Mon, August 31, 2015

Dreams of Over-the-Snow Travel

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.