November 1, 1924 – Reno, Nevada
February 1, 1925 – Salt Lake City, Utah
James M. Barnes was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma on April 26, 1899. He was living in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he was hired to be an airmail pilot flying out of that city on August 24, 1924. Having flown privately in the area, Barnes knew it well, and knew some of the tricks of the trade. He noted once that "I learned it is not beset to fly straight through Secret Pass, in the Ruby Mountains when there is a high west wind. Winds shoot straight up."
In November 1926, Barnes earned a reprimand from his boss, D. B. Colyer, over a recent forced landing. Postal officials were often exasperated by their pilots' occasional focus on their flying skills over the need to move mail according to the schedule. After Barnes made a forced landing having spent what Colyer determined was too much time trying to correct the problem himself, he chided the pilot that "it appears that you passed over several fields in which a safe landing could have been made after your motor quit; that possibly too much effort and time was wasted in attempting to get the motor back instead of selecting a suitable landing field."