Monday, November 8, 2010

Chasing Ghosts - Part II: White Steamers

by Nancy DeWitt

On December 17, 1908, this appeared in in the Fairbanks Daily News:

Fairbanks streets have taken on a decidedly metropolitan air with two large automobiles gliding swiftly about the city, the new 50-horse power White Steamer having gone into commission yesterday. 

The White Steamer is a splendid machine, having stood the severe test of years, and thousands of motorists on the outside are still divided on the merits of steam and gasoline cars. It is a beautifully made car, much heavier than the Franklin, which is advertised as one of the lightest cars made for the power...On her initial performance the machine did great work, running as smoothly as a clock.

The White Steamer Model K (pictured above) had been purchased "for the bargain sum of $3,400" by Fairbanks' pioneering lumbermen, Charles Carroll and Fred Parker. They immediately put the big car into service as a passenger stage between Fairbanks and Fox. It was only the third car Fairbanks had ever seen.

Naturally, we thought it would be wonderful to have a White in the Fountainhead Museum. As luck would have it, White Steam Car owners are a tight crowd and even have an on-line registry. During a trip to Boise, ID to visit family in 2008, I called a man listed on the registry and asked if I could see his Whites. He showed me his fine collection and then casually mentioned that not one but TWO of Alaska's original White Steamers were in California! Turns out that the Model K and a 1909 Model M (likely the one pictured below) had been dumped in the river in some time after 1926 and later salvaged by Alaska pioneer Bill Sherwin. Bill sold what was left of the cars to the current owner during the A67 Exposition in Fairbanks. Both are now undergoing "the world's longest restoration."

We met the owner of these Alaska Whites in Bakersfield last year. He asked if I could check to see if any car parts were perhaps hiding in the attic of Sherwin's former home, which now resides in Pioneer Park (hmmm, it no longer has an attic). Rumor has it that Sherwin put the rear end of one of the Whites into a portable sawmill that went to Tok. Anyone have any leads on where these various parts might be?

This was one ghost chase actually led us to two of Alaska's first cars. Since then, we've acquired a big 1907 White Model G to represent this important piece of Alaska's early automotive history in our museum. I can't wait to see it!

Chasing Ghosts: Part I

*Photos courtesy of Candy Waugaman. May not be reproduced without permission.

1 comment:

  1. Loading the White today in Monroe, WA. Should be here by Monday!


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