Little Bits of History

Varney Air Lines

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 6, 2013
Varney Air Lines

Varney Air Lines

April 6, 1926: Leon Cuddleback makes the first contract mail flight in the US Northwest. Walter Varney was a flight instructor who also ran an air taxi service. He bid on an airmail route (CAM 5) from Pasco, Washington, through Boise, Idaho, and ending in Elko, Nevada. The 460 mile route went from “nowhere to nowhere.” Varney bought 6 Swallow biplanes, each of which could transport 600 pounds of mail.

The first flight by Leon was highly successful. He carried 207 pounds of mail aboard the Laird Swallow. Thousands cheered as he took off on the first eastbound flight from Pasco. His early morning flight had a top speed of 90 mph and went without a hitch. That afternoon, Franklin Rose left Boise, again to cheers, but instead of a rollicking success, the plane met a storm cell and was sent 75 miles off course before making a forced landing. Rose was missing for 2 days before he managed to get to a phone and call for help. He walked through wilderness and finally borrowed a horse. He and his 98 pounds of mail made it to Elko on April 9.

Varney was born in California in 1888. He flew for the Aviation Section, US Signal Corps during World War I. Varney’s first westbound airmail flight took off from Boise airfield which was part of Boise State University’s campus. Idaho Governor Charles Moore and Senator William Borah were present. Even with the less than brilliant beginnings, Varney moved forward. He upgraded from biplanes to M-2 Steerman planes on January 15, 1929. He could now transport cargo and mail in the 91 cubic foot space. Varney Air Lines and National Air Transport merged and became United Air Lines. Varney went on to make a fortune despite an airmail scandal in the 1930s.

United Airlines has a fleet of 433 planes today and flies to 210 destinations. Varney sold United and started a second airline in 1934 with a partner, Louis Mueller. Varney Speed Lines began operation on July 15, 1934. Varney sold out to Mueller who, in 1936, sold the line to Robert Six. The airline was renamed in 1937. The new name? Continental. Today, they have 381 planes with another 96 on order and fly to 283 destinations.

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford

“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.” – Al Gore

“All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.” – Mark Kennedy

Muhammad Ali: “Superman don’t need no seat belt.”
Flight attendant: “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.”

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Continental Airlines operated until March 3, 2012 when it merged with United Airlines. United remains in business and now flies to 378 destinations with a fleet of 707 planes. Their headquarters are located in Chicago and Jeff Smisek is the current CEO. There are ten hubs for the airline and two of them are offshore. One is in Guam and the other in Tokyo. The home based hubs are located in Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Their operating income for 2011 (last year available) was $1,822 million while their revenue was $37,110 million. If you are looking for a flight, you might want to consider their fleet and “Let’s Fly Together.”

Also on this day: Twinkies – In 1930 James Dewer invents the ubiquitous treat.
Money, Money, Money – In 1808, John Astor incorporated the American Fur Company.
Olympiad – In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games opened.

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