Monday, October 15, 2012

No Roads Lead to Nome

by Nancy DeWitt, Historian
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Photo on display at the
Carrie M. McClain Memorial Museum
Last week I traveled to Nome, Alaska--a rugged little city perched on the edge of the windswept Bering Sea. Nome gained fame in 1898 after the discovery of gold on nearby Anvil Creek, but the real stampede began the following year when gold was found on the sands of her beaches. Nome soon became the largest city in the Alaska Territory, with an estimated population of around 28,000 at its peak. The current population is close to 3,500.

Today, just like in the early 1900s, there is no road connecting Nome to other Alaska cities. Still, automobiles were shipped in as early as 1905 to make use of the early roads scraped out to the mining camps. We suspect that the Thomas Flyer shown in this earlier post was the first automobile to arrive there, and we know of a few others that followed including a Columbia runabout, IHC highwheeler, Jeffery Quad and eventually Model Ts. In early 1914 several magazines and newspapers wrote that 10 Imp cyclecars had been ordered for Nome, the plan being to put spikes on their rear wheels and skis under the front ones so they could run on snow. There were also some interesting motorized sleds built in Nome, including an air-propelled one built by legendary musher Scotty Allen in 1917 (above).

My goal was to search through the photograph archives at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum and the newspaper microfilms at the Kegoayah Kosga Library to see if I could learn of other cars that made it to Nome by the mid 1930s. Also, I wanted to talk to the locals and see if any of Nome's early automobiles remained in the district. Finally, the Nome Rotary Club also graciously allowed me to speak about our museum and Alaska's automobile history.

The museum's photographs revealed some Nickle-era cars, while the newspapers yielded little new info (and no mention of the Imps arriving). Several old-timers had a shared tale of woe for me, that being that most of Nome's old cars were gathered up at one point by order of the mayor, hauled to the dump, crushed and buried. Local historian Cussy Kauer showed me the old cars she knew of, but the real treasure is the old mining equipment that has managed to survive. Nome is rightfully proud of their mining history and it is a fascinating place to visit. I still have a few interviews to conduct with some old miners, so hopefully I'll be able to learn more about the automobiles that played a role in Nome's first decades. If you have any stories to share, please let me know!

1 comment:

  1. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more!


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