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Amarillo Turns 30

blusk
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.

6 Comments
kim-seale
Active Member
Happy Anniversary to our Family in AMA! I think I took one of those first flights during the initial month of service back in 1978, and since then, my previous job took me into Amarillo many many times over the years (always on SWA!). I agree with Brian -- that can be one of the hottest and coldest cities in Texas, and it was not unusual to go to bed in my hotel with clear winter skies only to wake up the next morning to six or eight inches of snow on the ground. Memories from Amarillo include watching people successfully consume a 72 oz. steak (with all the side dishes) at The Big Texan Steak House on the east side of town to studying the angled icons half-buried at Cadillac Ranch west of town, with many of Stanley Marsh's kooky signs in-between. This town that straddles the line to inhabit two counties is also full of terrifically friendly people who make you feel right at home. But, I would be remiss if I did not send a big shout-out to one of our Employees at the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. For many years, Tom Moore, one of our Ground Ops Supervisors, was a true ambassador of the Southwest Culture. He was present at a large number of the daily departures, moving from the Gate Counter to the jetway entrance to frequently running a late-checked bag down the stairs to the cargo area of the aircraft. Tom always had a smile on his face and treated each of us Customers as if he truly appreciated us and valued our patronage. Very often, at the end of a business trip, Tom's would be the last Amarillo face I'd see before leaving town, and I can't think of a better way to say goodbye to your Customers than to say, as he often did, "please come back to see us!" Congratulations to ALL of our Employees at AMA for thirty years of Positively Outrageous Service that combined the Southwest Spirit with Texas Friendship! Kim CRBB
Eric17
Explorer C
I agree with Brian & Kim. AMA is a great city with wonderful people, good food and plenty to do. I spent a good amount of time there as a child visiting family. The main runway at AMA is pretty impressive (you can see just how big it is when you fly over the city of Amarillo). AMA also has lots of aviation history, as Brian mentioned, plus being the home town of Rick Husband and other great aviators. Congrats SWA and AMA!
blusk
Aviator C
Kim, be sure to see the video with Tom on the Video Blog. By the way, we have an upcoming video on the Big Texan and other AMA sights. Eric, If memory serves me the AMA runway is 12,000 feet long, with 1,000 foot paved overruns on both ends, and it is wider than most runways too. Speaking of great aviators, AMA was an original city on TWA's transcontinental route map, and that route was surveyed by Charles Lindbergh. Until deregulation in 1978, AMA was the only destination in Texas served by TWA.
tim-c
Explorer C
Happy Birthday AMA, and a big thanks to all of y'all who provide such excellent service in the Texas Panhandle! My seatback and tray are in the upright position, and I'm ready to go!
kim-seale
Active Member
Brian and Eric, Yes, the main runway at AMA (4/22) is quite long; in fact, it is even longer than the main runway at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Forth Worth/Carswell Field! That is what makes AMA more than just a great Station for Southwest and for that part of our Lone Star State, it is also a fantastic place for plane spotting of military aircraft. Over the years, I've watched a wide variety of our nation's USAF fleet landing there or just practicing touch-and-go operations. The proximity to Abilene's Dyess AFB means that the B-1B bomber is a frequent sight coming and going from AMA, and I've seen a lot of Barksdale AFB's B-52s there as well. Naturally, F-5s, T-38s, F-15s and F-16s are in and out of there on a regular basis, and can often be seen parked at the FBO near the rental car parking lot. In addition to the aircraft passing through, having the Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey final assembly and flight testing facility immediately adjacent to AMA means that plane watchers over the last few years have been treated to demonstrations of the VTOL (Vertical Take Off/Landing) capabilities of the V-22. I will admit to being one of the gawkers parked on the side of the airport road taking pictures of this plane in its various flight modes to add to my collection of photos of many of the types listed above. The large number of days of crystal clear skies with a few thousand miles of visibility unmarred by significant pollution or humidity added to its centralized closeness to the southwestern USA's major military operating areas gives AMA plenty of aviation traffic on top of our regular arrivals and departures. Oh yeah, one more plus -- I've never waited in line for a runway for take off, which sure helps our legendary on-time service! Kim CRBB
joelbeal
Explorer C
Congratulations AMA. I lived there from 1992-1994, and it was my favorite town. If I could find a reason to move back, I would. Great people, decent weather, big enough to have everything you need, and a short hop to DAL for Cowboys games.