You have to wonder why someone would start a car dealership in a country where roads were - at best - thinly disguised wagon trails. Just as curious is why someone would buy one. Both events happened in the Yukon back in 1928.
Isaac Taylor and Bill Drury met on the Chilkoot Pass in 1898. Both had the same vision. Mucking for gold wasn't for them - but selling goods and services to miners was. They began by buying and selling mining supplies at Lake Bennett. Then they moved to Whitehorse and set up Taylor and Drury's department store on Front Street.
It didn't take long for the business to expand, and they were soon operating 15 trading posts along the various rivers of the Yukon. They had three riverboats plying the rivers and supplying their posts. One, the famous Thistle, now sits on the bottom of Lake Laberge.
By 1927, the two shrewd businessmen were looking for new opportunities. Then, Alex Eastwood, a sales representative for General Motors, arrived in Whitehorse. After careful consideration - especially consideration about the lack of decent roads - Taylor and Drury signed on as the General Motors dealers for the entire Territory.
But who would buy a car? George Johnson - that's who. George was an accomplished native businessman who lived in Teslin. In 1928, he bought a shiny, new four-door Chevrolet. No roads to Teslin. No problem. Taylor and Drury loaded the vehicle on the Thistle and sailed it down the Yukon River, up the Teslin River, and across Teslin Lake to the proud new owner - George Johnson.
George built himself a road in and around the village, and sold rides to local folks in the summer. In the winter, he painted the car white and drove it up and down Teslin Lake checking his traplines. In the fall, he painted the car in camouflage and used it to go hunting.
There are many pictures of George and the people of Teslin standing proudly in front of his 1928 Chevy Sedan... a testament to a pioneering people with a forward-looking vision. As for Taylor and Drury - they incorporated as Taylor and Drury Motors in 1947, and sold a lot of Chevys since that day back in 1928, when George Johnson bought his.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
In the early 1900s, John Conrad, an American financier, took a bold million dollar move and consolidated gold and silver claims on Montana Mountain, which overlooks Carcross and Windy Arm. With the value of silver rising, development of the Windy Arm claims began in March, 1905.
Despite the crude methods used to drive the adits into the side of the mountain, work went well. In June, Conrad reported that $12 million worth of ore was in sight on the Montana vein alone. But how to get the ore from the top of the mountain down to Windy Arm, where it could be picked up by river boat and shipped to Carcross for loading onto the White Pass rail cars.
Conrad travelled to Seattle in mid-July, and ordered an aerial tramway system. It cost $80,000 and would rise more than 18,000 feet from a small bay on Windy Arm to the Mountain Hero claim.
Eighty ore buckets were suspended from the cable. Each carried twelve cubic feet of ore. It took about fifty minutes for a bucket to travel from the mine to the terminal at Windy Arm.
By August, 60 men were working on three main claims, and about 100 men worked on pack trails, wagon roads, buildings, and other services.
The first materials for the Montana tramway arrived, including several tons of iron and steel tramway parts.
As part of the Yukon government's commitment to quartz mining, a road-building crew was sent to Carcross to start laying out a road to the lower terminal of Conrad's tramway. The real Sam McGee was in charge.
Conrad City sprang up on the banks of Windy Arm, and the swaggering John Conrad predicted that the town would replace Dawson City as the Yukon's capital.
By 1907 Conrad employed more than 350 men in the mines, while 150 scoured the hills in search of further mineral deposits.
Five hundred people lived in Conrad City. It boasted six hotels, hardware and grocery stores, butcher, barber and blacksmith shops, several churches, a hospital, a newspaper, a telegraph office, and a Mountie detachment.
By 1909, several thousand tons of ore had been shipped to southern smelters. However, the ore was generally patchy, and of a lower grade. Conrad's bounding enthusiasm, determination and fast depleting money supply could not overcome that. The cost of transporting thousands of tons of mining machinery to the mines and shipping the ore to market on the White Pass railway was hugely expensive.
Conrad took the White Pass to court, saying that the carrier's rates were five times those of any other outfit on the continent. The case dragged on for years. Finally, an international commission ruled that if White Pass reduced their rates, the corporation would go bankrupt. Instead, Conrad Consolidated Mines went bankrupt.
In April 1912, "Colonel" John Conrad left the Yukon. On November 27, 1928, John Howard Conrad died of heart failure in Seattle.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
In the fall of 2010, the Vancouver Opera Company will present its first full-length commissioned piece for its main stage. The opera is based on the real-life story of Lillian Alling. You probably never heard of her, but if she were around today, reality television would be all over her story. Alling was a European immigrant who arrived in New York City in the 1920s. She may have been of Russian origin.
In the summer of 1927, homesick and compelled to perform menial tasks for a living, she decided to go to Russia via Siberia. She saved her money in the winter of 1926, planned her route, and started her incredible walk in the spring of 1927. Alling carried a small amount of money, some food and an iron bar for protection. Thus, began perhaps the strangest overland journey of all-time. Alling walked from New York to Chicago, to Minneapolis, to Winnipeg and just kept on walking.
There were reports of her journey in various newspapers across the Prairies and into British Columbia. When she reached Hazelton, BC she turned north and followed the Yukon Overland Telegraph Trail. A telegraph operator, concerned for her safety, sent a message to the Provincial Police at Hazelton.
A local Justice of the Peace charged her with carrying a concealed weapon, and she was sent to Oakalla Prison near Vancouver. After a short stay there, she apparently got work in a Vancouver restaurant for the winter.
But in the spring of 1928, she was on her way again - walking northward towards Alaska. Alling again hiked along the Overland Telegraph Trail and ended up in Atlin where she bought a pair of boots. She then walked to Whitehorse and spent some time there before walking the overland trail to Dawson City. Lillian Alling arrived in Dawson City in the fall of 1928 and spent the winter working as a cook. In the spring of 1929, she launched a small wooden boat into the Yukon River right behind the outgoing ice. The Whitehorse Star ran some stories of her incredible journey through the Yukon.
It is known that she eventually reached Nome, Alaska and later was seen by Alaskan Eskimos on the shores of the Bering Strait. She was last heard from in 1930, bartering with the Eskimos for boat passage across the strait to Siberia.
So if you get a chance to see the Vancouver Opera Company presentation of the story of Lillian Alling in the fall of 2010, don’t miss it. The Yukon plays prominently in her incredible journey which is steeped in mystery for the ages.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin