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Amarillo Turns 30

Aviator C

I would wager most persons around the country know very little about Amarillo, Texas (AMA).  But, if I did, I might lose money because if you have ever driven I-40 (or if you are old enough, Route 66), between Chicago or St. Louis and Los Angeles, you have visited this Texas Panhandle city.  The number of folks who have flown through AMA is smaller, but for 30 years (as of today, December 12), this city has been a Southwest Airlines hometown on the southern end of the Great Plains.  Several of our AMA Employees have been there from the beginning, and they offer their thoughts in our Video Blog section.

As for me, here’s the point where I proudly insert a personal disclaimer.  I grew up in AMA from age two to eleven (1954 until 1962), and the AMA Airport is where I first learned to love airplanes.  No, not in the current terminal, which at the time, was the heart of the Strategic Air Command’s B-52 base at the now-closed Amarillo Air Force Base.  (Incidentally, due to AMA’s altitude of over 3,000 feet, that runway is mighty long and mighty wide to accommodate fully loaded B-52s taking off on alert scrambles.)  No, I grew up aviation-wise at the old English Field terminal over on the other side of the runway next to Route 66.  During the summer, my father, who worked for Continental, would take me to work with him, and the sights and sounds of TWA’s Constellations, Braniff’s Electras, and Continental’s Viscounts would thrill me.

Transportation has always been important to the city, and in fact, it owes its creation to the location of the old Santa Fe Railway east-west transcontinental mainline from Chicago to Los Angeles and the intersecting Fort Worth and Denver line from Dallas to Denver.  (There was also a now-abandoned Rock Island line from Memphis and Oklahoma City through to California with a connection at Tucumcari, New Mexico with the Southern Pacific.)  Today, both lines are under the control of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and AMA sees between 50 and 75 trains a day, maybe more!  Steinbeck’s “Mother Road,” Route 66, carried the Dust Bowl refugees to California’s San Joaquin Valley, and a later generation of Midwesterners to the beaches of Santa Monica.  Now I-40 carries a river of trucks from California ports to the rest of the country.

Southwest came to AMA in 1978, and in the days before deregulation, it was the northernmost point that we could serve as an intrastate carrier.  Of course, today Southwest has moved beyond Texas into 31 (soon to be 32) additional states.  But AMA still is an important dot on our map, and we even recently extended our Dallas (DAL)/AMA route up to Denver (DEN).  Because the city is almost halfway between DEN, and DAL, there is a large community in of folks in AMA with strong ties to DEN.  In fact, Amarillo may just be both the most Texan and least Texan of the state’s cities.

In some ways, AMA is the image of how non-Texans imagine Texas to be.  Wide-open horizons, working ranches, cattle, are all part of Texas’s heritage, and Amarillo has these in abundance—watch for a future video of Amarillo attractions.  The world’s biggest ranch, the XIT (three million acres) was near here, and the ghost town of Old Tascosa is a pure relic from the frontier.  But Amarillo is also very different than the rest of the state, and aside from the accents, it is more Western than Southern in outlook and history than the Dallas, Houston, Austin, or San Antonio areas.  Amarillo has a climate more similar to Kansas and Eastern Colorado than the rest of Texas.  That means blizzards in winter and tornadoes and super-cell thunderstorms in the spring.  Wheat is a big crop around Amarillo, and by the time you drive up to Dalhart, which is another 80 miles or so north, you can feel the Rocky Mountains calling you, even though you can’t see them yet.  Along the way, you pass the Canadian River Breaks, a landscape that would be at home along the plains of Wyoming.

To celebrate our Amarillo birthday, we have a lot of cool events planned, including a contest to find the first baby born in the city today on our birthday, a special lunch for our Employees, and free drinks for anyone wearing yellow (Amarillo is yellow in Spanish) on our flights today into and out of AMA.