schmidt turned his own plane toward Madera and delivered his passengers back home. They arrived at 4:45 p.m. and were very conscious of the fact that a piece of Madera County history had just been made. Mail service in our town would never be the same.