Sunday, May 5, 2013

Airports, Airlines, and Airplanes in Harlingen—A Brief Survey



Historical Timeline of

Valley International Airport Harlingen Texas

© 2013 Norman Rozeff
10/29/18 Returning home for his brother Gordon's funeral, Lon C. Hill, Jr. lands the first airplane ever in Harlingen. The light bi-wing aircraft puts down in a football field close to where the present Harlingen airport exists. In his trip from San Antonio he has refueled at the King Ranch and approaching Harlingen looks for sheets spread along side the grass field selected for his landing.
1923 The first locally owned plane is brought to town. Leman Nelson and Clay Rader have purchased a surplus WWI bi-plane, still in its crate. They purchase an engine for it bringing the total cost to $600. Later it is destroyed by high winds. In time Leman Nelson and Bill Williams open a flying school. Two students plan to hi-jack the plane to Central America. With Nelson in the front cockpit, the student shots him while airborne, intending to dump the body in the Gulf, land, and pick up his accomplice. Instead the novice crashes between Harlingen and San Benito. As rescuers move to the plane he commits suicide.
The site of the municipal airport is a 72 acre triangular piece of land wedged between the Arroyo Colorado on its east and the Main Canal on its west side. It is at the south end of the municipal golf course. It possesses a gravel-dirt airstrip.
6/29 The Harlingen Star on its editorial page daily promotes among others the following for the city and area: A Modern, Fully Equipped Airport.
11/29 Harlingen boosts that its airport was the first in the Valley to be rated by the Department of Commerce. In May after a committee was appointed to find a new 400 acre site for a city airport, it begins to draw up plans to enlarge and modernize the existing facility and equipment. Mid-year efforts to entice Pan American Airlines here from Brownsville had fallen on deaf ears despite occasional flooding of the Brownsville strip.
1930-34 A Valley resident since 1930, C.W. Blackwell has a flying school in the area. Mr. and Mrs. O.N. Joyner's daughter Evelyn is one of his students and is considered to be the youngest woman pilot in the country. After she earns a flying license, her father purchases a plane. Blackwell makes most of his living with his pioneer agricultural dusting service and will manager the old Harlingen Airport for a number of years. At age 67 on 5/15/59 Blackwell passes.
3/41 Army Air Corps officials in Washington announce approval of Harlingen Air Training Base and in May this is confirmed. Later authority to proceed comes with the approval of a $3.8 million appropriation.

7/41 Harlingen Army Airfield is established for the training of gunnery students.
By 1945 more than 48,000 gunners have utilized the facility, now the Valley International Airport. With its palm-lined streets and flowering shrubs it was known as the "showplace of the air force."
11/28/41 Col. John R. Morgan, who will become the airfield commander, lands first base aircraft, a BT-13, on new southeast runway. At this time only a one-chair contractor's shack exists.
1/43 The 72 acre municipal air field is leased to an individual concern.
1/5/46 The first hint of the closure of the Harlingen Army Air Field comes in an AP story noting it will be declared surplus, the last of four such bases in this area to be deactivated. Others have been Moore Field, the Brownsville Army Air Base, and the Laguna Madre Sub-Base of the HAAF. Col. Louis R. Hughes is commanding officer of the 5,000 men, both trainees and permanent personnel, now here. By 1/29 negotiations start on the use of HAAF. On 2/1 the base is placed into inactive status and four days later declared surplus property. HAAF base commanding officer Col. Roy T. Wright had received orders on 9/17 to go overseas. Col. Lewis R. Hughes, deputy CO as of 4/13, then took command of the base. On 10/5/45 Col. John R. Morgan, commanding officer of the 79th Flying Training Wing with headquarters at HAAF, had been ordered to assume command at Keesler Field, Mississippi. He had been here since 1941.
In 1946 E.O. Young establishes the Young Flying service. It is purchased by Wayne French in 1979. By 1985 it is a full, fixed base operation handling fueling, and on-call maintenance of smaller aircraft, air charters, sale of new Piper and Cessna airplanes, and rentals. Its 43 employees have a payroll of $437,000 by 1984.
2/46 Harlingen Army Airfield is deactivated and formally taken over by the city on March 21. On 3/21/46 the field is taken over by the city.
9/7/46 Harlingen Field dedicated as a municipal airport by Rear Admiral C.A.F. Sprague, commander of the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. From this field is flown the first air cargo ever from the Valley. It is a planeload of strawberries for Canada. From 1947 to 1951 when it is reclaimed by the military the airport is called the All-Valley Regional Airport.
4/22/47 Nationwide Air Transport flies into the All-Valley Airport, Harlingen with the its first international air cargo ever. The DC 3 carries 7,000 lbs. of shrimp from Carmen, Mexico.
1947-48 Trans Texas Airways, with its 21 passenger DC 3s, offers twice daily flights.
The city is advertised as the "Valley's Commercial, Industrial and Transportation Center."
3/2/48 Trans Texas Airways has its first flight between Harlingen and San Antonio.
1949 Merle Huston is manager of the Harlingen All-Valley Airport.
1949 Val Air lines headquartered in the Madison Hotel building operates two flights daily to San Antonio and return to Harlingen.
6/21/51 The Defense Department seeks $15,462,000 to construct Harlingen facilities at the All-Valley Airport. It is to be transformed into a school for Air Force navigators. In the end
$14,721,000 is appropriated as part of the defense spending bill, $100,000 of which will be used to repurchase real estate sold since the army air field closed.
4/1/52 The once deactivated military air field turned into a city-owned regional one is reactivated as the Harlingen Air Force Base. While the original Harlingen Army Airfield cost just over $20 million, the reactivation this year will cost $15 million. Its mission is to train navigators, an urgency brought on by the initiation of the Korean War in June 1950. At its peak there are 3,500 military personnel and 600 civilians. The annual payroll comprises $15 million.
1952 Charles A. (Cut) Washmon is Mayor (12/15/52-12/15/56), when the Harvey Richards Field, Harlingen's municipal airport is opened on August 3, 1954 (but dedicated in November) in what is now the Harlingen Country Club in Palm Valley (26.2 N/97.76 W). It has a small terminal and a 3,650' runway. A 1963 directory shows that it had by then two paved runways with the primary one (19/35) being 4,900' asphalt, a third runway, taxiways, an apron, several hangars, and a terminal building. Operators listed were the Elliott dusting Service, Elliott Aviation Co., Valley Flying Service, and Young Flying Service. It is updated in 1959. Air travel times from Harlingen to major Texas cities are: Houston 3 hrs 22 min., San Antonio 2 hrs 32 min., and Dallas-Ft.Worth 4 hrs 50 min.
Texas International Airline operates from Harlingen. In 12/55 it is given permission by the CAB to provide four a day plane service from Harlingen to Dallas with stops in San Antonio and Austin. It pulls out 12/74 and returns in 4/75. In May 1979 it leaves again. Later it is merged into Continental Airlines, which commences flights into Harlingen in the 1990s.
1/12/59 $600,000 construction funds are set for the planned Harvey Richards Municipal Airport expansion six miles west of the city. One half of this amount will come from the FAA and one half from the Harlingen Airport Board, whose chairman is C. Grant Kloperstein. Others on the board are J.R. Fitzgerald, Harvey L. Richards, A.J. Wittenbach, E.D. McDonald, H.W. Bahnman, and D.B. Blankin. No local tax monies will be involved.
With the purchase of 160 additional acres a runway of 4,900' is constructed.
1/29/59 Mayor C. Worth Wood announces a 25 year lease for city-owned land of 1,489 aces for the Harlingen Air Force Base.
4/30/60 The Harvey Richard Municipal Airport is rededicated with its $70,000 terminal building which is but part of a $400,000 improvement program. Congressman Joe M. Kilgore gives the dedicatory address. Trans-Texas Airways is to move here on 7/1/60.
3/19/61 The first public announcement is made that the Harlingen Air Force Base is to be closed.
1962 The Harlingen Air Force Base closes and throws the city into an economic slump of major proportions. Between April and December the military complement at the base drops very sharply as does civilian employment.
Harvey Richards Municipal Airport is operating. Four flights arrive daily while six flights depart. The north-south runway is 4,950'; the NW-SE one 3,400'. It also has a third turf runway, taxiways, an apron, several hangars, and a terminal building. Operators at the field are Elliot Dusting Service, Elliot Aviation Company, Valley Flying Service, and Young Flying Service. In 12/67 the facility is to close as the airlines move to the much larger runways of the former HAFB.
2/21/63 A City Commission resolution to establish a regional airport in Harlingen elicits protests from McAllen and Brownsville interests.
8/65 By a four to one margin Harlingen voters approve a $1.25 million bond issue to convert the former HAFB to a major jet international airport.
4/14/66 The proposed movement of the airport from Harvey Richards Field to the former HAAF is opposed by some, but the economics are there as well as the future of an industrial park at the site.
11/66 George Young is Mayor. He is to serve from 12/13/66 to 12/8/70. Under him the municipal airport moves into the former HAFB and the Confederate Air Force is invited to establish its facilities at the airport.
11/1/67 The old Air Base becomes the Harlingen Municipal Airport and Industrial Air Park and the commercial airline facility. Between 1/68 and 2/18/69, a total of 3,000 passenger boardings occur. In January Trans Texas Airways starts its jet service to Harlingen on a newly extended runway.
1968 The Confederate Air Force, an organization formulated to preserve World War II military aircraft in flying condition, outgrows its facilities at Rebel Field , Mercedes, where one of its founders Lloyd Nolan runs a flying service, and moves to several hangers and buildings on the north end of the old Aerial Gunnery School facilities at the Harlingen airport. This has been facilitated by the $25,000 September 1967 fundraising campaign spearheaded by Dr. George Willeford and Don Bodenhammer.
2/24/69 With work having commenced 1/26/68 the new Harlingen Airport terminal is dedicated.
1/71 Spartan Aviation, a Los Angeles company, now has 500 employees in its over 150,000 square feet hangers at the airport. It repairs airplane engines. Its time here is short-lived. Plans to start a small plane manufacturing operation here are given considerable publicity but never reach fruition.
7/25/72 It is announced that the Hawaii firm Murray Air will build giant agricultural crop dusting planes here under the company name EMAIR and with George Roth as partner. The company is to occupy Hangar 38 at the airport.
7/30/73 EMAIR rolls out the first of its giant crop dusting aircraft manufactured here.
1974 Lamar Muse announces that Southwest Airlines, founded in 1971, has plans to fly to the Valley. With its unusual no-frills method of operations and a single type of aircraft, the Boeing 737, it becomes a phenomenal success while other national airlines struggle.
2/16/75 Texas International Airlines announces plans to pull out of its Harlingen operations and concentrate its services in McAllen. It had provided three daily non-stop flights to Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Southwest Airlines will fill the void with 12 flights daily on Boeing 737s.
10/78 Mexicana Airlines begins service here but pulls out in 11/82 due to the peso devaluation and losses.
1980 Don Wiles establishes Gulf Avionics when he makes a lease/purchase arrangement with Eddie Anderwald for his avionic shop, then a part of Air Central, Inc. at the Harlingen Industrial Airpark. He officially opens for business 1/1/81. Months later David Garza is brought in as a general partner. The business remained a partnership with the name later changed to Gulf Aviation when aircraft maintenance was added to the services. In 1987 the business was incorporated as Gulf Aviation, Inc. In 1990 Wiles left the company and started Gulf Avionics, Inc., which is continuing to operate at the Valley International Airport in 2004. Garza bought out Wiles' interest in Gulf Aviation in 1993.
1981 The Eagle Bus Company leases a large hangar at the airport to manufacture buses but goes broke the following year.
11/26/80 Continental Airlines is cleared to commence flights into the city and will do so in early 1981.
3/13/81 Mal Kasanoff becomes chairman of the Harlingen Airport Board. Architect Whitey Fletcher will present it a $2.7 million plan for terminal expansion to the north, parking and drainage improvements, and radar acquisition.
9/9/81 Braniff International begins Harlingen service with four flights daily to Dallas-Ft. Worth. In December American Airlines begins Harlingen service, at first only to Dallas. It spends $1.3 million/yr here. On 5/13/82 Braniff files for bankruptcy and closes its operations forever.
11/18/83 The Valley International Airport has its grand opening with the very attractive and efficient terminal being welcomed. Its size has grown to 21,000 sq. ft. Fire Station No.5 at the airport will be manned by Harlingen Fire Department personnel, but the physical facility is under the Airport Board.
9/9/81 Braniff International begins Harlingen service with four flights daily to Dallas-Ft. Worth. In December American Airlines begins Harlingen service, at first only to Dallas. It spends $1.3 million/yr here. On 5/13/82 Braniff files for bankruptcy and closes its operations forever.12/81 Gulf Aviation commences servicing the South Texas area. David Garza and Don Wiles are co-owners. The firm sells aircraft, performs maintenance, aviation electronics, supplies fuel, trains student flyers, rents hangar space and tiedowns.
12/82 Trailways starts a bus-making plant in Harlingen after obtaining a building in March. By October 1984 work for 175 people diminishes. Through 2/85, 55 workers recondition older buses. By April only 11 people are left at the plant.
5/87 General Dynamics Services Center is set up in Harlingen. An immense super-modern hanger and support facilities are constructed at the southwest side of the airport. It is able to accommodate the largest commercial aircraft. In 1/91 the unit's name changes to General Dynamics Base Systems. In 5/94 the Martin Marietta Corp. acquires the facilities. In 3/95 this company is merged into Lockheed and the facility is under the aegis of Lockheed Martin. It has been assembling one component of the Atlas missiles. In the beginning of 2004, 234 employees are at the plant.
1991 In a major tourism loss to the city, the Confederate Air Force organization headquartered in Harlingen departs its Harlingen Airport base for Midland, TX which has offered it a $1 million facility/museum.
1991 The CAF has nearly 7,000 members nation-wide and about 140 flyable WWII aircraft.
11/96 Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines begins to serve Winter Texans of the mid-west with direct flights to Harlingen. It will serve VIA seasonally from November through April. For a time after the 9/11 terrorist attack it will pull out of the market but resume by 2003. It sets records for passengers carried when it goes to five flights a week in 2004. By November 2006 it marks its 10th anniversary with the local airport scheduling three round-trip flights per week and four during the holiday season.
12/02 Lockheed Martin added 36 employees to its Harlingen payroll during the year. The current total stands at 225. The plant at the Valley International Airport puts together components for the Atlas launch program, F-16 jetfighters, and Theater High Altitude Aerial Defense (THAAD). The latter is an interceptor missile.
12/30/03 Valley International Airport (Harlingen) controls 53% of the domestic boardings of the three Valley airports. The Texas Dept. of Transportation attributes $52.9 million as VIA's direct contribution to the local economy. The 245,000 annual visitors it handles are estimated to contribute $97.2 million directly to the economic output. The VIA's total economic activities stand at $259.5 million. Besides Continental and Southwest Airlines (and Sun seasonally), other major tenants are Lockheed Martin, FedEx, UPS, Airborne Express, Gulf Aviation, Gulf Avionics, and Amigos Aviation. Roy Rodriguez is chairman of the aviation board, and Ernie D. Arredondo, director of marketing.
3/14/04 The NAFTA CargoPort has opened in the 60,000 square foot facility built by LYXNS Holdings. In addition to Bax Global and Menlow Worldwide, Swissport, a company which works closely with air cargo carriers, will be a tenant. The setup will facilitate the movement of parts into northern Mexico for manufacturing operations there.
4/14/04 FedEx ,which handles air freight to the Valley using Harlingen as a terminal, replaces its standard cargo airplane with a larger and more fuel efficient aircraft. This is the French-
manufactured Airbus A310 which may carry up to 40 tons of cargo. Increased business to the Valley and northern Mexico necessitated the change. The twin-engine plane has 25% greater holding capacity than presently use craft.
5/12/04 As its aerospace business slows, the local plant of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. lays off 19 employees. The Denver–based company will retain 211 people in Harlingen.
5/10/06 Valley International Airport becomes "international" again when FedEx commences a five times a week flight schedule to transport freight between Harlingen and Monterrey, Mexico.
1/08 This month saw the demolishment of an historic World War II Army Air Field building. This was Hanger 38 with its distinguishable orange and white stripes. Its longtime lessee, EMAIR, ceased operations in 2002. Also to see the dust this month were the Field's four railroad-accessible warehouses just across the road from the museum. The tracks, which once connected to the Southern Pacific Brownsville route, paralleled Loop 499 and were torn out many years ago.

A Short History of the Beginnings of U. S. Navy Radio Communications and the United States Navy Point Isabel Wireless Station

The Navy's Role in Early Radio Development and Its Use

© 2013 Norman Rozeff
American military communications as a separate discipline began with Confederate forces in 1862 and the Union Signal Corps was to form in 1863. Innovations were to follow as methods advanced from flag and torch signaling to telegraph and numerous other inventive schemes.
Few know of the important role that the United States Navy played in the development and perfection of long-range radio communications at the turn of the 20th century. Still fewer remember or are acquainted with the Navy wireless transmission facility which once existed in the southwest portion of Port Isabel. How and why this station came to exist will be explained here. Its evolutionary background was definitively addressed by Captain Linwood S. Howeth in his 1963 book History of Communication-Electronics in the United States Navy, U. S. Government Printing Office. What immediately follows are extracts and paraphrases from his comprehensive study.
The first electrical use in communications in the U.S. Navy was that of electrical signaling lights in 1875. It was the Spanish –American War which brought forth the establishment of coast signal stations. By April 1898, 230 land stations along the coasts of the country were tied together with telegraph and telephones and used various physical systems to communicate to ships off-shore. These stations, primarily lighthouse and weather service facilities, were manned by Navy personnel. The operation was termed the Coastal Signal System.
The system which we now call radio consists of the sending of electromagnetic waves created by a generator and received by a conductor connected to a suitable receiving circuit. Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell had laid the scientific groundwork for electromagnetism in the mid-19th century. While others were to build upon their work such as Dr. Mahlon Loomis as early as 1872 to be followed by Amos Dolbear in 1882 and Phelps and Edison in 1885, it was Heinrich Hertz, before his death in 1884, that developed an oscillator for generating high-frequency electro-magnetic waves, essentially the first radio transmitter.
Recognizing the fact that it would be of great use to the service, U.S. Navy Lt. Bradley A. Fiske researched and experimented with wireless communications in the decade following 1885. His work therefore preceded that of Marchese Marconi. Marconi was less an inventor than an individual who could develop engineering and applied research. This in the 1890s he did, accumulating information on radio signaling from numerous individuals, including Prof. Popoff in Russia. The outcome was by July 1898 the steamer Flying Huntress became the first ship outfitted with radio for commercial purposes.
In early 1899 several dramatic incidents related to maritime safety and the use of radios accelerated their installation. That year the Royal Navy commenced testing aboard three of its ships. By 1900 it had installed radio equipment in 26 ships and coast stations.
In September 1899 the U. S. Navy authorized personnel to observe radio communications monitoring the America Cup Races. In November this generated a favorable report to the Secretary of the Navy. The Navy in fact had by October 1899 been conducting its own tests on non-Marconi equipment but experienced interference problems. However a report recommended further testing and the establishment of a station at Newport, Rhode Island.

In 1901 the Navy was operating in a more observatory mood rather than experimenting. However, some personnel were assigned to Europe to acquaint themselves with the operation of radios. In 1902 no decision was made on the purchase of Marconi equipment though it was deemed superior to that of the Germans. Still prior to the end of the year, six different manufacturers were ready for comparative tests.
By January 1902 the Navy was issuing instructions that ships masts be prepared to accommodate antennas. Ships under construction were required to be provided with masts suitable for use of radiotelegraph apparatus.
Shore radio stations by May 1902 were to be located at five East Coast lighthouse stations and one near San Francisco.
Training operators was slow to be implemented and when in 1903 13 students were assigned to a school at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the number was far less than that required.
In 1903 seven manufactured systems were tested aboard two warships, the USS Topeka and USS Prairie. Reception distances ranged up to 62 miles for Slaby-Arco (Germany) to only 13 nautical miles for Rochefort. Lack of equipment and trained operators hindered the testing. By September the Navy had acquired 37 Slaby-Arco devices and 18 by other manufacturers. Naturally American manufacturers began to complain about the purchases from the German outfit.
In this period individual naval squadrons were more or less autonomous. This type of organization was a deterrent to early rapid development of naval radio communications. Additional transmitter stations were set up in 1903, two along the northeast coast, one in Puerto Rico, and two in the Philippines. Lack of trained personnel had only five stations manned by summer 1903. By the summer exercises of 1903, seven warships were equipped with radios, this being the Navy's first strategic use of them. "Old Navy" had reactionary views of this new technology and the issue was heatedly debated.
The efforts of the Marconi interests to establish a wireless monopoly and the shady dealings of the De Forest Co. lead the Navy to ask that the Government have absolute control of wireless stations in "time of national peril." An international conference on the subject of radio was held in Berlin in August 1903. No protocol was agreed upon by the attending nations.
An Interdepartmental Board appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt submitted to him in July 1904 a report recommending that the Navy be designated to provide coastwise radio communications for the U. S. Government and when not in competition with commercial stations to receive and transmit all radio messages to and from ships at sea. It would also empower the Army to erect stations and sought legislation to prevent radio telegraphy by monopolies or trusts. Vested interests kept these proposals from going to Congress.
In 1904 the Navy contracted with the American De Forest Radio Co. to provide and install three 35 kw transmitters and receiving equipment and accessories. These would be used to signal the Canal Zone and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from Key West, Florida. These were completed in late 1905 and for the latter in early 1906. At each location three masts of 208' each were set in a 300' triangular arrangement. In 1906 the Navy was reporting it had 60 transmitters furnished by eight manufacturers. Ranging from1 to 35 kw in power they averaged 7 kw.
Early Navy radio had two components. One was the shore radio system under the individual commandants of the Shore Establishment Notice to Mariners. Fifty ships provided weather data for this system. Naval time was also transmitted. Atmospheric disturbances continued to plague transmissions from still rather primitive equipment.
The second system was fleet radio. It often lacked discipline and unified protocols. One success story of fleet radio was however during the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906. The USS Chicago moved into the area was able to provide valuable transmissions after other sources were disrupted.
In May 1906 a second International Radio Telegraphic Conference was held in Berlin. After considerable debate from delegates of 27 nations, a protocol, to be effected July 1, 1908, was adopted. It stipulated that any brands of radio equipment could be used to send and receive radio message, that inter-ship communications would be instituted, that radio stations would give priority to distress calls, and that all would work toward the elimination of interference between stations.
In this period the U. S. radio industry was in perpetual disarray with conflicting claims, patents, inventions, etc. In 1907 Lee De forest joined with James Dunlop Smith, a star salesman, and Samuel Darby, an honest patent attorney. They formed the De Forest Radio Telephone Co. One of its first customers of its radiotelephone was the Navy which in 1906 had purchased 26 of them. These were improperly utilized and for this reason proved a failure.
Reginald Fessenden of the National Electric Signaling Co. worked on continuous wave reception in the first decade of the 20th century. He would not succeed until De Forest developed equipment to satisfactorily generate local oscillations. Fessenden won a Navy contract in late 1908 for 100 kw transmitters capable of signals across arrange of 3,000 miles. These never met specifications. The company did sell the Navy 50 sets of other transmitters over the next two years.
It was the Poulsen system of continuous undamped oscillation and California scientists/entrepreneurs at the Federal Telegraph co. that provided the Navy reliable 35 kw transmitters. This company was eventually purchased by the Navy during World War I.
With the U. S. Senate still being appointed by sate legislatures prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment, many felt that the majority of Senators was under the influence of big business hence opposed to Government control of radio.
An July 1909 collision of two passenger ships SW of Nantucket greatly influenced public opinion. About 1, 650 persons were saved and only six reported lost due to radio messages received on shore and relayed requesting rescue efforts by two vessels in the area.
Finally becoming effective 1 July 1911 was the Radio Ship Act of 1910. It mandated provisions for radios in vessels carrying over 50 passengers on the high seas.
After many a year, in 1909 Democrats gained control of the house. This led to the ratification of the 1912 Berlin Wireless Telegraph Treaty. Congress then finally authorized Government control of radio in 1912. It was the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 which soon brought needed amendments resulting in the Radio Act of 1916.
Although Navy line officers were frequently reactionary in regards using radio for tactical purposes, they were eased into its use. In the summer of 1911 the Navy used its first radio plan. It was a fairly simple one.
Undamped waves, as emitted by an arc transmitter, were a breakthrough for long-distance transmissions and were nicknamed "the Navy darling." To go along with this in 9/12 a transmitter frequency changer had been perfected. An enthusiastic Navy asked Congress for a $1 million appropriation for construction of high-powered radio stations in the Canal Zone, California, Hawaii, Samoa, Guam, and the Philippines. It was approved and later raised to $1.5 million.
The end of 1912 saw the organization of the Office of Superintendent Naval Radio Services. This would be a major step for technical control and training. On 12 May 1913 the Navy Department issued the "Battle Signal Book of the United Sates Navy, 1913". This was a "strictly confidential" radio codebook.
When President Woodrow Wilson sent ordered troops to Veracruz, Mexico on 4/21/14 radio communications proved inadequate. Finally a warship had to be stationed at Tampico in order to receive messages via the station at Key West.
Prior to WWI an accelerated period of radio improvements occurred with both private and Navy scientists contributing. Receivers, amplifiers, vacuum tubes, and condensers were upgraded in performance.
In the Navy Act of August 1916 Congress authorized a $600 million program for the construction of ten battleships, six battle cruisers, and 140 more naval vessels during the next three years.
The Establishment of the Point Isabel Wireless Station
With the opening of the Panama Canal in August 1914 adequate communications between Washington and the Canal Zone became pressing, especially if war was to ensue.
In preparing for the possible U. S. entrance into the Great War additional stations were constructed. The Navy Communication Service set up the Point Isabel Navy Wireless Station within the Eighth District having New Orleans as District Center. This district also operated stations in Pensacola, Florida and the Heald Bank (Texas) Lightship.
The first inkling of the Navy's interest in the Point Isabel site is reported in the 1/15/14 issue of The Daily Sentinel, a Brownsville, Texas newspaper. It noted that the local engineer Kowalski, employed to survey the area for possible sites had recommended three alternative satisfactory locations at Point Isabel. In its 1/19/14 issue, the paper stated that Lt. Commander A. J. Hepburn was closeted with Point Isabel landowners to secure a wireless station site jointly owned by James B. Wells and Charles Champion. The latter had delivered an option for his half undivided interest at a very low price and even stated that he was willing to donate the land to the Navy if necessary. H. Skelton who previously held an option on the site from Champion had relinquished it upon learning of the Navy's interest.
The paper went on to report the background for the siting. The Point Isabel Station would be in almost a direct line with the station on the California coast and one at Panama so would occupy the most strategic position of any wireless in the United States. If established it would put the three sites, the one on the Pacific coast, the one at Arlington (Virginia), and the proposed one at Point Isabel in a V shape covering the whole of North America. It was hinted that its establishment might even entice the Navy to improve the harbor at Brazos Santiago.
By December 1914 the land title had still not been cleared to the satisfaction of the Department of Justice. At this time an agent was sent into the interior of Mexico, which was undergoing many domestic revolutionary disturbances, to obtain an affidavit from a woman whose family once was connected to the property. In the beginning of January 1915 word came that the affidavit had been secured and that J. B. Weller had sold and deeded his ten acres to the government. On 1/5/15 this was confirmed in a letter to Valley Congressman John Nance Gardner from R. S. Griffin, Engineer-in-Chief U.S. Navy, and that payments to Weller and Champion would be on the way. In addition he noted that construction contracts would be let soon. By the 17th John E. Green and Lt. White had arrived in Brownsville to close the land deal. They revealed that the construction contract would be let about 3/1. It was on 7/8/15 however that the newspaper reported that the construction work would begin at once and that the construction contract had been let a month earlier.
As extracted from the Navy Department Annual Report, R. S. Griffen, Engineer-in-Chief, Bureau of Steam Engineering (U.S. Navy) noted "The new station at Point Isabel, Tex. is in operation and has contributed to efficient communications with vessels in Mexican waters."
Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, in the same Annual Report for Fiscal Year 1916, 12/1/16, had also reported "In addition, a new medium-power station has been completed and will soon be in service at Point Isabel, Tex. This will be of great service to the merchant marine in that section, as well as to the Government in facilitating communications within Mexican waters."
The fact is the towers were indeed up by the second half of 1916 when famed Brownsville photographer took pictures of them from atop the Point (now Port) Isabel Lighthouse. He was documenting in part the encampment of the First New York Cavalry. This unit had been sent to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in response to bandit and other incursions occurring from Mexico during its period of revolution. Part of this Army force was encamped and utilizing the area set aside for the wireless station.
A May 18,1916 newspaper article tells something of the logistics involved in the station's erection. Headlined: "Heavy Machinery Rushed to Point for Big Wireless", the article went on to relate:
The Rio Grande Railway Company is preparing to handle heavy shipments of machinery and other equipment for the great government wireless plant that is being rushed to completion at Point Isabel. Officers of the road stated yesterday that most of the machinery has been received in the local yards and was now being loaded on cars preparatory to shipment to the Point. One indication of the great size and capacity of the plant can be gained from the size of the engine alone which weighs 27,000 lbs. Other machinery and equipment is massive and heavy in proportion.
The Point Isabel plant, which will be one of the transcontinental stations is being rushed to early completion and should be in operation within a few weeks.
Less than a month later the same paper headlined this item: "President Asks Haste on Radio at Point Isabel". This article read:
Work on the government's great radio station at Point Isabel is being rushed with all possible dispatch, and one of its 330-foot towers has been completed and work has been begun on the other. Workmen are putting in ten hours per day on the job, and a night shift would be used if there were electric lights.
The unusual rush to complete the station is the result of instructions from President Wilson himself, who asked all possible speed be made.
Extraordinary precautions have been taken to safeguard the giant steel towers that are pushing skyward. Arms and ammunition have been issued to every man on the job while sandbags have been provided for defense in case of attack.
The urgency involved the considerable military operations then being conducted along the border and even into Mexico in pursuit of bandits, revolutionaries, and others making incursions into the U.S.
To help augment the station's communication with the outside world a new telegraph line was completed from Brownsville to the wireless station on 6/29/16. A lesser wireless station at Fort Brown had received its first ever transmission (from Arlington VA) on 10/7/14.
Congress was to declare war against Germany and her allies on April 6, 1917. In its Annual Report of November 1917, the Navy Department was to report that it had 1,282 new radio installations on its vessels.
Before the war Germany had considered establishing refueling stations in Mexico, so this added impetus to good radio communications in the Gulf of Mexico. A successful German U-boat fleet in the area could have wreaked havoc. Prior to the war the United States had some history of intervention in the area including Nicaragua (1912) and Mexico (1914). These types of military actions also lifted the importance for reliable radio communications for the area. Point Isabel became an important link.
The Navy had a secret strategic plan, Plan Black, prior to the war. It dealt with the Caribbean area. This plan was made obsolete by the realities of the 1914 situation. The U.S. Navy then entered into the process of unparalleled expansion, moving away from a coastal defense strategy to broader goals. Radio communications would play an important part.
Navy records state the following:
Point Isabel, Tex. (TL-R) disestablished 24 August 1923
Brownsville, Tex. (TL-R) established 24 August 1923
TL = low powered transmitter; R = receiver
The shift in designation from a medium power transmitter in 1915 to a low power one in 1923 likely indicates an advancement in powerful transmitters over the period rather than a physical diminishment of the existing system. The transmitter at Fort Brown was still active in 1926. Its status after that year until May 1944 when Fort Brown was deactivated is unknown.
When the Point Isabel Station was deactivated the local population continued to call its compound area "The Reservation" and did so for many a year. The station was abandoned for the most part then buildings on it were rented out until 1936 when the whole reservation was put on a reserve basis.
The Physical Station
The history of Port Isabel is concisely laid out by The Handbook of Texas Online (Appendix 1). About one-half its area had come into the possession of Judge James B. Wells 1886. Charles Champion purchased for $17,500 the other half-interest in 1904 from E. K. Butler, President of the International Harvester Company of Chicago. It was from the estates of Wells and Champion that the station land was purchased. The Champion House/General Store constructed in 1899 remains today as a unique landmark and is part of the Port Isabel Museum complex. Together
with the Port Isabel Lighthouse constructed in 1853, they are lasting reminders of the community's history.
The station encompassed an area of approximately 20 acres. In the year 2006 this area is bounded by W. Madison Street on the south, W. Adams Street on the north, S. Musina Street on the east, and Leal Street on the west. Dividing the Reservation and equally spaced were the east-west street W. Madison and to its north W. Jefferson. At a later time Cisneros Street and Yterria Street to its east were carved out in a north-south direction.
The Reservation was then approximately 1320' east to west and 660' north to south. With one tower located near the southwest boundary and the other along the northeast boundary, the maximum distance between them could have been about 1250'. The towers were 330 feet in height. The two triangular steel towers were affixed to concrete bases none of which exist today.
Port Isabel resident Mrs. Harbert Davenport in an address to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Historical Society, with some hyperbole, related "In 1916 (during World War I) the largest wireless station in the world was stationed at the Point."
The 1916 photos of Point Isabel by Robert Runyon were taken to document the site as it existed at that time and also to portray the military activities in the area. Because of "Bandit" problems and other incursions from Mexico occurring at the time both regular Army and National Guard troops were dispatched to the Lower Rio Grande Valley and other U.S.- Mexico border areas. The First New York Cavalry was encamped in Point Isabel. Part of the contingent was set up at the new wireless station as indicated by the photos of tents and horse-drawn ambulances adjacent to the towers.
Runyon's 1916 photos indicate that the supporting infrastructure at the station was only partially in place. Next to the southwest tower may be a transmission building. To its north is what appears to be a sizeable barracks, likely for enlisted personnel. To its east is what may be an administration building besides which stands slightly elevated water tank. Lastly there is one building farther north, which is the housing for officers.
In January 2006 a survey of the whole former wireless station area revealed that only five of the original structures which once existed on the station still exist. Three of the former four barracks buildings along the north side of West Jefferson Street are extant. Each is separated by an intervening lot having a small residence on it. The former barracks at 202 has a garage constructed and attached to its front. The barracks at 212 is considerably altered with a second floor placed on it. The third barracks in the line at 220 is the most authentic and unchanged in outside appearance. It is in the process of restoration to near its original 1916 exterior appearance.
Behind several of these barracks and close to them there once existed catchment cisterns to collect rainwater running off the roofs of the barracks. The concrete lids of these were demolished and the cisterns filled in, though excavations would certainly reveal the internal structures of the original tanks.
On the northeast corner of Cisneros and Madison is a square two story original building which has undergone extensive change. It is stuccoed and its main entrance has been changed from the north to the south side of the structure. In the service alley behind it are four original concrete foundation blocks about sixteen feet apart in a square conformation. They once supported a tower upon which was a large water tank. This tower and tank are visible in some Runyon photos.
On the southwest corner of the intersection of Adams and Musina Streets is the First United Methodist Church. It consists of a complex of buildings. The main sanctuary however is a wooden structure moved to that site from elsewhere on the Reservation. It once served as an enlisted man's barracks. A small bell tower was added to its front.
On the northwest corner of the intersection of Monroe and Musina is a small brick building which is said by some old timer residents to have been used as a water plant for the station. This has not been confirmed, but the industrial looks of the building lend credence to this possible use.
The remainder of The Reservation has been subdivided into lots and most are occupied by modest residential structures. There are no commercial buildings in the area, but there are at least four churches and a two-block area having a recreational park in it named Washington Park.
From 1907 to 1927, with the exception of the wireless station, little developmental activity had occurred in the seaside community. It was mainly utilized for recreational activities such as fishing, boating and swimming. On 8/30/27 the townsite was sold to Capt. C. R. Tyrell and associates who commenced to subdivide it and generate lot sales. On August 1, 1930 the name of the town was officially changed from Point Isabel to Port Isabel.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s the property went into bankruptcy court.
Twin antennae of the U.S. Wireless Station in 1916. The First New York Cavalry camp utilizes some of the reservation area as well as the town itself.
Southwest radio antenna of the U. S. Navy Wireless Station, Point Isabel, TX in 1916 when the First New York Cavalry unit sent to quell border unrest was encamped at the site.
Northeast view of the Wireless Reservation with the Champion Building in the left foreground, 1916.
The USS Arizona built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1915 and shown here in the East River after commissioning in 1916. She displays the latest in Navy wireless receiving and transmitting antennae. She was to be destroyed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
USS Texas in 1907 with some of the first radio antennae on U. S. Navy ships.
Receiving radio equipment of the 1914 era. The caption reads: "Typical receiving room installation. 1914 equipment consisting of Type A (Cohen) receiver, Wireless Specialty Co. (IP75) receiver, crystal detector, ultraudion detector."
Electrician Mates stationed at the U. S. Navy Wireless Station, Point Isabel, 1919 and brides. It would be several years before the rate of Radioman was to be established by the Navy

A Jewish Immigrant and Spanish Proverbs of South Texas by Ben Edelstein as adapted by Norman Rozeff

A Russian Jewish immigrant to South Texas and Spanish language proverbs do not seem to have much in common. Yet, that does not prove the case. It was in the year 1906, two years after the coming of the railroad to South Texas changed the face of the area forever, that Morris Edelstein, a 16-year old immigrant from Kalvar'y'a, Lithuania, came to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. After initially peddling his home furnishing and photographic service items from door-to-door, he was able to rent a space to sell clothing in Brownsville, Texas. He continued with the furniture sales too, and soon Edelstein's Better Furniture was established. His business would thrive and grow over the years and would eventually have 14 outlets across the Valley.
Morris became fluent in Spanish. This, of course, stood him in good stead with the large Mexican ethnic population of the community. He, in fact, donated to the city a parcel of his land that had become surrounded by residences for a children's park. He did so in gratitude for the Mexicans that had helped him achieve success.
His family recounts another story regarding his Spanish language skills that proved very valuable. From the year 1910 to 1920 the area was adversely affected by the Mexican Revolution and banditry on both sides of the river. One very serious incident involved bandits who derailed the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railway train near Olmito as it was traveling south to Brownsville. Three innocent people were killed. The narrative Morris' son Benjamin relates is as follows:
In the train wreck of October 7, 1915, as the bandits approached my Dad, he told them in fluent Spanish to please leave his suitcase alone. Taking him for a Mexican, they did nothing to him. His knowledge of Spanish saved his life. There was another passenger, a traveling salesman, whom the bandits seized and were ready to kill, when my father shouted in Spanish, "Don't kill him; he is a German!" (which he was not). In those days the people in Mexico had a high respect for Germans. Some of the generals in the Mexican army were of German descent. The Germans were also friendly to the bandits. They furnished the bandits with guns, ammunition, and other necessities, hoping that the bandits would drive all of the Texas settlers out of the state. The bandits stole the black porter's shoes forcing him to run some three miles barefoot before he could spread the news of the train robbery.
The traveling salesman profusely thanked Dad for having saved his life but swore that he would never return to Texas. For as long as he lived, every Christmas time the traveling salesman mailed Dad a Christmas card.
There was an elderly Mexican couple on the wrecked train. When the rangers came to examine the wreck, they came across the elderly couple, thinking they may have assisted the bandits. Dad told the rangers that these people had boarded the train in Houston, that they were only passengers, and had no connection with the bandits. The Rangers proceeded down the aisle. (One can only imagine what was on their minds.)
Perhaps because there are so many proverbs in the Yiddish language used by Eastern European Jews (one collection of them is titled "1001 Yiddish Proverbs"), Morris Edelstein would pointedly express his thoughts by using not only Yiddish proverbs but Spanish ones too. His family put together a list of Old Spanish proverbs that Morris loved. Here are some of them with their English translation or equivalent as kindly furnished by my daughter-in-law, Norma Cortez Rozeff:
Cuando una rama se seca, dos o tres están floriando. [When one branch withers, two or three will flourish.]
Comiendo buena cena y durmiendo en cama buena, aunque sea noche mala para mi es noche buena.
[Eating a good dinner and sleeping in a good bed, for me, makes a good night.]
Aqui en paz descansa mi queridisima suega y también en mi casa nosotros descansamos.
[Here in peace is where my beloved mother-in-law rests and in my home we also rest.]
Para cambio, aunque sean guaraches.
[For a change, even sandals would make a difference.]
El hambre es la major salsa.
[Hunger is the best sauce.]
El que nada no se ahoga, y el que ahoga, sigue nadando.
[The one who swims will never drown, and the one that drowns will follow floating.]
Ya mero, nada más falta el mero.
[Already pure, nothing more does the pure lack.]
Al cabo nada más estamos hablando.
[To the end we are nothing more than talk.]
Apuntamelo en el hielo.
[Write it on ice.]
No lloro, solo me acuerdo.
[I don't cry, I just remember.]
De grano en grano llena la gallina el buche.
[Grain by grain the chicken will fill up its gizzard.]
Dichoso el calvo, que ni el peina se la atora.
[Lucky are the bald for the comb does not get stuck.]
El que no habla, Dios no lo oye.
[If you don't speak out God will not hear you.]
Aldgo, es algo dijo el diablo cuando se llevo a Miguel.
["Something is better than nothing", said the Devil as he bore himself to (the angel) Michael.]
Cuando un coyote canta y acaba con 'qua, es que el tiempo va a cambiar o que sigue como esta.
[When a coyote sings and ends with a "waa", it's because the weather will change or stay as is.]
Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere.
[When the owl sings, the Indian dies.]
Panza llena, corazon contento.
[Full belly, contented heart.]
En boca cerrado no entran moscas.
[In a closed mouth flies do not enter.]
El que no llora, no mama.
[One who does not cry does not suckle.]
Poca gente buena pero el diablo es mucho.
[There are few good people, but the devilish are many.]
Poco veneno no mata.
[A little poison will not kill.]
Lo del agua al agua.
[What belongs to the water goes to the water.]
El trabajor mas lento-- El Relámpago.
[The slowest worker—lightning.]
Más vale tarde que nunca.
[Better late than never.]
Al ojo del amo engorda el caballo.
[Under the care of the master, the horse will thrive.]
El que madruga, Dios le ayuda.
[God will help the one who rises early.]
No por mucho madruga amanece mas temprano.
[It is not because one awakes early that there is an earlier sunrise.]
Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando.
[A bird in the hand is worth one hundred flying.]
Todo el que a su hijo consiente, va engordando una serpiente.
[One who spoils the child is fattening a serpent.]
Camarōn que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente, y mismo pasa entre la gente.
[A sleepy shrimp is taken by the current, and the same happens to people.]
Perro que ladra no muerde.
[A dog that barks doesn't bite.]
Cuando el río suena, agua lleva.
[When the river makes noise, water is flowing.]
El que tiene hambre le atiza a la olla.
[He who is hungry stirs the pot.]
Árbol que crece torcido, nunca su tronco endereza.
[The tree that grows crooked will never straighten.]
No hay borracho que coma lumbre.
[There is no drunk who will eat fire.]
El borracho y el muchacho siempre dicen la verdad.
[The drunk and the young always tell the truth.]
Limosnero y con garrote.
[A beggar with a club.]
Tanto peca el que mata la vaca como el que le agarra la pata.
[As much as he who kills the cow sins so does the one who holds the cow's leg.]
En el pais de los ciegos, el tuerto es rey.
[In the country of the blind, the one-eyed one is king.]
El que persevera alcanza.
[The one who perseveres will overcome.]
El sordo no oye pero compone.
[The deaf one can't hear but will make things up or an ignoramus will add to the conversation regardless of his knowledge.]
El que con coyotes se junta, a aullar se ensena.
[The individual who associates with coyotes will learn to howl.]
Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.
[The Devil knows more for being old rather than for being the Devil.]
Si oyes cosejos llegaras a viejo.
If you take advice you will grow old.]
La rueda que rechina recibe el aceite.
[The wheel that sqeaks gets the grease.]
Ya veremos dijo el ciego, pero nunca vio.
["We'll see", said the blind but never saw.]
Poco a poco ando lejos.
[Little by little I get far.]
Let's hope that these proverbs that have distilled so much wisdom and experience over the ages remain part of our culture and continue to be passed down from generation to generation.