Every era has a generation that it is fast disappearing. Today, it is veterans of Korea and Vietnam. The World War II generation, including soldiers and holocaust survivors, is mostly gone. Before that it was World War I. In the 1810s it was the founding fathers. During the 1920s, in Nebraska and other western states, obituaries of early settlers, in their 60s or 70s or older, dot the page of the newspapers. I have often noticed them while seeking references to crashes or the building of airports.
Appropriately, the May 17th issue of the Sidney telegraph headlines National Air Mail Week’s 30th anniversary mail flight into town next to the headline “Rites for John T. McIntosh Saturday.” In 1871 McIntosh became, according to the Potter Review, the first white child born in Potter. His father had worked for the railroad and was the station agent at the time. Potter had only been an established town for a year, and Sidney had been around for less than five years. And just as these men helped a town rise from the prairie, McIntosh did his part to help planes rise above it.
John’s father moved the family to Sidney in 1875. After grade school, McIntosh went to Notre Dame’s preparatory department. He finished there in 1889, and returned to Sidney. The 1900 census lists him as a bank cashier. The 1910 census has him cashiering for the railroad. The 1920 census refers to him as a lawyer. The 1930 census has him as clerk of the district court. In addition to these records, his obituary mentions that he worked for a drug firm out of Denver. Generally speaking, John was a businessman who remained a faithful promoter and supporter of Sidney. He and his wife, Mary, raised two children.
John’s tie to the air mail likely starts in 1910, when he became the Postmaster for 10 years. His term ended just as the air mail began flying through the town. His obituary also notes “in the early days of air mail, Mr. McIntosh was in charge of the old emergency landing field south of town. He became a close friend of most of the pilots who pioneered day and night air mail transportation across the route.” Given the importance of Sidney’s role as a halfway point between North Platte and Cheyenne, this role was not insignificant. Details on when or how long John manned the light beacon are scarce, but in February of 1928, the telephone operator from Potter reached him at the airport when pilot Allie Allison began circling town during a snowstorm. McIntosh instructed Potter residents to use flares to mark a safe landing spot, which they did.
John McIntosh was another local resident who did his part to ensure that air mail planes safely passed overhead, and occasionally in town. He likely helped out in other ways…promoting flight, raising awareness, and perhaps being around when Sidney helped with a night flying experiment in 1924. Here’s to John McIntosh…another ordinary citizen who became another link in the chain that pushed the air mail service to greater heights.