Story of the Skagway streetcar

"Martin with his streetcar for a fifty cent fare
Will show you when and show you where
The High Spots were, for he was there.
He'll start at nine and takes till noon
To show you Skagway in the Klondike boom.
If you miss this, you have missed it all
And have not seen Alaska at all.
Take a bite if you can't take it all."

When business for his many ventures in Skagway was slow Martin Itjen built a tour bus from an old Ford bus. Martin referred to it as a "streetcar." He began giving tours of the goldrush town. By the 1930s he became Skagway's premier tour agent. The most picturesque car carried a bear cub on the front, the bear growling and pointing to the right or left as the car turned. A small mannequin on the front was operated by foot pedal. He nodded his head, waved a flag, rang a bell, and puffed exhaust smoke through a cigarette. One of the buses had an effigy of Soapy Smith that at the pull of a handle, Martin would make Soapy salute walking pedestrians as he passed them. The buses toured the streets of Skagway and visited the Gold Rush Cemetery and other Skagway attractions. Martin's tour was quite a show: he recited poetry, told stories, and related humorous anecdotes of Skagway during the gold rush.

In 1935, as a great publicity stunt, Martin took his "streetcar" to Hollywood to promote Skagway tourism. He called on big screen starlet Mae West to "come up and visit him sometime." The pair was popular with newsmen and photographers. Martin attracted numerous screen queens to his side, for phot.ographs, while in the movie capital. Examples of media clips featuring Martin and these lovely ladies can be found here. Skagway, Alaska had become a tourist stop, thanks to Martin.

In 1938 Martin published a book and an LP (long playing) record, entitled, The Story of the Tour on the Skagway, Alaska Street Car. Martin's tours were theatrical productions, complete with motorized mechanical actors, poetry and humorous anecdotes, all relating to the colorful history of Skagway and its inhabitants.

2011 Bob Wieking. All rights reserved