Fairbanks has always been a community of “can do” individuals. Today’s History Nugget is about a successful project for the Tanana Valley Railroad born out of that Pioneer spirit of independence.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Feb. 6, 1913
Dayton, Ohio, and Pullman, Ill., must now take back seats as the center of the car-building industry, of Fairbanks is butting into the game and proposes to beat them both.
The electric storage-battery car on the Tanana Valley railway is not economical affair. People who pay electric bills here will not doubt the statement of the railway manager when he announces that it costs eight times as much to run a 20-passenger coach by electricity as it does to run a car of the same capacity with gasoline — wood is the most expensive of all, in the long run. The road cannot afford to run the storage-battery car except as a luxury, and they need the service, so they are starting to build in Fairbanks, at the railroad machine shops and at Fred Lewis’s shops, a 20-passenger gasoline car for this spring’s work between this point and Gilmore.
Every bit of the car except the wheels will be built in Fairbanks. The car will be ready for business in good time and will run between Fairbanks and Gilmore as often each day as people are there to ride on it. The trip will be made in an hour’s time, either way, which is short enough time for our people.
Fairbanks Daily Times March 19, 1913
New Motor Car
Will Supplant Train
Within a few days, Manager Joynt, of the Tanana Valley railroad, will announce a new schedule for the operation of the road. The change will be brought about through the completion of the new car that has been in the course of construction for the past two months in the shop of Fred Lewis, master mechanic of the railroad. The car is now completed and as soon as a second coat of paint has been put on, it will be taken on the railroad for a tryout. Manager Joynt says that the car will be given a complete and thorough test before it is placed in operation.
The car will be operated with a gasoline engine which has been obtained from the high wheel automobile that was in use in town several years ago. The engine is believed to be of sufficient power to carry a load of 20 passengers with ease along the grades to be encountered on the track between Fairbanks and Gilmore.
It is the intention of Manager Joynt to put the car first on the run between Fairbanks and Ester Siding, to connect there with the Parker automobile. There is no heating apparatus in the car, and the Ester schedule will not be started unless the weather remains mild. The car has a canvas roof and canvas sides and is believed to be about as comfortable as an automobile.
As soon as the worth of the car has been determined, it is the plan of Manager Joynt to discontinue the regular train traffic between Fairbanks and Chena. The gasoline car will leave Chena early in the morning, come to Fairbanks and make two round trips each day from here to Gilmore and then return to Chena for the night. The roundhouse here will be enlarged in order to accommodate two engines, and the train will stop here nights instead of at Chena, as at present.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner March 24, 1913
Car Is Given
A Trial Trip
The new gasoline car of the Tanana Valley Railroad company, which was recently built in Fairbanks, was given its trial trip yesterday afternoon by Master Mechanic Fred Lewis and Manager Charles Joynt, of the company. The men, with a party of friends started for Chena bout 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The engine bucked a little when they first started out, but, after being warmed up, ran along smoothly. The party reached Chena alright, but on the way back, something went wrong with the spark plug on the motor, and, after tinkering with it for an hour or so, the men decided to leave the machine and walk back to town, which was accordingly done, the party arriving back in town about 9:30 last night. The car was brought up to the roundhouse here this morning by the train from Chena.
The building of this car marks the beginning of a new era in the industries of Fairbanks. It is the first car of its kind to be built here and although its trip yesterday was not entirely satisfactory, it has now been demonstrated that home-built cars may be run on the railroad here, with as great an efficiency as the smaller ones which were built Outside. The weight of the car is about 2,000 pounds. It has a seating capacity of at least 20 persons in its five comfortable seats and is covered with a canopy top. It is propelled by an extra high-speed gasoline engine.
The officials of the railroad figure that this car can be run at a much less expense than the electrical storage battery affair brought in last summer. It will attain, when fully adjusted, as great if not greater speed, than the larger car, and will be run at about one-quarter of the cost.
After the finishing touches have been put on the car, cushions put in, curtains put on etc., it will be given a thorough test and when everything is adjusted, will be put on a run of once per day between Chena and Fairbanks, and will make two runs per day on the Gilmore route.
This speeder was the workhorse for the transportation of passengers on the Tanana Valley Railroad for many years. It ran reliably from 1913 until the railroad had changed hands to the Alaska Engineering Commission and the standard gauge track was in place all the way to Fairbanks in the early 1920’s.
During those years of use, it transported passengers to Nenana, Gilmore, Chatanika, and many other destinations along the tracks. The homemade speeder was not used in the winter months but had canvas curtains that could be lowered to protect passengers from bad weather during the spring, summer and fall months.
The speeder was built because the larger 26 passenger electric car did not perform economically. It was expensive to charge the batteries and the car was slow compared to the zippy gasoline powered speeder. The electric car was also very limited on how far it could travel before it needed recharging. Recharging the batteries also took a lot of time as well.