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Signs of the old U.S. Air Mail Service are fast disappearing from the American landscape. Hangars, beacons, flight shacks, concrete arrows and other traces of the Service are vanishing like smoke.


Where there’s loss, however, there’s also renewal. One man unwilling to consign traces of the old airmail to rubble is George Beaver of Numidia, PA. In 1995, he erected a tower with a rotating beacon on the exact site of the original light that guided airmail pilots to his grandfather Amos Teple’s landing field.

In 1925, Teple leased the Post Office 56 acres of his prime orchard grove for an emergency landing field. The Teple farm was located outside Numidia in eastern Pennsylvania. To prepare the site, the Service cut down 100 peach trees, dynamited the stumps, erected a 50-foot beacon tower, ringed Teple’s field with battery powered spotlights, and built a caretaker’s shanty.

Teple took the job as part-time caretaker; his duties included mowing grass, providing weather reports, turning the lights on at dusk and off at dawn.

In the course of these responsibilities, Teple formed friendships with the airmail pilots. Through them he heard stories of harrowing flights over the long, low ridges of the Allegheny Mountains. Heavy with brush, difficult to read from the air, its changeable weather patterns brought more pilots to grief than any other part of the transcontinental route. To these pilots Teple’s field was a haven in the Hell Stretch, their designation for this unforgiving landscape.

When the Post Office eventually required 24-hour a day oversight at Numidia, Teple hired Stanley Beaver for the job. Stanley, later to become George Beaver’s father, was then his mother’s steady boyfriend. As the years progressed Stanley became a flight service specialist. When the flight service celebrated its 50th anniversary, he was honored as the country’s oldest specialist.

Today Teple’s airfield is Numidia airstrip, a private field for ultra light planes and other aircraft, and is owned and run by George Beaver.

In 1995, in honor of his father and grandfather and in remembrance of the U.S. Air Mail Service, he set to work duplicating the tower and shanty with the precision of an engineer. The 50-foot rotating beacon contains the original 1920s lenses, and the caretaker’s shack, constructed by Amish carpenters, is an exact replica. Aviation historian Lewis Dewart helped with dimensions.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the opening of Teple’s airstrip, Beaver will hold an open house at the Numidia Airport on July 1. George and his son Jim will greet visitors, show memorabilia, talk about the perils of early airmail night flying and explain how Teple’s airfield welcomed fliers. In January, the local TV station broadcast a special on the Numidia Airport’s history.

Photos courtesy George Beaver

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copyright 1999 Nancy Allison Wright, President Air Mail Pioneers

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