Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Alaska's First Pierce-Arrow

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Pierce Great Arrow in Fairbanks, Alaska
Photo courtesy of Candy Waugman. May not be used without permission.
The 1906 Great Arrow shown above was the first known Pierce-Arrow in Alaska and the fifth automobile in Fairbanks, arriving on the steamer Tanana on September 6, 1909. Dave Coutemanche, owner of the Comet Barber Shop, used it for a passenger stage between Fairbanks and Ester until one fateful day in November of 1910.

“Courtemanche Auto Wrecked By A Fire” proclaimed the headline in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Because of a leaking gasoline tube, one of the few autos in the camp, the Pierce Arrow car of Dave Courtemanche is now a burned and twisted wreck, the auto having caught fire…and burned so fiercely that it was almost impossible to extinguish the flames." The leaking gasoline spread the fire onto the roadway for several meters around the burning car. "An attempt was made to pull the auto out of the burning pool but that proved useless as a new pool of fire was quickly formed.” 

Fortunately, the Great Arrow was not a complete loss, and someone performed some major repairs on it after the fire. By the time Charles W. Joynt purchased it in March of 1914, it only needed some minor work to make it operational. Joynt, who was manager of the Tanana Valley Railroad, intended to use the automobile to transport passengers between Gilmore (located several miles north of Fox on what is now the Steese Highway) and Summit Roadhouse. Passengers could ride the train or electric rail car between Fairbanks and Gilmore, but from Gilmore the railroad turned west and north to Olnes, passing through the site of today’s Hilltop CafĂ© on the Elliot Highway. The Great Arrow provided quick access to and from the Summit Roadhouse, which was located to the east on Cleary Summit.

Joynt's venture must not have done well, for he sold the Great Arrow to Hosea Ross (likely the driver pictured above) the following year. While carrying passengers between Fairbanks and Big Delta, the car became hopelessly stranded near Shaw Creek during the big October blizzard of 1915. Then on August 14, 1916, with five passengers and driver R.T. Blakely aboard, it plunged through the bridge spanning Chena Slough and into the water. “Six Men Narrowly Escape Death When Bridge Collapses” noted the Fairbanks Daily Times. The big car was almost completely submerged, upside down, and one passenger nearly drowned. Apparently the nine- year-old bridge had been considered unsafe for some time. The car was salvaged and was still in Fairbanks in 1922, but its fate after that is unknown.

1907 Pierce Great Arrow at the Nethercutt Museum
Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

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