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Bob Sheldon's Jitney Bus - Fairbanks, Alaska, 1915

Pioneer Alaska Bus Companies

    The first American automobile manufacturing company dates back to 1893 when the Duryea Motor Wagon Company was founded. By 1915, some 2,000 companies in the United States had built one or more cars (241 went into business just between 1904 and 1908). It was Henry Ford, however, who really brought automobile ownership to the masses when, in December 1913, he built a moving assembly line that reduced the time it took to build a car from over 12 hours to just 2½ hours. Soon after automobiles became relatively common, a way to make money from informal ride-sharing was devised - the "jitney bus" (the first Uber) was born.

    "In his book "Los Angeles and the Automobile", author Scott L. Bottles said: "By late 1914, some enterprising motorists had established the nation's first jitney companies, using oversized automobiles to ply the streets in search of customers. The automobile jitney offered flexibility, convenience, and speed to those disappointed with streetcars." The word "jitney" was slang for a nickel, and that was often the cost for a ride.

    In 1915, even Fairbanks, Alaska, had a jitney bus service, run by Bob Sheldon. The ad to the right was seen in the "Fairbanks Sunday Times" on April 18, 1915, as was the following article about Sheldon's "Alaska" version of a jitney service.

    Bob Sheldon is not running an automobile stage line, but he is running a jitney bus line, according to E. C. Raine, the former Internal revenue collector, who is now touring the East, arranging for tourist parties. In a recent interview in Kansas City, the former government official tells of conditions in the North as he "found" them. The following article from the Kansas City Star will be found interesting, as well as amusing, to all Northerners:

    A jitney that makes trips when the thermometer is 72 degrees below zero and charges $100 a passenger is one of the latest innovations in Alaskan transportation. The motors are displacing dog teams and stage coaches in the far north, according to Edgar C. Raine, formerly representative in Alaska of the United States Treasury Department.

    "A successful motor line is in operation between Fairbanks and Chitina," Mr. Raines said at the Kupper Hotel yesterday. "It is a distance of 310 miles and the machines make it in from three to five days. This is a great saving of time over the stage coaches, which charge $150 a trip, $50 more than the 'jitneys.'

A New Car Each Trip

    "The cars are Fords and seem to have no trouble in running in extreme weather. Sometimes during the spring they slip off the trail and return to Fairbanks with only the chassis left. A driver can afford to discard the body to get out of the mud as the fares for one trip more than pay for the car.

    "Motor buses are also in service between Fairbanks and the circle of smaller towns about. They compete successfully with the railroad."

    Mr. Raine for several years has been a friend and associate of Vilhjalmar Stefansson, the Arctic explorer who has been lost for more than a year. He accompanied Stefansson part of the way North on his ill-fated trip. When the young commander of the expedition was away on a hunting trip his ship, the Karluk, was crushed in the ice and sank. Part of the crew made its way across the ice to Siberia, but nothing has been heard of Stefansson.

Stefansson Will Turn Up

    Although rescue parties have failed to find him and most of his friends have given him up for dead, Mr. Raine believes that he will turn up all right, probably next summer.

    "I know Stefansson," he said, "and I believe he has made his way to some Eskimo village were he is staying until he can get back to civilization. He has been in tight places before and has always managed to get out of them."

    In his work for the government, Mr. Raine had to visit every settlement in Alaska each year. He has seen the blond Eskimos which Stefansson found in the extreme northern part. He is to lecture on his experiences at the Grand Avenue Methodist Church Friday night.