Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Curved Dash Oldsmobiles in the Far North

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Try as I might, I have found no evidence that a Curved Dash Oldsmobile like the one in our museum was ever in Alaska in the early 1900s. It appears, however, that at least two made it to the Yukon. 

I recently came across a photo in the Yukon Archives labeled, “Dr. Paré and Fitz Horrigan driving the first automobile in Whitehorse, a 1903 Oldsmobile.” The date in the background is June 29 1904. Doctor Louis Alphonse Paré had joined the Northwest Mounted Police in 1887 and was assigned to treat members of the NWMP in the Yukon in 1898. He handled many cases of typhoid and scurvy, and amputated more than a few frozen limbs. Fitz Horrigan was a NWMP Inspector. The CDO they rode in had probably been shipped to Skagway, Alaska, and then transported over the White Pass & Yukon Railway to Whitehorse.

At least three different automobiles have been credited as being “the first” in Dawson City, located more than 300 miles north of Whitehorse. The actual first ones appear to be two, 12-passenger surreys of unknown make that arrived in 1901. Two references I found, however, state that an Oldsmobile was Dawson’s first motorcar. According to the March 19, 1904 issue of The Automobile, “The first automobile to reach Dawson City, Alaska, was a regular stock Oldsmobile without special equipment. Ferdinand de Journal of San Francisco drove the little car over the rough trail. He had great difficulty obtaining fuel, gasoline costing about $10 a gallon, which, however, is not such an appalling figure when it is considered that it costs about $15 a day to feed a horse on the same journey.”

I assume this was a different CDO than Dr. Paré’s, and I seriously doubt that de Journal drove the automobile to Dawson. A Locomobile driven by George Potter in 1912 is well documented as being the first to finally conquer the trail between Whitehorse and Dawson. More than likely de Journal shipped his CDO down the Yukon River to Dawson from Whitehorse, or up the Yukon River from St. Michael on the west coast of Alaska.

An article published in the New York Times on December 15, 1907, also referred to an Oldsmobile runabout—most likely de Journal’s—as being the first in Dawson City two years prior. Sadly, it did not fare well in the far north. “After a somewhat checkered career it met its fate one day at a narrow turn of the road, when a big six-horse stage, going in the opposite direction, appeared around the bend. There was only room for one vehicle. The road was bounded by a steep cliff on one side and an embankment of the other. The little auto ran out as far as it could toward the bank, the two occupants climbed down the declivity, while one of the leaders on the stage, frightened at the noise of the engine tried to turn around. The veteran driver swung his long whip over the mettlesome horse, and as the team straightened out in a lively gallop, one of the heavy wheels of the mountain stage hit the little motor car square in the centre, crunching it as easily as a stack of cards.”

It is always rewarding to discover articles about the first automobiles in the Far North (even if the story has an unhappy ending), and more so to find photos to match. Most of the first autos shipped to Alaska and the Yukon were big touring cars, so I was surprised to learn about these CDOs. It sure must have been easier to push one through the mud than a big Pope-Toledo or Thomas Flyer!

Are you coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 


  1. Really nice photos! I love how you recreated the old photos to more modern times! Really nice!

    1. Actually, the modern photos were taken several years ago, before we found the Yukon photographs. I didn't even notice the similarities until you pointed them out!


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