UPDATE: The crew marking the centennial of Bobby Sheldon's auto trip from Fairbanks to Valdez made it as far as Black Rapids Monday night.


FAIRBANKS — With mechanic Willy Vinton behind the wheel, a 1916 Dodge touring car left Fairbanks shortly after

10 a.m. Monday to mark the centennial of the first auto trip from Fairbanks to Valdez.

“The troopers said to keep it under 65, so we will,” Vinton said before hitting the road. “We’ll probably cruise at 25 to 35.”

On July 29, 1913, Bobby Sheldon and three passengers left Fairbanks at about 10 p.m. in a Model T.

They had to scramble to use two poling boats as an improvised ferry to cross the Tanana River at Delta and reached Valdez, after a trip to Chitina, on Aug. 2.

Vinton and crew hope to reach Valdez by Thursday or Friday.

The caravan includes a couple of motor homes and a pickup pulling an enclosed trailer that the Dodge can be stored in. The Dodge had a flat tire shortly after leaving Fairbanks.

The car was returned to running condition last fall after being mothballed for more than 80 years. It was started up last November as part of the ceremonies to open the new Barnette Street bridge downtown.

After the run in November, they put new brakes on the back wheels and installed new wooden rims and what Vinton described as “new old tires.”

The motor is made up of pieces from about five motors that were in one of the late George Clayton’s old Quonset huts before he sold the car to Don and Ray Cameron and David Stone in 2006.

The trip to Valdez is the longest for the touring car since the 1920s, when a journey to the coast was a major undertaking. The Dodge was part of the Gibson Auto Line fleet.

The engine and drive train were overhauled and rebuilt by Steve Carey, Vinton and others.

“As far as I can find, this is the only original car that ran the Valdez Trail that exists today,” Vinton said.

The group includes some expert mechanics, but their travel time will depend upon road conditions and the condition of the car.

The car has a three-speed sliding gear transmission, which means the gears are not synchronized and the driver has to double clutch to shift.

“We’ve got to do some driver’s education on the way,” Vinton said.


TOWERING ISSUE: The 102-foot Verizon cell tower went up outside the Dog Mushers Hall on Monday on Farmers Loop, but the bright galvanized structure continues to be controversial.

It’s no longer the size or the location that is triggering neighborhood opposition. A deal worked out with the neighbors led to compromises about the height and location.

But there is a disagreement about whether the conditions in the conditional user permit have been satisfied. I’ve heard from several neighbors who said the borough permit stipulated that there be an oxidized rust-colored surface so the steel tower would better blend in with the surroundings.

There is a communication problem, it seems.

The maker of the pole, Sabre Industries, said the conditional use permit “did not state a color and Sabre feels that they provided the required service to the pole that was requested,” according to a July 3 email to the borough.

“As the pole is exposed to the elements, it will continue to dull in appearance, but it will not turn to a rust color,” wrote Rolli Sexton, western sales manager for Sabre Towers & Poles.

One issue here is the timing.

Sabre said it finished the

treatment of the pole with its own “oxidation/dulling procedures” on March 8, but that could not have been in response to the conditional use permit about the pole appearance. The pole was shipped to Atlas Tower on March 18.

The permit for the pole was approved April 3 on a 9-0 planning commission vote.

“The steel monopole to be constructed shall have an oxidized finish to better blend in visually with the surroundings,” the borough permit said.

Months before that action, Verizon held community meetings in which people were asked about the pole and those who attended expressed a preference for the rusty look.

“Although the language of the condition did not specify, the intent was that the tower would have a weatherized, rust-colored finish,” Borough Planner Melissa Kellner wrote to Sabre Industries on June 26.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins is scheduled to speak with the cellphone company today.

Dermot Cole can be reached at cole@newsminer.com or 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: