Over the years, Fairbanks has attracted visitors and they have arrived in every way imaginable. In the summer of 1951, a tourist arrived with an incredible travel story.
Fairbanks Daily News Miner- August 23, 1951
Hitch-hiking Mother Starts Long Trip Home Via ‘Thumb’
Mrs. Fern Woods, mother of 12 children, is bound back for the States in her favorite fashion today. She’s thumbing her way, as usual.
Mrs. Woods claims to have been the first woman to hitch-hike over the highway to Alaska, arriving here two weeks ago. While in the Territory, she turned aerial hitch-hiker, and made her way to Nome, Circle City, and many other points in the Territory.
Yesterday, she decided she’d had her fill of Alaska, packed up the large wooden box she used to hold her equipment, and started down Cushman, enroute back to her home town of San Diego.
“I should make it in about two weeks, with a little luck,” she said. “Hitch-hiking is my hobby, and I’ve thumbed through every State in the union. I’m writing a book about my travels, and my experiences in Alaska will make up the last chapter.”
She said she took up hitch-hiking two years ago. Since that time she has traveled 180,000 miles “on her thumb.”
Mrs. Woods says a lady doesn’t have any trouble at all getting rides on the Alaska highway. Although she admitted that San Diego was her home town, she refused to give any address there, and she wouldn’t give the names of her children. “No publicity please,” she said. “My family doesn’t approve of my hitch-hiking. They’d be awfully embarrassed if anything about me was printed in the papers there.”
Mrs. Woods wouldn’t ever face the camera, when photographer Jim Douthit took her picture. “It would just be terrible if my children saw my face in the San Diego papers,” she said.
Wheeling her heavy box of equipment, Mrs. Woods walked as far as the big bend on the Richardson highway, then stopped and began some very expert “thumbing” motions as each car passed. Suddenly a car stopped, and she wheeled her box up to the door. “So long, see you in San Diego,” she shouted.
Note: Three years later in December of 1953, Mrs. Woods was still enjoying her hitch-hiking hobby in Wheeling, Illinois. She was stopped by a policeman who did not want to believe her story about being the “Hitchhiking Grandma.” Mrs. Woods convinced him by producing newspaper clippings from all over the nation accounting her travels over several years. Mrs. Woods also stated that at the time she had made three trips to Alaska. She began her travels after the death of her husband, not wanting to stay home all the time. This plucky traveler made headlines over the years in newspapers from coast to coast. The last mention in newspapers of Mrs. Woods appears in a Pennsylvania newspaper from May of 1958. She was 60 years old at that time.
This “thumbs up” History Nugget has been brought to you by the Fairbanks Igloos of the Pioneers of Alaska.