Cold Snap

The 1st National Bank sign at the corner of Cushman and 2nd during a Fairbanks cold snap. 

The cold air has arrived, and even colder weather is sure to come. One of the many challenges of life here in Fairbanks has been starting the car when the mercury takes a nosedive. Today many of us enjoy warm garages, synthetic lubricants, and fuel injection. Forty years ago, starting a car in winter required some different strategies and their effectiveness depended on what kind of Alaskan you were:

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner — March 1, 1975


The staffers at the Yukon Sentinel, Ft. Wainwright newspaper, have raised some interesting theories about cold winter car starts depending on the type or driver you may be. They suggest:

Cheechako — Owner fresh from the states, dashes out at 7:15 full of optimism and energy, chops off enough ice from the windshield to form a peephole to be used as a sort of sight over the radiator cap, injects a pint of ethyl into the carburetor, pours a pint of alcohol into the tank, (takes a snort himself), steps on the starter which is connected to four batteries. Result- Arrives at work three hours late.

Experimental— Owner, becoming desperate after having tried everything but arising early, is now a gadgeteer. Installs crankcase heater, headbolt heater, carburetor heater, de-icers and fuel pump heater as well dipstick heater. Result – Heated vocabulary.

Sourdough —Uses the accepted method tested by time. Arises at 3 a.m. (reluctantly). Digs car from ice and snow. Kicks car soundly three or four times to establish respect for authority. Appears disinterested in whether car starts, lights pipe or cigar, hovers in the vicinity, musing aloud about the beauty of the scenery, raises head, shakes head disapprovingly, mentions several reasons shy the purchase of a new car in indicated. Kicks car soundly for or more times, returns to house with intention of remaining. Drinks a cup of coffee, being sure car can see him through the window. Nonchalantly saunters back and kicks car four more times. Pries open door with crowbar and removes icicles from dashboard, steering wheel, and seat. Unobtrusively pulls the choke out 3 to 4 feet. Turns ignition key on with pair of pliers. Now hurriedly jumping into car, he slams foot on starter, kicks car soundly with other foot three or four times, curses loudly and beats dash (preferably with a hammer.) Result- Arrives at work only one hour late!

Note: Today many of us enjoy remote starts and heated seats. While we have gained those luxuries, we have lost a great excuse for being late to work. (You just can’t win them all!) This lesson in cold weather starts has been proudly brought to you by the Fairbanks Igloos of the Pioneers of Alaska who would like to remind you that more History Nuggets are available on our website at

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