Are your summer vacations limited by high prices for both gas and airfare?
How about $60 for two people to fly to San Francisco, or maybe Las Vegas for $40, or Phoenix for $50?
These were long-lost deals offered by pilot Ray W. Murrell to passengers in his Speedwing Travelair biplane in 1934 and 1935, flying out of Pomona Airport.
To be honest, it probably wasn’t very comfortable in his open plane with no peanuts or toilets. But you avoided any kind of security check for your luggage – there wasn’t much room for them anyway.
There is no Pomona Airport today, and those fees he charged in those Great Depression years quickly disappeared. These arrangements were made by Murrell during the time he spent hustling around the country for any money he could earn as a pilot.
This early aviator did a lot of stunt work for the motion picture industry and spent his winters in Pomona after touring the Midwest and West performing air shows the rest of the year.
Born in Missouri, he joined the Navy and spent some time after the end of World War I as a seaman on the USS Saturn, a coal carrier along the West Coast. Around 1927, he was a police officer in Colorado.
A biography put together in 2015 by his nephew Ralph Murrell says little about the rest of his early life or how he became involved in flying and settled in Pomona.
It is possible that he got the bug after meeting Harry McCollom, a Wyoming flier with whom he soon became a partner. Because of their film work, they were often called “Hollywood Fliers” when they moved to a city to put on an air show. Also on their team was Dorothy Barden, a veteran skydiver who wowed spectators at air shows from 1934 to 1936.
The team performed in at least 15 air shows in 1936 from Marysville, California, to Rapid City, South Dakota to Parker, Arizona, bringing aerial thrills to rural towns. Before and after shows, Murrell and his crew would take passengers on short flights — for a price, of course.
The movie industry beckoned Murrell at least three times while he was in Pomona. He and other such pilots received no film credit for their flight, so the extent of their work is difficult to verify.
His grandson said Murrell’s first film work was in the April 1933 film Central Airport, which involved several planes and some unplanned crashes for the pilots involved.
The only remarkable aspect of the film was the introduction of a young actor, John Wayne, who had an uncredited part in which he suffered his first on-screen death.
Murrell and his plane played a key role in the February 1935 blockbuster Devil Dogs of the Air, starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien.
In an interview during an air show in Broken Bow, Nebraska, Murrell said he doubled for Cagney in stunt scenes. “To photograph better, the plane was coated with grease and then sprayed with aluminum powder to give it a metallic finish,” he said in the June 27, 1935 Custer County Chief.
Murrell claimed his was only one of five aircraft fit to fly for the films. He said he made $25 an hour while filming, taking in as much as $700 during a take, which is roughly equivalent to $15,000 today.
His third film work was for Sky Parade, taken from the radio series The Air Adventures of Jimmy Allen. It debuted in April 1936.
The rest of Murrell’s short life was mostly filled with tragedy. His partner, McCollom, then 36, was performing at an air show in Crawford, Nebraska, when his plane suddenly nosedived and crashed on August 30, 1936. He was killed instantly.
Shortly thereafter, Murrell was stricken with a lingering illness, brought on by typhoid fever, and returned to his home in Springfield, Missouri, where he died on January 6, 1937, of kidney disease. He was only 36 years old.
There is one small legacy of Murrell’s short life that lives on. After his death, his Speedwing Travelair passed through several owners and today resides in the collection of the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum in Owl’s Head, Maine. And, according to museum volunteer Bob Bailey, the plane is still flying.
An opportunity to tour the historic Fox Pomona Theatre, 301 S. Garey Ave., will be offered Saturday, July 9 by the Pomona Valley Historical Society.
The first tour is at 6pm with the last tour ending at 8pm Tickets are $20.
Tickets are available at https://www.pomonahistorical.org/foxtours. Information: 909-623-2198.
Joe Blackstock writes on the history of the Inland Empire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeBlackstock. Check out some of our past Inland Empire Stories columns on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IEHistory.
Pomona pilot founded low-cost, no-frills airline – Daily Bulletin Source link Pomona pilot founded low-cost, no-frills airline – Daily Bulletin