1916 Top of the World Highway Drive

By Jim Ducker

The Top of the World Highway–the road with breath-taking scenery that stretches west from Dawson along high ridges to meet Alaska’s Taylor Highway–originated as a trail from Dawson to the mining camps at Glacier and Miller Creeks in the Yukon and the neighboring mines of the upper Fortymile River on the American side. In the early years of the 20th century, the Canadian government rendered the trail into a 55-mile wagon road to Glacier and Miller Creeks.

The first auto to drive the length of the wagon road took place in 1916. “Flutey” Renworth employed Clarke Pelkington to drive Pelkington’s Ford to Glacier and Miller Creeks. The humorous news accounts of the trip presented below are from the Dawson Daily News.

If you have ever driven this spectacularly beautiful, high-country adventure road, or have ever taken an automobile to any edge of the wilderness, you will want to read this story of thrills, spills, and a little advice on how to come down a 6-mile-long hill without brakes!

Does High and Lofty Turn With a Car
Three Complete Somersaults Executed on Glacier Trail
Driver Takes the Count
Pioneer Auto Trip into Pioneer Camp Marked by Excitement

Three times over and right side up with care. This is what happened to Clarke Pelkington and his nimble Ford–save that Clarke was stunned and took the count for a few moments, while the chariot has one wheel fractured. It all happened after Pelkington had just started back for Dawson after having made a historic pioneer trip from Dawson to the pioneer placer camp of the region. Leaving here just a week ago, Pelkington undertook the trip from Dawson over the ridge trail for Glacier and Miller with his new car. It was the first time anyone had attempted to go through to those creeks with a car. Another car had been out the road a few miles a season or two ago, but none essayed before Pelington hit the trail to buck through the entire distance.

With “Flutey” Renworth as mascot and Mrs. Harry Hoskings and Dr. Randy McLennan as passengers, the party got away just a week ago today. The little car took the stiff climb up the six-mile hill from the Yukon ferry landing to the top of the hill with nothing more than the usual puffing and steaming and occasional stop for a little drink of water for cooling off the engines. The next four miles, to Nellie Razee’s, and the subsequent hills rolled past easily. The ridge in the middle of the road bumped the under part of the car occasionally, and there were quite a number of rocks which would have been more appropriate elsewhere, but the little car jogged right along. On arrival at the point on the top of the last hill, 55 miles out, where the road forks, one branch going down to Glacier and the other off to Miller, Mrs. Hoskings and Dr. McLennan disembarked and walked ahead along the Miller road, while the car turned down Glacier for a side trip of a few minutes, to say “hello” to the boys at the roadhouse.

After the greeting to the lads, Pelkington started back. Renworth hopped off the car to take a paper to Recorder Schofield. Pelkington started up the hill, and on one of the finest stretches of road one would like to find anywhere the car touched a small rock, one that scarcely would be noticeable, and the wheels turned quickly to one side, and the steering gear would not respond quickly enough to throw her back. Like a flash she was over the bank, and down she went, once over, twice over, thrice over and then right side up, landing neatly on her feet. Pelkington stayed with the wheel as long as possible. He made one complete loop in his seat. The second time over he was caught under the side of the car and subjected to a tight momentary squeeze as the vehicle kept on revolving.

Renworth, who was a little behind the car just as the accident occurred, ran up and found Pelkington stretched out on the slope of the hill, and unconscious. A little rubbing, and the plucky driver revived, but during the brief interval of the thrilling experience all chapters of his life–from boyhood’s happy hours to golden days in Klondike–flashed over the records of the mind in quick review. On reviving, he was a little stiff, but it was found he was not injured.

Dr. McLennan and Mr. Renworth mushed back to town, the full 55 miles. The doctor is a thirty-fourth degree musher, but “Flutey” was not trained down to the science, yet he got through with honors. Pelkington and Mrs. Hoskings have just gotten back in company with Ferguson.* Pelkington will start back immediately with some repair parts for the car, and will drive it home.

The car is believed to have failed to hold the road at the critical time when it struck the little rock on the hillside because of having been bumped hard on a stretch of rougher and rockier road on the way over. However, the road is not a bad one for the ordinary travel, and is such a fine scenic route of high altitude that it is believed it may yet become quite a popular run for cars. The miners on the creeks were delighted to see the car and gave it the big welcome due the pioneer gasoline trailblazer in the district.

*Ferguson ran a horse-drawn wagon along this trail.

Back with Car from Over the Dizzy Trail
Pelkington Back After Record Trip to Glacier Camp
Negotiates High Hills
Snow Found Deep on the Highest Elevation on the Return

Clarke Pelkington, who made the pioneer trip with an auto to the pioneer camp of the Yukon, Glacier and Miller, has returned with his car again in tip top condition and spinning about as usual. In the spill over the bank on Glacier, caused by striking a stone in the road, Pelkington went down the hill and over and over in somersault fashion with the car twice, and the vehicle then turned one by its lonesome, just to show it could do it. The only impairment suffered was a busted windshield and some damage to one wheel, all of which was repaired throroughly before starting back.

By the time the start home was made, snow had fallen along a great portion of the upper reaches of the trail, at places a foot or more in depth, so a tow was secured, and Ferguson’s span of horses pulled the gas chariot to the Twentyfourmile roadhouse. A fresh supply of gasoline which had been cached there on the way over was secured, and from that point Pelkington came bounding in with the smoke wagon under its own power.

The road was good all the way to Dawson. Since there was no brake on the car, Pelk had to do some fancy work at the wheel to control the critter, but brought her down the six-mile hill to West Dawson without a scratch. On three of the steepest pitches it was necessary to turn the car into the bank for a temporary stop in order to keep her from running away. The reverse gear also was used to no little extent.

Pelkington holds the record as the only man ever to have driven a car all the way to Glacier creek. The trip over was made with little difficulty, and while under charter to “Flutey” Renworth. The car was taxed to her utmost, and “boiled” tremendously climbing the six-mile hill and some other grades, but went through in good condition until the somersaulting was experienced.

One or two other cars have climbed the West Dawson hill and gone a number of miles further, but none other than Pelkington’s to Glacier. O. S. Laning this summer took his big car up the hill and out eleven miles along the trail and back without any difficulty.

The scenery along the ridges in that region is unexcelled anywhere. The road follows the ridge, while far away on all side rolls high hills of wonderful beauty, and far to the northward is the Ogilvie range of mountains, always carrying a snow-capped ridge, while between stretches the majestic Yukon, a mere silver thread to the observer at such great distance.