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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and The Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion

     Challenge of the Yukon was an American radio adventure series that began on Detroit's station WXYZ and was first heard on February 3, 1938. The title changed from Challenge of the Yukon to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon in November 1951, and remained under that name through the end of the series and into television. The television series was broadcast between 1955 and 1958. Though no plot lines were re-used from the radio show, they were generally built upon the same themes. 
     Richard Simmons (NOT the Richard Simmons of exercise fame!) starred as Sgt. Preston and was supported by his dog Yukon King and horse Rex. Driving a dog sled with Yukon King, the "swiftest and strongest lead dog, breaking the trail in relentless pursuit of lawbreakers in the wild days of the Yukon," "On King! On you huskies," Preston would cry as he set off on a mission. At the end of an episode, he'd turn to his faithful furry companion and say, "Well, King, this case is closed." 
     Richard Simmons (August 19, 1913 – January 11, 2003), known as Dick Simmons, was an American actor born in Saint Paul, Minnesota and his family later moved across the Mississippi River to Minneapolis. There, he attended West Side High School and then the University of Minnesota.While attending the university, Simmons competed in fencing and swimming and also acted in a few theater productions. 
     Simmons left the area in the 1930s to launch his film acting career in 1937. He soon became an MGM contract player. Many of his minor movie roles went uncredited through the 1940s. One even included his portrayal of a Mountie in King of the Royal Mounted Police
     Starting in 1943, he began appearing in credited roles. From 1943 through 1949, he would appear in seventeen films, of which ten listed him in the credits. Simmons interrupted his film career to serve as a Flight Officer pilot with the Air Transport Command in World War Two. 
     During the 1950s he appeared in several films and television series, at times uncredited. In 1952 he played the co-pilot in Above and Beyond.
     Following the end of the series in 1958, he continued to have a successful acting career, mostly in television series guest appearances, through 1982, with his last role being in CHiPs, a television program about the California Highway Patrolmen who rode motorcycles.
     In 1967, Simmons was cast in the episode "The Girl Who Walked the West" of Death Valley Days and in 1969 he had another role as a silver mining operator who served from 1876 to 1880 as a Nevada state senator in "How to Beat a Badman". 
     Sgt. Preston of the Yukon was mainly filmed in Ashcroft, Colorado. Following a custom of the period, the show took its theme music from the classical repertoire, in this case the overture to Emil von Reznicek's comic opera Donna Diana. 
     In 1955, the Quaker Oats company gave away land in the Klondike as part of the Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion which was tied in with the television show. Genuine deeds each to one square inch of a lot in Yukon Territory, issued by Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc., were inserted into Quaker's Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice cereal boxes. 

     The Klondike Big Inch Land promotion was a marketing promotion created by Bruce Baker, a Chicago advertising executive. Quaker Oats bought 19.11 acres of land in the Yukon Territory of Canada for the price of $1000 and printed up 21 million deeds for one square inch of land. On advice of counsel, Quaker Oats set up and transferred the land to the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company to make the company the registered owner and manager of the deeds. Starting on January 1955, 93 newspapers across the United States ran advertisements that read "Get a real deed to one square inch of land in the Yukon gold rush country" and, "You'll actually own one square inch of Yukon land". The promotion instructed people to mail a form along with a box top from either Quaker Puffed Wheat, Quaker Puffed Rice or Muffets Shredded Wheat to the Quaker Oats company. 
     In turn, a 5 by 8 inch deed to one square inch of land in the Klondike was sent back. In February 1955, Quaker Oats was blocked from trading the deed for a box top by the Ohio Securities Division until it received a state license for the "sale" of foreign land. To get around the injunction, the company stopped the trade-in offer and instead put one of the deeds in each box of cereal produced. 
     Because none of the deeds were actually registered, the documents were never legally binding and owners of these deeds were never actual owners of any land. The deed excluded mineral rights on the property. Due to $37.20 in back taxes, the land was repossessed by the Canadian government in 1965, and the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company dissolved in 1966. The land is now part of the Dawson City Golf Course. To this day, Yukon officials receive inquiries bout the deeds. The land office of the Yukon currently contains an 18-inch thick file folder of correspondence regarding the promotion. 
     Not only do people who still have their deeds not own the land now, they never did. That's because each individual deed was never formally registered. My "deed" disappeared decades ago and I sometimes wondered about this. 
     Simmons, who had Alzheimer's disease, died Saturday at a rest home in Oceanside at the age of 89.

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