Monday, August 29, 2011

Jeffrey Quads in Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt

As the historian for the museum, I love to chase after the stories of the first automobiles in Alaska. Locating photos of these vehicle is a bonus, and finding a survivor--like this 1915 Jeffrey Quad--is an even bigger treat. Imagine my delight when I got to not only ride in it, but drive it around the streets of Eagle, Alaska a few years ago!

The first mention of Jeffrey Quads I've found in an Alaska newspaper is the May 27, 1915 edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The Northern Commercial (NC) Company had shipped in two on the steamer Reliance for two stage line operators and freighters (Fred Clinton, and Eagan and Griffin). Glowing praise was given to the trucks' four-wheel drive, which was expected to be the perfect vehicle for Alaska's rough roads. The Eagan and Griffin truck was put into operation between Gilmore and lower Fairbanks Creek.

On July 25, 1915, the Fairbanks Sunday Times announced that the City Council had ordered a Jeffrey Quad through the NC Company. The plan was to use it as a firehose truck in place of a horse-drawn wagon. Its price, including shipping to Fairbanks, was $3,600. Five days later, the NC Company announced that it was going to replace its own horse-drawn passenger stages with two Jeffrey Quads. These arrived on the steamer Alaska on August 26, while the quad ordered by the City Council arrived on the steamer Alameda a few weeks later. Although guaranteed to operate at up to 25 mph, the truck ordered for the fire department couldn't break 10 mph and was easily outrun by the horse team in a test run. On December 13, 1915, the City Council rejected its purchase.

Back on September 22, 1915 the NC Company announced that Alaska automotive pioneer Bob Sheldon, who had run an auto stage line of his own, would manage the new Jeffrey Quad stages. The trucks, along with Dodge cars, were to be run between Fairbanks and Chitina to test their utility. Up to 18 passengers could be accommodated at a rate of $100 each, along with up to 1,500 pounds of mail. The company guaranteed "that no one will have to get out and push or walk" during the 6-day trip. The inaugural run south in 'Mose' left Fairbanks with Sheldon and 10 passengers on October 4. 'Big Ben,' with 17 passengers and Maurice Ashton at the wheel, followed on October 7, and Fred Clinton's quad left Fairbanks for the coast with several passengers on October 13. Above is one of the NC Company quads passing through Copper Center. Around October 15, "more snow than was ever known on the trail at this time of year" had fallen in the Alaska Range, stranding all of the stage vehicles, including the quads, between Rapids and Yost's.

There is little mention of the Jeffrey Quad trucks after that. The Eagan and Griffin one was kept busy over the 1915-16 winter hauling loads of wood into Fairbanks with "never a bit of trouble. The driver is so housed in that the heat from the engine keeps him warm," even at 40 below zero. This is likely the Jeffrey quad in the photo on one wall of our museum. On July 4, 1916, the Fairbanks Daily Times noted that "Scotty" Lyons had left Fairbanks to "bring back the big Jeffrey-Quad trucks, which are to be shipped into the Kantishna." Apparently he "had a rather hard trip with the machines." I reckon the big quads proved to be too slow and cumbersome for use as passenger stages, being easily outperformed by the faster Dodges and Fords. Fred Clinton's transportation company with his Jeffrey Quad was defunct by August of 1916, and in November of 1917, Eagan and Griffin put their quad up for sale.

So, what became of the five Jeffrey Quads shipped here? One was reportedly used in Eagle by the U.S. Army for short time, and then was re-located to Dawson around 1920. The Eagle Historical Society acquired and restored it, and it now cruises in the annual Fourth of July parade in this community along the mighty Yukon River. A chassis from another Jeffrey Quad also resides in Eagle. Are these Mose and Big Ben? Could there still be two quads out in the Kantishna District? If you find the remains of one, please let us know!









1 comment:

  1. Jefferson M. BrownNovember 4, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    Nice story about the Jeffrey Quads, Nancy. I found one when walking my dog one day here in Idaho last year. There's a brass plaque on the L.S. of the dash that says:"All Warranties Void If Driven Over 18 m.p.h."

    I've ridden the entire Kantishna Trail on a horse and never saw any signs of a Jeffrey...although the Park Service might have some old records somewhere.

    Jeffrey Quads became Nash Quads and were used a lot in The Great War. Did you know Peerless built some four-wheel drive trucks during WWI, too? They were on the FWD Truck pattern.

    ----Jefferson Brown(formerly of Clear, AK)

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