Monday, May 7, 2012

Pope-Toledo Automobiles in the Far North

by Nancy DeWitt

In August of 1908, a Pope-Toledo touring car arrived in Fairbanks on the Steamer Cudahy. It would be the first automobile to be driven on the streets of this Gold Rush town, but it was not the first Pope-Toledo to arrive in the far north. In 1907, two Pope-Toledos were imported to Dawson City, Canada by entrepreneur Stanley Scearce and roadhouse owner Captain Hubrick. The New York Times noted that Hubrick’s 40-hp auto, called the Red Devil, was kept busy all summer ferrying miners for $10 a ride. Scearce’s 1906 Pope-Toledo (also dubbed the Red Devil in one article) was used as a taxi on the frozen Yukon River during the winter of 1907-08, and made at least one run to Alaska’s Forty Mile River.

Photo courtesy of the Pioneer Museum and Joan Skilbred
Photos indicate that the first Pope-Toledo in Fairbanks was a 1907 Type XV Touring. Owner David Laiti had it on the road by August 6, causing much excitement among the townspeople. It only took 24 hours for the big maroon car to earn the nickname of—you guessed it—the Red Devil. Laiti immediately began an automobile stage to Fox and also carried excursion parties around town. By April 1909 the Pope-Toledo had been acquired by garage owner Jack Baird, who continued to use it for a passenger service to Fox. Dave Courtemanche purchased the Pope-Toledo later that year and put it to work carrying passengers between Fairbanks and Ester.

Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson
A second Pope-Toledo—a big Type XII touring car with a beautiful Roi de Belge body—was the eighth automobile to arrive in Fairbanks. It was one of the original Pope-Toledos from Dawson (likely Hubrick’s auto shown above), but it’s not clear who imported it or when. By October 1911, Robert “Bobby” Sheldon was using it to take passengers on local excursions, and we have two photographs of him with the Pope-Toledo taken in March of 1912. Interestingly, Sheldon never mentioned the Pope-Toledo or his early Fairbanks taxi service in any of his interviews. Likely he sold the Pope-Toledo not long after he purchased his first Ford Model T in 1913. Fred Lewis, its next owner, planned to convert it into a truck. Both of the Fairbanks Pope-Toledos were still here in July of 1922, but that is the last record we have of them.

Fewer than 10 Pope-Toledo touring cars survive today. So far we have located ones in California and Oklahoma, and hope that some day one of those will migrate north to Alaska.

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