© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Last Sunday, we fired up our 1917 Model T Snow Flyer and gave rides around Wedgewood Resort. The Snow Flyer was made from a kit one could buy to covert a Model T into a rig that could travel on snow. A similar kit, pioneered by Virgil White in 1913, was the first time the word "snowmobile" was applied to a tracked snow vehicle. I have yet to document that a Snow Flyer or Snowmobile kit was used in Alaska during the first part of the century, but there were certainly similar kits in use by the mid-20s (Part 2).
Let's first take a look at some earlier creations for motorized snow travel in Alaska. I believe the very first one here was a 2,000-lb steam sled, brought to Valdez by some Connecticut gold seekers in 1898. It consisted of two heavy bobsleds on runners, one fastened behind the other. The front sled carried a 10-hp boiler and an 8-hp reversible engine. The second one carried gearing and a spiked cylinder. The idea was that the spikes would dig into the snow or ice as the sled pulled 15 sledges carrying the miners' freight over glaciers to the Copper River. After being dragged to shore, the boiler was fired up but the sled failed to move and was quickly abandoned on the flats. One historian wrote of the steam sled, "It had the record of being the first automobile in Alaska and was never guilty of exceeding the speed limit."
|Boice Motor Sled|
Claus Rodine papers, 1898-1919. ASL-MS-134
|From Motor Age, Vol XX No. 2|
|Gibson Papers, UAF Archives, 1978-76-23|
|Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman|
J.H. Miles of Nome also built an air-propelled sled, in 1917. In fact, that were a number of such vehicles built over the next several decades in Alaska, one of which can be seen in a video playing in the museum. These ranged from bobsled-type rigs to ones that resembled airplanes without wings. Here are just two examples:
To see some other air-propelled snow rigs made outside of Alaska, check out this blog.
- "Aero Sled Proves Wonder in Alaska." Dawson Daily News, 12 February 1917.
- "Air-Propelled Auto Coming." Fairbanks Daily News, 27 February 1918.
- Allan, Chris. "Auto Sleighs and Iron Malamutes: The History of Alaska's Earliest Snow-Machines." In Alaska History, Vol. 26, No. 2. Fall 2011.
- "An Auto For Frozen Alaska." Popular Science, 1912.
- "Automobile Arctic Sled." The Yukon Sun, 21 October 1903.
- Colby, Merle. 1939. Alaska: A Guide to Alaska, Last American Frontier. MacMillan, New York.
- Lenz, Mary and James H. Barker. 1985. Bethel: The First 100 Years. A City of Bethel Centennial Project.
- "Makes Trial Run With Motor-Sled." Fairbanks Daily Times, 5 March 1912.
- Margeson, Charles A. 1899. Experiences of Gold Hunters in Alaska. Published by author.
- "Overland Record in Frozen North By Airsled." Moderator Topics, Vol. 37, No. 17. 14 January 1917.
- Powell, Addison M. 1910. Trailing and Camping in Alaska. Wessels & Bissell, New York.
- "The Caterpillar Motor Car." Motor Age, Vol. 20 No. 2. 13 July 1911.
- "Tiffany's AutoSled." Tanana Leader, 23 December 1909.
- "To Copper River for Gold." New York Times, 23 January 1898.
- Vitt, Kurt and Jim Henkelman. 1985. Harmonious to Dwell: The History of the Alaska Moravian Church, 1885-1985. Moravian Seminary & Archives, Bethel, AK.