Earl Woodgard didn’t make the first round of air mail pilots. He never flew for the Post Office, but was hired by Boeing when it acquired the Chicago to San Francisco portion of the route in 1927. He was born in Ohio in 1898, and he ended up in Cheyenne, where he was based out of when he crashed into the mountains of southeast Utah in 1937.
Earl Woodgard, like many of the original air mail pilots, served in the US Army Air Corps in World War I. According to Findagrave, he served with the 91st Aero Squadron. Prior to the war he had been working in Frederickton, Ohio for the Ohio Mining Company as a weighmaster. After the war, he apparently continued some military aviation training. The 1920 census lists him at the Air Service flying school at March Field in Riverside, California. After his army career, he was one of hundreds of men across the country who purchased a Jenny aircraft and began a life of barnstorming and miscellaneous aviation activities. Various newspaper articles have him wing walking in Oregon in 1921, setting a parachute record with four men jumping from the same plane in California in 1921, dropping campaign material for an Ohio Secretary of State Candidate in 1924, and flying a pleasure craft for a Mr. Hinder in Ohio in 1924.
Although Woodgard’s life seemed anything but geographically stable, he married Ester Johnson in 1922. Whatever aerial activities he became involved in must have been enough to support a family. I’m not sure when and where Woodgard decided to fly for Boeing, but the Post Office’s contracting of the air mail routes was big news at the time.
There isn’t a lot of information about many details of Woodgards life, just pieces here and there. An Omaha World Herald article in 1929 mentioned that he barnstormed in 20 states and had over 2,000 hours in the air at that time. In 1931 engine problems while taking off at North Platte, Nebraska led to him making a forced landing in the Platte River, which ran along the edge of the field. Apparently undeterred, he got in a reserve plane and continued on to Cheyenne. In March of 1932, he averaged 192 miles per hour from North Platte to Omaha, with three passengers and 970 pounds of mail.
Woodgard liked photography, telling jokes, and apparently wide open spaces. According to a World-Herald article from the time of his death, he planned to retire to Jackson Hole Wyoming and continue his photographic endeavors when his flying days were done. But it was not to be. Woodgard, along with three other crew members and 15 passengers died when he got a few miles off course during the flight from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Salt Lake City and crashed into a mountain. His wife returned to Ohio. The 1940 census has her living with her brother. Woodgard was buried in Cheyenne.
Woodgard’s life is one more piece of the mosaic which is the development of flight. One piece that talks about moving from place to place, wanting to settle down, keeping long distance ties with family, and day by day, flight by flight, moving the idea of aviation from a technology with unknown possibilities to a fact of every day life.