A photo of Bobby Sheldon crossing a river, probably on his 1913 trek from Fairbanks to Valdez. Sheldon was an interesting character, even by Alaska standards. He was the first civilian to drive an automobile the length of the Old Valdez – Fairbanks trail. It took Sheldon 4 days to travel the 360 miles in a Model T.
He also built the very first car in Alaska in 1905. In fact, it remains the only vehicle, on record, ever manufactured in the state. When Sheldon built the car in Skagway, he had never seen a car first hand. It was built by pictures and diagrams.
As a Skagway newspaper boy in 1898, a young Bobby Sheldon witnessed the death of the notorious Jefferson “Soapy” Smith in a gunfight with Frank Reid. Smith died there on the Juneau wharf, Reid died of his wounds 12 days later.
Sheldon on what he saw: “He (Smith) was sprawled out with his Stetson lying there, but nobody dared put his feet together or place his hands over his heart. They didn’t dare show sympathy for fear somebody would pull out a gun.”
Sheldon brought up the first Model T Fords for his “auto stage” which ran between Fairbanks in the interior and Valdez on the coast. Eventually he included Pope Toledos and Studebakers entered service in the 1920’s.
Sheldon went on to become an Alaska road commissioner, a Fairbanks postmaster, he served in the Alaska Territorial Legislature as well as the first State Legislature when Alaska was granted statehood. Bobby Sheldon died in 1983 at the age of 99.