ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog Arctic & Northern Books About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

The following newspaper article describes the Skagway-area adventures of globe-trotter Dr. Charles G. Percival with his Abbott-Detroit automobile in the Fall of 1911.

Dawson Daily News

DAWSON CITY, YUKON TERRITORY,     Saturday, October 7, 1911

Auto Fails on Yukon Road, 1911

    WHITEHORSE, Oct. 7 - Dr. Charles G. Percival, editor of the Health Magazine, started for Dawson Wednesday in an Abbott-Detroit automobile. He was unable to get farther than Braeburn, 83 miles out from Whitehorse, where the machine stuck in the mud for three hours.

    The run from Nordenskiold to Whitehorse, 63 miles, was made in five hours and 50 minutes, showing what splendid time might be made all the way from Whitehorse to Dawson were the proper road provided.

    In coming from the coast the doctor ran the auto over the railway track from Skagway to Carcross. He shipped the auto back to Skagway by train today.

    SKAGWAY, Sept. 28 - The Alaskan says: Dr. Charles G. Percival, of New York, and George D. Brown, of Detroit, Mich., who are in the city on their way farthest north in the globe-girdling Abbott-Detroit "Bull Dog" automobile, spent the day in driving around Skagway and taking photographs of the car in front of Skagway's famous buildings, which will be used by Dr. Percival in illustrating a series of articles on Alaska which Dr. Percival is writing for syndicate of Eastern papers and magazines.

    Among the pictures taken were those of Camp Skagway No. 1, the mother camp of the Arctic Brotherhood, with A. B. mountain in the distance, and the Elks' home.

    Dr. Percival, who is a prominent member of Lynn, Mass., No. 117, Lodge of Elks, has been in nearly 800 Elk lodges on his round-the-world trip, and has visited the farthest south lodge at Laredo, Texas, where "Heine" Miller is now located, and whom Dr. Percival met when on his way to Mexico last May.

    To complete his collection the doctor wanted a picture of the "Bull Dog" in front of the most northern Elks' lodge and that was the most important picture he took today.

    Clark's ranch was also taken that the easterners can see what vegetables are like grown north of 54 degrees.

    Without a question the enterprise that Dr. Percival has shown in bringing an automobile to Alaska will redound [sic] with a great deal of benefit to this country, as his articles are used by a syndicate of twenty-eight eastern newspapers and several magazines and "Health" Magazine, of New York city, of which he is editor. This magazine has a circulation of 100,000 copies a month.

    Mr. Brown and Dr. Percival will attempt to drive the Abbott as far as Denver glacier tomorrow and take some pictures of the automobile at the glacier, the car going as far as the glacier on the railroad track.

    The two gentlemen have presented Skagway Camp No. 1 of the Arctic Brotherhood with a very handsome framed picture 28x32 inches, containing a series of interesting photographs of their trip around the world, and the same present will be made to Skagway Lodge No. 431, B. P. O. E., which is very significant, as a duplicate of this frame already hangs in the Elk lodge rooms at Laredo, Tex.

    In commemoration of their courage in bringing an automobile into Alaska and running the same, Dr. Percival and George D. Brown were admitted to membership in Camp Skagway No. 1 of the Arctic Brotherhood and will go down "below" wearing the button of the world-famed "foremost order of the Northland".

    In a short, pithy speech Dr. Percival thanked the order for admitting him to membership, and said he would be proud to carry the emblem with him all over the world on his trip.

    After congratulating the Arctic Brotherhood on their aims and broad scope, he presented the camp with a beautifully framed picture, 28 by 30 inches, containing photographs of himself and Mr. Brown, taken while in Mexico, California and Arizona.

    The camp gave Dr. Percival a vote of thanks for his gift, and then Mr. Brown gave the members a talk on his impressions of Alaska.

The Abbott Motor Car Company was started in Detroit in 1909, and like many other manufacturers, decided to promote their vehicles' durability with a marathon journey (see Autos across America: A bibliography of transcontinental automobile travel, 1903-1940 for others). Charles Percival agreed to take a 1910 Model 30 touring model on a tour around North America for 100,000 miles, starting in Detroit in November 1910. Though he only accomplished half that distance, the Abbott company did get the publicity they were seeking.

1911 Abbott-Detroit car in Skagway The photo to the right shows a crowd of children in the Abbott-Detroit in Skagway - it appeared in The Trail of the "Bull-Dog": a 50,000 Mile Journey by Motor Car through the United States, Canada, Mexico, B.C., Alaska and the Klondike (Charles G. Percival, 1912).

Although Percival did seem to believe that he could reach Dawson City or perhaps even the Arctic Circle by replacing the front tires with skis and adding spikes to the rear tires, he didn't wait for the snow that might have made that possible. As it was, "... the Abbott-Detroit's travels from tidewater to the upper Yukon had all the practicality of an Evel Knievel stunt" (James D. Ducker, "An Auto in the Wilderness" - Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Spring 1999).

Certainly the drive up the railway line would have raised everyone's adrenalin levels. The president of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway, O. L. Dickinson, explained that the railway ties were only a little over 6 feet long and the car had a 56-inch tread with 4½-inch tires. There were scores of bridges to cross on the 112 miles to Whitehorse, including the world-famous 1,020-foot-long cantilever bridge where the drop to the creek would be 297 feet! But, with liability waivers signed, they did accomplish the trip, though Percival noted in this book that "the sensation of driving and riding over the narrow 36-inch rails and the six-foot ties and with next to nothing at my very elbow was very unpleasant, and more than once I felt that nausea that comes only with extreme hunger or fear".

The Dawson news article only hints at the problems the group encountered north of Whitehorse, and understates their accomplished distance. The car actually made it to Carmacks, 128 miles, but "for two days we had been traveling in soft earth in which the machine many times sank to the hubs, and often over the rims of the wheels, and it was only by the use of levers and placing logs under the wheels, making brush roads and corduroy that we could move it along the trail."

The flambouyance and machismo of many of these early journeys is a delight to read about today. As well as marketing the car, Percival took the opportunity to promote products ranging from tires and rope to dried fruit and laxatives. It's quite a contrast to travel in Alaska and the Yukon now!

For much more information on the road from Whitehorse to Dawson City in that era, see Ken Spotswood's lengthy illustrated article, The Whitehorse to Dawson Overland Trail. For information about the drive today, see the illustrated guides to the South Klondike and North Klondike Highways in our Northern Highways section.