To Build a Historic Sled, Part VI

Continuing the story begun in the previous post, John Norman had a most successful meeting with Mr. Joe Everhart. Our next action  was to send my following letter to the Wells Fargo publicity and PR heads.

The Wells Fargo Co. Express Gold Train

By Rod Perry

Observers notice in Alaskans an unusual level of pride in their state and a desire to be identified as an “Alaskan.” The phenomenon here is taken to an almost singular degree, far distancing even that of Texans. A common question asked offhand is, “What year did YOU come up?” It is a casual, one-upmanship way of evaluating who outranks who as a Real Alaskan.

Some carryover to such rating exists among long-time Alaskans when they think of companies and institutions. There is a kind of provincial respect for the origins of local companies like Nerland’s which began in the Klondike gold rush, and Bagoy’s, founded by an Iditarod miner. Alaska’s first philanthropist Z. J. Loussac, mined at Nome and began his success in business at Iditarod.


Wells Fargo is justly proud of its place as one of the oldest companies in the United States still performing its original business under its original name. The company proudly operates under one of the most world’s captivating brands, with the image of the Concord stage and three-span team romanticizing its California Gold Rush, Wild West beginnings. The bank goes to great lengths to proclaim its heritage with wonderful museums housed in numerous branches around its realm.

In Anchorage, Wells Fargo Bank is commonly perceived as a relative newcomer, having only arrived in 2000-2001. Early on, however, the company began weaving itself into the Alaska fabric. And then some! In an absolutely masterful stroke Wells Fargo tied itself to the PR plum of all Alaska PR plums, the Iditarod Race. To Alaskans, nothing more epitomizes the “Spirit of Alaska” and no other event comes close to being as proudly held as their own by our people. Thousands upon thousands of Alaskans as well as untold Iditarod fans worldwide deeply appreciate loyal sponsors that enable their race.  Wells Fargo, by its sponsorship, quickly vaulted into “Real Alaskan” status among sourdoughs.

Yet Wells Fargo, seemingly unaware of its own Alaska Gold Rush, Old North heritage, has not come close to capitalizing on its own greatest PR plum, an incredible private treasure sitting right in its lap. This something is perfectly in character with the way Wells Fargo’s brand and history promoters obviously think. It has phenomenal potential to distance any advertising effect ever enjoyed by an Iditarod advertiser. As a serendipity, if picked up it would reverse the public’s perception that the company is an “Alaska newcomer.”

Does the company know of its own “Gold Train?” It was a procession of Wells Fargo dog teams pulling the yearly clean up of the fabulously rich Iditarod gold fields out to Seward. And this wasn’t just a little dust in a few moose-hide pokes—it amounted to gold by the ton worth millions.

In 1910 the famed California gold rush company followed the next American gold rush. Here they swapped the stagecoach for the dog sled pulled by those wondrous sled dogs of the North.

Beginning in 1911 and running annually for eight years, under Well Fargo Co. Express offices in Seward (and by one report another in Iditarod) Bob Griffis, formerly a famous Black Hills stagecoach driver, led the grueling hauls of some half a thousand miles. Each winter the intrepid Griffis, several daring men and their valiant dog teams set out from Iditarod with sleds laden high with gear and supplies and those incredible riches. Their treks sometimes took as long as six weeks with the men laboriously snowshoeing a trail through unbroken snow ahead of the dogs. On some days they made as few as six miles. Their greatest yearly haul was 3,400 pounds of gold pulled by several teams totaling forty-six big huskies. Bracing into the teeth of an Arctic winter they braved blinding blizzards, deep snows, treacherous ice, excruciating cold and the daunting crossing of the most imposing mountain range on the continent.

It was over the legendary Iditarod Trail that the Gold Train came out. In fact, it was Griffis and Wells Fargo Express that helped make the trail a legend. During the great stampedes for riches in Canada and Alaska’s glorious gold rush era, the continental media constantly fed the seemingly insatiable public appetite for news coming down from the North. As news, again and again focused the eyes of the world on the Canadian Klondike and Alaska, the annual Wells Fargo gold shipments by dog team over the Iditarod were the most romantically alluring of all passages over the legendary trail.*

Now if the company would like to capitalize and seize the chance to showcase its glorious Alaska heritage, opportunity is on its very doorstep. Fortuitously arriving this year is Anchorage’s 2014-2015 centennial celebration. The town’s 1914-1915 founding coincided with the peak years of Wells Fargo’s Gold Train. And the train annually came right through the new town.An absolutely masterful way for Wells Fargo to connect to our city and simultaneously show that the company is far from the newcomer most Anchorageites think would be to stage a reenactment of the Wells Fargo Co. Express drivers mushing millions of dollars in gold out by dog team over the trail. Well s Fargo a newcomer? Shoot!—show them that Wells Fargo’s presence here began in 1911, even BEFORE  Anchorage’s beginning!

Again, no other Iditarod sponsor has ever had such advantages. The Wells Fargo “gold train” brings to mind Old North imagery that is incredibly captivating, capable of magnetizing public perceptions in the way of the Concord stage and team. The Gold Train is just begging to be reenacted before the public, and captured on film for company PR purposes. Brochures, TV ads, documentaries all beg producing.

The Iditarod Trail Committee is desirous of such a reenactment. Complete with historically accurate costuming, sled, and gear, it would lead the Ceremonial Start from downtown Anchorage. Fur Rondy has expressed eagerness to run the same reenactment prior to their famous “Running With The Reindeer.”

But it all starts with the crafting of historic dog sleds. (Think of trying to feature Wells Fargo’s brand in a parade without a stagecoach.) These great oaken sleds have almost nothing in common with today’s tiny racing sleds built of space-age materials. I am one of the few left practiced in the dying craft of building them. My crew stands by waiting to replicate two. They take hundreds of man hours to construct and time is fleeting. The Iditarod and Fur Rondy fall on the last day in February, 2014. That is a little over a month away.

*The famed 1925 Serum Run to save diphtheria-stricken Nome did not take place over the historic Iditarod Trail of the gold rush era, but the Iditarod Race Trail. The race trail is comprised of four successive connected trails. The Serum ran over the three beyond the Iditarod that greatly predated it.


To view a picture of Bob Griffis mushing the legendary Wells Fargo Gold Train through the Alaska Range go back to To Build a Historic Sled  Part II.

Interested in more about building of this historic sled, the legendary Wells Fargo Gold Train of the Iditarod gold rush, and Rod’s Reenactment of those famous Gold Train passages over the Iditarod Trail and through early-day Anchorage? During the Iditarod Race we will be putting up a number of posts, so keep revisiting Rod’s Blog.

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