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by Dorothy Miller Ashe
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This was originally published in New Mexico Magazine, March 1990, under the name Dorothy M. Ashe

In September 1928 Hobbs, New Mexico, was a bustling oil boom town just six months when its first famous visitor dropped in––literally. Amelia Earhart was miles off course, out of fuel, and completely lost when she spotted Hobbs' long main street edged with a few buildings and an oil well and turned it into a runway.

Earhart's silver Avian broke all the speed limits on East Broadway before it taxied into the gas station at the edge of town where she filled up with auto fuel. She was a sight, still in the dress she insisted on wearing as a flight "uniform," with owl–eyes sunburned across her freckled face.

"That's the ugliest woman I ever saw," Bingham Beal's mother, Mary Frances, commented as she pumped gas into the tandem cockpit bi–plane. Five–year–old Bingham had heard of only one pilot in his young life––this short–haired creature, he thought, had to be Charles Lindbergh.

Few Hobbs residents had heard of Earhart's trans–Atlantic flight earlier that year. She had been a passenger––albeit the first woman passenger over the Atlantic. But now she was piloting the first round–trip transcontinental U.S. flight by a woman, and she was in trouble. Strong winds over Ft. Worth, Texas, had snatched up the aerial chart safety–pinned to her skirt. With nothing but monotonous southwestern landscape to follow, Earhart was thoroughly confused until she sighted the Hobbs road at twilight.

Wings of a Prayer
"Wings of a Prayer" by Patse Hemsley

Some residents still think tales of Earhart's landing are part of the inevitable boomtown lore. But Beal and Helen Neithercutt know they're true. Neithercutt managed the Hobbs Hotel, then under construction, and allowed the aviatrix to use the hotel telephone before she ate dinner (ironically) at the Owl Cafe.

Next morning Earhart's take–off down Main Street brought out the town––but all did not go smoothly. Her left tire was puctured by a thorn and went flat. Townsfolk rallied to help her with repairs.

Soon after the Hobbs incident Amelia Earhart became the first woman pilot to fly the Atlantic alone––this time as the pilot––and the first person to fly alone from Hawaii to California over 2400 miles of blank ocean. Eventually, in 1937, she embarked upon the round–the–world trip from which she never returned.

Hobbs has since shown its respect for early fliers and their machines, providing a hangar for a wing of the Confederate Air Force. And Hobbs honors modern space pioneers, including two women martyred when the shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. Ironically, the town seems to have forgotten the lone woman whose reckless and restless pioneer spirit led her to her "vagabonding in the air" and made her a part of our history.

**Hobbs is five miles from the Texas border to the east, about 50 from Texas to the south.

Dorothy Miller Ashe holds an MA in Speech and Dramatic Literature from California State University at Northridge. She received her pilot's license in 1982 at the age of 47, and for many years flew a 1946 Ercoupe.


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