Maj. Corliss C. Moseley, vice president in charge of operations for Western Air Express, was becoming impatient with his mechanic.
Just as the major was trying to get his heavily laden DeHavilland biplane off the ground, his mechanic, seated behind him, began pounding on the back of his head. The plane had begun to pull strongly to the right, and Moseley turned around to ask the mechanic if he could diagnose the problem, and perhaps stop beating on his skull.
Finally, he turned around to face the mechanic, who gestured to the right lower wing. As Moseley watched, he saw a hand groping for a hold on the wing’s outer leading edge. The hand got a grip and hauled the rest of the body onto the wing.
At the time, August 1925, Western Air Express was not yet in the passenger-carrying business. But on that day, Moseley was in town on an inspection tour, meeting with Las Vegas Postmaster Robert Griffith, making plans for the airmail service that would begin the following year.
Griffith had witnessed the bizarre incident, and later recalled that one of two "hobos who had been admiring the plane" had sprinted after it as it started to take off, then grasped the under wing guard, a loop of metal on the underside of the wing that prevented the plane from touching a wingtip to the ground, much as a motorcycle crash bar protects more important bike parts.
Meanwhile, up in the sky, Moseley had coaxed the stowaway, a 16-year-old boy, off the wing and up against the fuselage. But the lad was paralyzed with fear, and could not be persuaded into the cockpit. Moseley slowed the plane as much as he safely could, but 90 mph winds blasted the boy, who crouched and tried to shield himself.
The wind, however, prevailed. By the time Moseley reached Los Angeles, the boy had been stripped of every stitch of his clothing except his cuffs and collar.
The next day, the Las Vegas Evening Review, always looking for superlatives that could be applied to Las Vegas, crowed:
"This little ‘ol burg can honestly announce to the whole world that it has the honor of having entertained the most modern and up-to-date hobo on the face of the universe."
As for the stowaway, he was never named, but was reportedly given a train ticket back to Las Vegas.
And, for the record, Western’s first "official" passenger was A.B. DeNault, vice president of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain.
Death of a hero
Part I: The Early Years
Part II: Resort Rising
Part III: A City In Full