AHS Blog

Dreams of Over-the-Snow Travel

Date Posted: August 31, 2015       Categories: 49 History
Allan Air Sled. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Archives, Henry Boos Family Collection (72-123-17).

Allan Air Sled. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Archives, Henry Boos Family Collection (72-123-17).

by Chris Allan

The challenge of mechanized travel over snow vexed inventors for many years after the Wright Brothers introduced the world to motorized flight and Henry Ford filled America’s streets with automobiles. Beginning in the 1860s, a few tried and usually failed to use steam engines to power spinning barrels equipped with spikes for traction. Even so, by the 1890s some people were convinced that “ice locomotives” would carry passengers and supplies overland to the Klondike gold fields. These plans were pure fantasy. In the early 1900s inventors cobbled together machines from spare parts and equipped their strange, new contraptions with airplane, car, and motorcycle engines.

A.A. “Scotty” Allan, one of Alaska’s most famous dog mushers, was also an early snow-machine enthusiast who built this marvelous specimen in 1916 with a 60-horsepower airplane engine and propeller. Observers announced that the “dean of dogdom” had “succumbed to the lure of ‘gasoline dogs,’” but the air-sled often broke down and never seemed to leave the vicinity of Nome. On a winter’s day in 1918, a local reporter described the scene:

Scotty Allan’s gasoline consuming speed-ball attracted the attention of a great many of the populace as it wended its noisy way, forth and back along the principal boulevard of the city yesterday afternoon; many of the rubbernecks thought a riot was in progress, or that some of the home-guards were trying out some sort of new fangled machine-gun. A few of the local four legged hay consumers showed their displeasure at the noisy stranger by attempting to run, rear, buck, etc.

Peratrovich a true hero, but myth doesn’t match facts of historic Alaska vote

Date Posted: August 19, 2015       Categories: 49 History

Editor’s note: The column below first appeared in the Alaska Dispatch News on Aug. 18.


by Ross Coen


Allow me to begin by stating unequivocally that I support efforts by Governor Bill Walker and numerous others to place Elizabeth Peratrovich on the revised ten-dollar bill. Her tireless advocacy for Native rights has certainly earned her a place among the heroes of Alaska.


At the same time, however, we have a responsibility when honoring figures from the past to be faithful to the historical record. Unfortunately, the Peratrovich nomination draws more on myth than history.


Elizabeth Peratrovich is remembered today for her role in the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. The history of this act, in particular the dramatic confrontation in the territorial senate between Peratrovich and opponents of Native rights, is so shrouded in myth and has been embellished repeatedly across the decades that we know very little about what actually happened in the capitol that day in February 1945.


For example, Peratrovich left no written copy of her testimony, and the legislature in those years kept no transcripts and made no audio recordings of its committee hearings and floor sessions. So apart from a couple of quotes in a newspaper article, we don’t really know what was said by anyone. (Those of you eager to disagree should note that Peratrovich’s famous and oft-quoted testimony has no other evidence behind it and was almost certainly written and revised by others starting in the 1980s.)


There is one part of this history that is very easy to document, however. But Gov. Walker gets this wrong, too. According to his nomination letter, Peratrovich faced “absolute opposition” in the Senate and her testimony was “the deciding factor that gained passage of [the Act].”


This version of the story holds that the bill was headed for certain defeat until Peratrovich’s impassioned testimony warmed the hearts of all but the bitterest racists and carried the bill to victory.


But that’s not what happened. We need only count the votes to see that the Anti-Discrimination Bill had a majority of senators behind it even before the floor session began.


The Senate version of the bill was introduced by O. D. Cochran of Nome. In addition, when an identical bill was before the legislature two years earlier, five senators still in office in 1945 had voted yes: Frank S. Gordon of Fairbanks, Edward D. Coffey and Herbert H. McCutcheon of Anchorage, and Norman R. “Doc” Walker and Andrew Gunderson of Ketchikan. So there are six solid yea votes right off the bat.


As the bill moved through committee, two more senators—Don Carlos Brownell of Seward and Andrew Nerland of Fairbanks—reported the bill to the full Senate with a “do pass” recommendation. So now we’re up to eight yea votes.


Another three senators—John Butrovich of Fairbanks, Joe Green of Juneau, and Howard Lyng of Nome—then went on record supporting the bill when they voted to reject a poison-pill amendment offered by one of the bill’s opponents.


What all this means is that when the senators filed into the chamber and Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich took their seats in the gallery, it was clear to anyone paying attention that the bill was going to pass with at least eleven yea votes—which is precisely what happened.


There is no doubt that Elizabeth’s testimony gave voice to Native rights and continues to inspire Alaskans, both Native and non-Native, to the present day. There is also no doubt that her many years of advocacy laid the groundwork for this and other legislative victories. But the notion that she faced “absolute opposition” is simply not true. For all the myth-making that surrounds this event today, the fact remains that Elizabeth Peratrovich could have remained seated in the gallery, not saying a single word, and the bill still would have passed.


Some may accuse me of trying to tarnish Elizabeth Peratrovich’s legacy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just a historian who believes that we must always deal in facts, especially in a case such as this where doing so is as easy as counting the votes.

Alaska Film Archives at UAF

Date Posted: August 17, 2015       Categories: 49 History




The Alaska Film Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) holds more than 10,000 Alaska films and videos available for viewing and use by patrons and researchers. Moving images are requested every day for research and presentations by students, instructors, historians, documentary filmmakers, and persons interested in Alaska history. Items in the collection range from professional productions to amateur home-movies from the earliest days of filmmaking through the present day. Topics covered over the past century include: Alaska Native cultural and subsistence activities, gold-mining, hunting, fishing, aviation, dog-mushing, floods, fires, earthquakes, the military, political debates, statehood celebrations, the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, parades and festivals, and family life in communities large and small from across the state.


Since its establishment in 1993, the goals of the Alaska Film Archives have been to locate and collect film and videotape pertaining to Alaska through donation, to document the regions and dates of each item, to catalog and make items available for viewing, and to store original materials under controlled environmental conditions. The majority of collected items have been cataloged and made searchable through the UAF library catalog (http://library.uaf.edu/).


Hundreds of representative clips are viewable at the film archives’ You Tube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/alaskafilmarchives) and at the Alaska’s Digital Archives site (http://vilda.alaska.edu/). DVD copies of thousands of archival film and video holdings are available for checkout worldwide. And all original materials are stored in the film archives’ climate-controlled Film and Magnetic Media Vaults.


The Alaska Film Archives is a unit of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections & Archives, located in the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. If you are interested in Alaska’s historical film or would like to donate film to the collection, contact Film Archivist Angela Schmidt at ajschmidt@alaska.edu or (907) 474-5357.


This link leads to a clip on You Tube showing the firefighters known as “smokejumpers” parachuting to work in the 1960s:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lY2GNnO7OA

Alaska Trail-Blazer: The Cat

Date Posted: August 11, 2015       Categories: 49 History

by Chris Allan


Few machines are capable of moving over Alaska’s snow- and ice-covered terrain, much less while hauling heavy cargo. The Caterpillar-style tractor is one such machine, and it caused a revolution in northern transportation, construction, and mining. During the 1910s and 1920s when the first Holt-brand tractors arrived in Fairbanks and Anchorage, they transformed what was possible. Suddenly a “cat train” could pull hundreds of tons of supplies over mountain passes and across rivers and through winter and summer without having to be fed and rested like dogs or horses.


This photograph shows a Holt “Caterpillar” tractor pulling two track-equipped wagons and several wheeled vehicles full of freight during the construction of the Alaska Railroad, October 8, 1920. In this way, “endless tread” technology and the gasoline-powered tractor transformed Alaska by opening up remote locations to supply. University of Washington Photographic Library, Alaska Engineering Commission Collection (AWC5932).

Perpetual Motion in the North

Date Posted: August 7, 2015       Categories: 49 History

by Chris Allan


Perpetual motion has been a dream of inventors and tinkerers for millennia, and during the 1890s, when gold was discovered in the Klondike and stampeders rushed northward seeking fortunes, this fantasy of a non-stop machine that needed no fuel arrived in the gold fields. Both dreamers and charlatans were drawn to the concept, and the frauds made money selling their designs or luring gullible investors to some larger scheme. While living in Dawson the Czech traveler and adventurer Jan Welzl (widely known as Eskimo Welzl) tried his hand at building a perpetual motion water pump to keep mining shafts dry, but he was not the first.


This photograph of “Driscol’s Perpetual Motion Machine of the Yukon” (ca. 1898) shows two serious fellows displaying their dubious contraption that, one assumes, they worked on through a long Klondike winter. UAF Archives, Margaret Lentz Collection (1976-92-73).