Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the Road: Skagway

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
I just returned from a quick trip to Skagway, where Bobby Sheldon built Alaska's first automobile and Martin Itjen operated his historic street car tour business.

Skagway is a quaint little town that sits on the water at the head of Taiya Inlet. Getting there from Fairbanks isn't easy. One either drives 1.5 days, passing through Canada en route, or flies to Juneau and then hops onto a ferry or small plane for a ride north up Lynn Canal. I opted for the latter.

I have to say that upon arriving in Skagway via Seaplanes Alaska, I have not been that cold in a good many years. It was 27 F with a 35 mph wind blowing from the northeast, right down the streets like a wind tunnel. It felt like I was in Prudhoe Bay!

Photo courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush
National Park, Rapuzzi Collection
To warm up, I went and examined the Martin Itjen "Street Car #1" for the National Park Service. The bus has a lot of history and character about it, and is in need of some work to preserve it for the long-term.

The street car is an interesting blend of parts. It sits on a 1908 Packard chassis, and the rear part of the body is from a horse-drawn omnibus. The current engine is a 1919 Dodge 4-cylinder with a 3-speed transmission coupled to the Packard differential. A lot of additions were made to this unique vehicle, which I will write about in a future post.

Photo courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush
National Park, Rapuzzi Collection
It would be nice to know the history of the Packard that Itjen used in this street car. We would also love to know the history of the Veerac truck (at right) that he used in an earlier rendition of Street Car #1, which also carried the omnibus body.

Skagway is a neat place to visit if you have not been there, but I would recommend that you go during the summer and avoid that nasty wind.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

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