Not only a superb pilot, Tex Marshall was a prolific and expressive
He wrote letters to friends, composed articles for aviation magazines, kept
notes of his flying experiences, and referring to these notes, dictated a memoir
of his life in aviation. From his jottings, both casual and professional, he
grants us a rare look at the thrilling world of early aviation; we see its
comical moments, its lofty goals and its tragic losses.
Tex was one of aviation historys very early ones. In 1914, he enrolled
in the Texas School of Aviation in Dallas, Texas. There he learned to fly on a
Curtiss Pusher. An exemplary student, he was able to get the little craft, with
its 60-hp Emerson two cycle, water-cooled motor, off the ground and actually fly
it for 300 or so feet without crashing.
Later he distinguished himself by nearly making a complete circle of the
school airfield in a tractor plane with a 60 hp Maximotor, L head type,
water-cooled engine. These successes were followed by occasional mishaps, but
combined they fired in him a love of flying that endured his entire life.
Once trained, Tex secured employment with Thomas-Morse Aircraft Co. of
Ithaca, first cutting bull rushes for the runway then graduating to flight
testing. Eventually, he became the companys number one test pilot, checking out
the companys new plane, the Scout with its 100 hp Gnome rotary motor, and
performing aerobatics on it. He also demonstrated planes for the Air Corps,
pioneered cross country runs, and inaugurated such new TM models, as the D-5, a
In 1919, he left Ithaca and launched himself into the world of barnstorming.
After the war the Signal Corps was selling surplus Curtiss Jennies, JN-4-Ds,
with their OX-5 motor, for a song, and Tex, believed the lyrics spelled money
and bought one. With it, he and his wife, Katherine, drove to Sea Breeze,
Florida, to put it to work. In one day alone he made $700. But Tex readily
understood that his barnstorming days were numbered; he realized he couldnt
make an adequate living taking farmers and their wives up for thrilling circles
of their corn field.
Late one afternoon, as a storm was coming, he looked up in the sky and saw a
biplane with the words Aerial Mail painted on his fuselage. As he described the
experience, "... the plane sailed by me steadily and unswervingly headed
straight into the center of that black cloud to the west.
"I stood entranced; how could any pilot, no matter what he was paid, fly into
a storm like that? As the plane dwindled into a small dot in the center of the
black clouds, a great flash of lightning seemed to encompass it, and the plane
was gone. I stood wondering to myself what could make a pilot do that. ...I
decided he must be dedicated to the idea of flying the mail, no matter the cost.
And then and there I decided Id join this small band of fellows and find out
about the Aerial Mail."
Tex signed up with the U.S. Air Mail Service on September 21, 1920, and
stayed with them, flying the mail through sleet or hail for seven years. During
that time he totaled 329,152 miles in 3675.08 hours. His routes included
Chicago-Omaha, Chicago-Cleveland, Omaha-Cheyenne and Reno-Salt Lake City-San
At first, he flew no more than 200 or so feet above the ground, navigating by
landmarks. "I found it was better to fly as close to the ground as possible," he
wrote in his memoir. "We were able to maintain the schedules about 90 percent
because we hugged the ground en route."
Despite his love for flying close to the ground, Tex experimented with
instrument flying. He was one of the first airmail pilots to trust the new
turn-and-bank indicators. In 1922, he helped form the Air Mail Pilots
Association and served as its president and vice president.
With the Post Office Department contracting airmail routes to private
carriers, most airmail pilots signed on with either Boeing Air Transport or
National Air Transport. Not Tex. From July 1927 on, he never flew a plane for anyone else but himself. Instead, he became an executive of air transport
companies, including American Airways.
in aviation is best summed up by his own nostalgic words: "Today I flew my
Apache twin engine plane and thoroughly enjoyed it. But got to thinking of those
days long ago when, to fly meant dressing up in a helmet and goggles,
and warm clothes, and the smell of castor oil, and the beautiful hum of the
rotary motor, that Ill never hear again..."
Photo courtesy Ann Marshall