by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Our latest exhibit, "Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers" has been very popular, and many visitors have asked us to publish the stories about these men and their machines. So, I've spent the winter writing a book with the same title, which we hope to have printed by July of 2015. Local author, journalist, and historian Dermot Cole has agreed to edit it.
Alaska has a rich and colorful automotive heritage, but it has largely been overshadowed by its more charismatic aviation history. Yet our pioneering motorists certainly deserve recognition for the important role they played in Alaska's transportation history and improving life in the Last Frontier.
This book will feature stories about the very first automobiles in the far North, how they got here, what they were used for, and who drove them. I am also including sections about Alaska's early motorcycles, buses, trucks, snow machines, "boat cars," and automobile racing. The vehicles are interesting, but the pioneering motorists behind the wheels are the heart of the stories. Their adventures, innovations, and trials were quite remarkable, and in some cases, very entertaining.
The book has taken much longer to write than I predicted, partly due to the wealth of information I kept discovering, and also because a lot of fact checking has been required. I was surprised at how much contradictory information I found among newspaper articles and interviews. For example, multiple cars were credited as being the first to arrive in several towns, including Fairbanks, Juneau, Skagway, and Dawson. Some newspapers contradicted what they had written just months earlier. Sorting through these mysteries was both maddening and a fun challenge.
I have been able to find photographs of most of Alaska's first automobiles, and will include these and many other wonderful photos in the book. I am very grateful to the various archives and people who have made their photo collections available to me. I am also grateful to museum owner Tim Cerny for investing in this publication. We look forward to sharing it with you.