Jump to content
American Road Magazine
Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!
Keep the Show on the Road!

Us99 Aircraft Beacon - Richfield Service Station

Recommended Posts

This classy ad appears as the last page in the Rotogravure section of the November 1928 Touring Topics Magazine, the official publication of the Automobile Club of Southern California. It announces a Richfield Oil Company plan to build a string of service stations, each with a gigantic beacon to guide aircraft through the dark of night.

 

ARRichfieldAD.jpg

 

 

ARRichfieldADText.jpg

 

 

 

Before the time of the radio beacon and radar, navigation by air was primarily by observation of sites on the ground, and what better to follow than a highway? Richfield was going to make that easier, and they did, by actually building the stations and towers they promised.

 

The only remaining example I know of this inspired design is beside old US 99 at the south end of the town of Mt Shasta, California. The station and tower are marvelously intact, though the RICHFIELD letters that once graced its sides are gone. Not so for the letters MS at the very top of the tower which are still there….standing of course for Mt. Shasta.

 

ARRichfieldTower2.jpg

 

 

ARRichfieldStation.jpg

 

 

 

It is fitting that the sky above the tower displays a modern jet’s con trail in the early morning light. And to cap it all off, at the very top of the tower is an eagle’s nest. The Richfield symbol was an eagle. Whoa………!!!

 

ARRichfieldTowerOnly.jpg

 

 

ARRichfieldTowerTop.jpg

 

 

 

It is highly unlikely that one in a thousand drivers passing the tower and old station have any clue about its history, but when you drive old US99…..you will.

 

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

ARRichfieldLocation.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Keep,

 

I am really enjoying these treasures you are finding along US 99.

 

That first shot with the light tower, contrails, and satellite dish is superb. Nice composition.

 

If my plans come together I will be traveling part of 99E between Sacramento and Orovlle and then CA 70 (US 40 alt) through Oroville and up the Feather River Canyon on Saturday.

 

Roadhound

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
That first shot with the light tower, contrails, and satellite dish is superb. Nice composition.

 

Roadhound

 

Rick

 

The Feather River Canyon is great. Looking forward to a report!

 

Do you notice my keen sense of balance, with the sweeping diagonal emphasizing the technological transition from 1930’s to 1990’s modalities, the warm early morning sun symbolizing a new beginning, and yet a soft departing from the past? The sand in the foreground is harsh reality, the tower a dream never fully realized, the older satellite dish a symbol of a forgotten technology, and the warm glow of a modern jet contrail crossing the tower is saying…….another day awaits. :rolleyes::D:lol:;)

 

I’m glad you could see it. B)

 

I'll share my “secret” about that “composition.” I had to get back far enough to get the whole tower in the shot…couldn’t do that from the west, so I walked to the south and took some more shots.

 

I took over a thousand photos on old 99, so one could truly say that shot is “one in a 1000.” I have to get lucky once in a while.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I took over a thousand photos on old 99, so one could truly say that shot is “one in a 1000.” I have to get lucky once in a while.

 

I thought the photographer's best trick was to take a bajillion photos because one of 'em was sure to turn out!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Rick

 

The Feather River Canyon is great. Looking forward to a report!

 

Do you notice my keen sense of balance, with the sweeping diagonal emphasizing the technological transition from 1930’s to 1990’s modalities, the warm early morning sun symbolizing a new beginning, and yet a soft departing from the past? The sand in the foreground is harsh reality, the tower a dream never fully realized, the older satellite dish a symbol of a forgotten technology, and the warm glow of a modern jet contrail crossing the tower is saying…….another day awaits. :rolleyes::D:lol:;)

 

I’m glad you could see it. B)

 

I'll share my “secret” about that “composition.” I had to get back far enough to get the whole tower in the shot…couldn’t do that from the west, so I walked to the south and took some more shots.

 

I took over a thousand photos on old 99, so one could truly say that shot is “one in a 1000.” I have to get lucky once in a while.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

I have to confess that I did miss the symbolism of the sand being "harsh reality" but now that you mention it... :P

 

As you probably know I have a keen interest in subject matter that is aviation history related as well as the old roads. That shot tied them both together.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I thought the photographer's best trick was to take a bajillion photos because one of 'em was sure to turn out!

 

Jim,

 

Every photographer has his tricks…….I got mine! If at first you don’t succeed.... try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try …(you get the idea), again. :P

 

Kidding aside, I thought this was a very interesting site, and the fact that I found an old ad in my collection added icing to the cake. And I was really impressed with the other “discoveries” along a route I have traveled for years. It really pays to “look.”

 

And this was just a few of those thousand photos. Wait till you see the rest! :lol:

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If my plans come together I will be traveling part of 99E between Sacramento and Orovlle and then CA 70 (US 40 alt) through Oroville and up the Feather River Canyon on Saturday.

 

Roadhound

 

Rick,

 

Lucky fellow! The Feather River Canyon is a favorite. The railroad and highway are, as you know, famed.

 

What is your intended route beyond the canyon? I did a bunch of “then and now” photo stuff ten years ago in the Greenville and Quincy area. Jervie Eastman did tons of post cards in the area in the 30’s and 40’s and I stood in the same places to get the “now” shots.

 

Keep us posted!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Rick,

 

Lucky fellow! The Feather River Canyon is a favorite. The railroad and highway are, as you know, famed.

 

What is your intended route beyond the canyon? I did a bunch of “then and now” photo stuff ten years ago in the Greenville and Quincy area. Jervie Eastman did tons of post cards in the area in the 30’s and 40’s and I stood in the same places to get the “now” shots.

 

Keep us posted!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Keep,

 

I am only planning on going up the FR Canyon as far as Keddie and then I have to turn around and high tail it home. The reason I am going up that way is to hopefully photograph a steam engine as it travels eastward from Oroville through the canyon. I've scoped out spots along the route and have the waypoints set on my GPS. Of particular interest to me are the spots where the roadway and railroad bridges cross over each other. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I'll get some nice pics that include both road and rail.

 

The steam train that I am following is the Union Pacific 844. It is the last steam engine that was never retired and still on an active roster. I caught it about 10 days ago going over the Altamont and thought that the Feather River would make a great backdrop for this mighty machine. It will be challenging as I am sure that I am not the only one who has the idea of following UP 844 along the Feather River Route plus it can move when they pour on the steam.

 

SC111305.sized.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Keep,

 

I am only planning on going up the FR Canyon as far as Keddie and then I have to turn around and high tail it home. The reason I am going up that way is to hopefully photograph a steam engine as it travels eastward from Oroville through the canyon. I've scoped out spots along the route and have the waypoints set on my GPS. Of particular interest to me are the spots where the roadway and railroad bridges cross over each other. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I'll get some nice pics that include both road and rail.

 

The steam train that I am following is the Union Pacific 844. It is the last steam engine that was never retired and still on an active roster. I caught it about 10 days ago going over the Altamont and thought that the Feather River would make a great backdrop for this mighty machine. It will be challenging as I am sure that I am not the only one who has the idea of following UP 844 along the Feather River Route plus it can move when they pour on the steam.

 

SC111305.sized.jpg

 

Rick,

 

That is one beautiful machine! If I were anywhere close enough, I’d be begging for a ride with you!

 

I noted that the Union Pacific maintains a great web site (www.uprr.com), complete with gps tracking and schedule for 844.

 

Don’t get killed in the process! Not all train or road buffs observe the niceties of double lines when there is a train to catch!

 

Enjoy the chase, and share a few photos!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Before the time of the radio beacon and radar, navigation by air was primarily by observation of sites on the ground, and what better to follow than a highway? Richfield was going to make that easier, and they did, by actually building the stations and towers they promised.

 

 

Actually, following the railroad was even more common in the early days of aviation than following a highway, as the rails were much more prevalent!

These neon-lighted towers actually had a very short operational life, as radio beacons had come into full use by the time that the Boeing 247/Douglas DC-2/DC-3 were in commercial service from 1934 on. The decade of the 1930s was an amazing one of technological advancement in aviation!

I wonder how long Richfield kept the neon 'on' at night on these great period artifacts?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Actually, following the railroad was even more common in the early days of aviation than following a highway, as the rails were much more prevalent!

These neon-lighted towers actually had a very short operational life, as radio beacons had come into full use by the time that the Boeing 247/Douglas DC-2/DC-3 were in commercial service from 1934 on. The decade of the 1930s was an amazing one of technological advancement in aviation!

I wonder how long Richfield kept the neon 'on' at night on these great period artifacts?

 

 

From your astute observations, I would suppose that these towers became service station advertising lights almost before their intended purpose was fully realized. I know that they still had big Richfield letters in this one well into the 1950’s, and maybe even the 1960’s.

 

Other than the fact that Richfield wanted to sell aviation fuel (certainly not at service stations!), it is difficult to see why they would undertake this kind of project in the first place. If the real purpose was not simply to promote the gas stations, can you believe a Board of Directors saying “Gees, let’s put up a hundred or so light towers to guide airplanes. Then they will demand Richfield Aviation Fuel for sure when they land.” Oh Yah!

 

The station itself is pretty unique as well, right down to a little metal point on the peaked roof.

 

Thanks for the good info!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Actually, following the railroad was even more common in the early days of aviation than following a highway, as the rails were much more prevalent!

 

The railroads, back in those early days of aviation, were referred to by aviators as "the iron compass." Many railroad stations had the name of the town painted on the roof, just for the aviators - usually for the planes carrying the mail.

 

 

Hudsonly,

Alex Burr

Memphis, TN

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The railroads, back in those early days of aviation, were referred to by aviators as "the iron compass." Many railroad stations had the name of the town painted on the roof, just for the aviators - usually for the planes carrying the mail.

 

 

Hudsonly,

Alex Burr

Memphis, TN

 

Very true! And as an aside, after a few 'near misses', it quickly became SOP to keep to the right side of the track being followed, just in case another railroad-following aviator was intently looking down while coming the other way at the same altitude!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Very true! And as an aside, after a few 'near misses', it quickly became SOP to keep to the right side of the track being followed, just in case another railroad-following aviator was intently looking down while coming the other way at the same altitude!

 

Wow! I love that kind of info!! Between you and Alex I now have added a couple of new gems to the ole knowledge tool kit. I suppose it was a smart idea to fly in "lanes," so to speak.

 

Regarding the Richfield folks, they were all wrong! They should have put their stations near railroad tracks! :lol:

 

Where is but here can you get such a broad range of expertise?

 

Great stuff!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I thought the photographer's best trick was to take a bajillion photos because one of 'em was sure to turn out!

 

I have read many times that the difference between an amateur and a professional photographer is the number of photos they take. In this digital age, it is easier for everyone to take lots of photos. When you get the wedding album from a professional wedding photographer, you never see many of the shots that were taken. The pro hopes you do not remember that they took 10 shots of each pose so you think the 2 or 3 are everything. It sure used to cost a lot more using film, but I did come home from one trip with over 1400 slides and some of my favorites were ones that I intentionally messed up the exposure as an experiment, but I made sure I wrote down what I had done to get each slide on that trip.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A few weeks ago I went to the annual luncheon of the Society for Aviation History and happened to be sitting at a table with a gentlemen who was an expert on the navigation beacons and the network of them built during the 20's and 30's. We got into a long discussion on the subject and I asked him if he knew anything about the Richfield navigation beacons. He was able to provide me with more information than I could remember.

 

It turns out the Richfield beacons were built for the private pilot in contrast to the federal beacons built for airline and military navigation. The beacons went from the Mexican border north to the Canadian border and were spaced approximately every 50 miles. They weren't necessarily the shortest route by air but rather followed the roads from town to town. South of San Francisco there was an inland and coastal route (99 & 101) and north was strictly inland following 99.

 

The rotating beacon was 8,000,000 candle power but they might also have a fixed beacon of equal power pointing towards the airport.

 

This website has more info on the subject: http://oldbeacon.com/beacon/richfield_beacon_airway.htm

 

Roadhound

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A few weeks ago I went to the annual luncheon of the Society for Aviation History and happened to be sitting at a table with a gentlemen who was an expert on the navigation beacons and the network of them built during the 20's and 30's. We got into a long discussion on the subject and I asked him if he knew anything about the Richfield navigation beacons. He was able to provide me with more information than I could remember.

 

It turns out the Richfield beacons were built for the private pilot in contrast to the federal beacons built for airline and military navigation. The beacons went from the Mexican border north to the Canadian border and were spaced approximately every 50 miles. They weren't necessarily the shortest route by air but rather followed the roads from town to town. South of San Francisco there was an inland and coastal route (99 & 101) and north was strictly inland following 99.

 

The rotating beacon was 8,000,000 candle power but they might also have a fixed beacon of equal power pointing towards the airport.

 

This website has more info on the subject: http://oldbeacon.com/beacon/richfield_beacon_airway.htm

 

Roadhound

 

Rick,

 

WOW! You never know when you will have an interesting experience. Thanks for the link as well!

 

Tenino and Centralia in Washington are in my "neighborhood," and show as tower sites in alternate scans. Hummmm? I wonder which it was, and where it was. I have never seen anything about a tower around here. Oh Boy....a local adventure!

 

Dave

 

keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Rick,

 

WOW! You never know when you will have an interesting experience. Thanks for the scans as well!

 

Tenino and Centralia in Washington are in my "neighborhood," and show as tower sites in alternate scans. Hummmm? I wonder which it was, and where it was. I have never seen anything about a tower around here. Oh Boy....a local adventure!

 

Dave

 

keep the Show on the Road!

 

The website shows a surviving building in Berkeley that I will have to search out as well as a location in Livermore.

 

I wonder how many buildings, towers, or both have survived?

 

Rick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The website shows a surviving building in Berkeley that I will have to search out as well as a location in Livermore.

 

I wonder how many buildings, towers, or both have survived?

 

Rick

 

 

Rick,

 

Well, Bro (That's my California speak! ;) ), look what your tip led me to find in the May 15, 1931 Thurston County Independent:

 

BLOW-OUT WRECKS CAR ON HIGHWAY

California Man Dies at Result of Injuries as Car Pins Him to Earth

J. L. INMAN, of Livermore, California, was fatally injured at

about 11, Wednesday morning when the Buick roadster which he was driving

turned over near the Richfield beacon, four miles west of Tenino. Mrs.

H. H. BECK of Orland, Calif., his sister, was somewhat bruised about the

body.

 

I think I know where that may be located. I wonder of the base is still there. VERY INTERESTING!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!!

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Rick,

 

Well, Bro (That's my California speak! ;) ), look what your tip led me to find in the May 15, 1931 Thurston County Independent:

 

BLOW-OUT WRECKS CAR ON HIGHWAY

California Man Dies at Result of Injuries as Car Pins Him to Earth

J. L. INMAN, of Livermore, California, was fatally injured at

about 11, Wednesday morning when the Buick roadster which he was driving

turned over near the Richfield beacon, four miles west of Tenino. Mrs.

H. H. BECK of Orland, Calif., his sister, was somewhat bruised about the

body.

 

I think I know where that may be located. I wonder of the base is still there. VERY INTERESTING!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!!

 

Most awesome find dude! :D

 

At least that gives you a place to start looking. Ironically, I was just doing some searches on historic Livermore to see if I could pin down a location. That area has grown so much that anything that was close to downtown is likely long gone, but who knows.

 

Rick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FYI There is another on the north side of Grants Pass, OR "repurposed" as the Lantern Cafe. And there is another on the old highway north of Eugene, OR. There is one of the red tile roofed/Spanish style design (as were all the Richfield Beacons south of the Mt. Shasta one) outside of Willows, CA ,now the headquarters of a trucking company.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
FYI There is another on the north side of Grants Pass, OR "repurposed" as the Lantern Cafe. And there is another on the old highway north of Eugene, OR. There is one of the red tile roofed/Spanish style design (as were all the Richfield Beacons south of the Mt. Shasta one) outside of Willows, CA ,now the headquarters of a trucking company.

 

Thanks! More good stuff to enjoy when driving old 99!!

 

And welcome to the forum! OH, it just dawned on me who jlivings is!!!

 

You wrote the bible(s) of old 99.

 

Looking forward to your contributions to the magazine!!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was caught by surprise to see a post from jlivins2002. Apparently she is too modest to identify herself, but it only took a couple of seconds for it to dawn on me that the foremost authority on one of my favorite old roads (US99, the Pacific Highway, and in my area, also the old Oregon Trail, and the Cowlitz Trail) had joined our group…Jill Livingston.

 

Welcome Jill!!!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×