Monday, November 26, 2012

A Pope Returns to Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library
Alaska's location on the Great Circle Route has several advantages, notably that numerous cargo planes stop here to refuel on their flights between North America and Asia. Occasionally a VIP emerges from an airplane during a refueling stop, and in 1984 Fairbanks was treated to a double bonanza when President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II coordinated their layovers here. It was the first time a Pope and U.S. president had met outside of the Vatican or White House.

This wasn't the first time a Pope had made it to Fairbanks, however. Back in May I wrote about Pope-Toledos in Alaska and the Yukon, one of which was the first automobile to arrive in Fairbanks back in 1908. These cars were named for Colonel Albert Pope, who founded a bicycle and automobile production empire that spanned several states. His automobiles included the Columbia, Pope-Waverly, Pope-Tribune, Pope-Hartford, and the pinnacle of his marques, Pope-Toledo.

One of the Dawson Pope-Toledos
Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
In 1907, two Pope-Toledos were imported to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. One was brought in by Captain J.B. Hubrick, a roadhouse owner and Dawson's cable ferry operator. It was "...fitted with extra large tires and accompanied by large quantities of repair parts and supplies, including wood alcohol and glycerine to mix with the cooling water to prevent freezing." Hubrick planned to establish a motor stage line between Dawson and Granville. Newspapers and automotive journals reported that the man who would drive Hubrick's auto "over the northernmost stage line in the world" would be Carl Lilliesterna, also known as the Swedish Auto Tramp.

Robert Sheldon at the wheel of his Pope-Toledo
Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson
"There was a tremendous scramble for rides on the first day," reported The New York Times, and "the Red Devil" was kept busy all summer. At some point, perhaps around 1910, the big touring car was barged to Fairbanks by Jack Sale, a jeweler who had moved from Dawson to Fairbanks in 1906. Robert Sheldon purchased it for $500 and later noted "it was out-of-time and otherwise in bad shape and not in running condition." After repairing it Sheldon used the Pope-Toledo as a taxi for two years. He then sold it to the Tanana Valley Railroad, which had Fred Lewis convert it to run on the tracks.

The Fountainhead Auto Museum's new Pope-Toledo
Photo courtesy of Al Murray
We know of only 10 or so surviving Pope-Toledos, and just a mere handful of those match the models that made it to Fairbanks over 100 years ago. The most attractive of those was the Type XII with the Roi de Belges body that Hubrick and Sheldon owned. Its upswept sides resembled a tulip--and the curving lines of the cowl and radiator added to its appeal. After years of searching, we have finally acquired an identical car for our museum. Our 1906 Pope-Toledo Type XII 7-passenger touring car is now at Murray Motor Car in Monroe, WA for a general freshening before a possible appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August of 2013. We will ship it north at the end of summer and then plan to have a Pope-Toledo homecoming celebration! It won't be as exciting as a papal visit, but we're sure you will be impressed with our new Popemobile.

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