Home Commentary State of Mind: ‘On King! On You Huskies!’

State of Mind: ‘On King! On You Huskies!’

Several days ago, as I was pushing my cart around the supermarket, I found myself in the breakfast cereal aisle. I have not consumed breakfast cereal for many years, preferring instead to now get my grains and sugars through malting and fermentation processes. Nevertheless, suddenly I found myself on a trip down memory lane. 

Image of author with thought bubble
In many cases nothing had changed since the days I consumed cereals. There were still boxes of Cheerios, albeit without any references to the Lone Ranger, and the Wheaties boxes still had images of famous athletes, even though I was not familiar with the names or faces. Shredded wheat was still available in many forms, but, alas, gone was the version I remembered from Nabisco, with the image of Niagara Falls on the box. That brand was bought by Kraft Foods back in 1993, which then sold it to Post in exchange for a utility infielder and a relief pitcher.

But it was the boxes of puffed rice that got me to thinking how decades ago I got swindled in a real estate deal.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “You mean, Lare, you were caught up in Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal casino mess?” Nope. I’m talking about something much more sinister than that: the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company affair.

If you were a kid back in the early days of television, on Thursday evenings you may have watched CBS’s adventure series called “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.”

“Sergeant Preston” was set in the 1890s gold rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Sergeant William Preston was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was always accompanied by his Alaskan Malamute dog named ‘Yukon King,’ who was just as smart as Lassie and, being Canadian, more polite and apologetic than Rin Tin Tin. Preston also had his horse ‘Rex.’ Rex was, as I remember, undistinguished intellectually, thus nothing like ‘Trigger.’ Preston wore the classic tan Mountie hat, red tunic, blue pants with a yellow stripe, knee-high English riding boots, Sam Browne belt, and black gauntlets that came up to his elbows. He was charged with protecting the folks in places such as Dawson and Whitehorse from the outlaws and ne’er-do-wells who inevitably accompany gold rushes.

The series was sponsored by the Quaker Oats Company, which, in addition to oatmeal, manufactured puffed wheat and puffed rice, cereals it proudly proclaimed were “shot from guns” because they actually were during the manufacturing process. 

This was the golden age of cereal box giveaways. Trinkets often were inserted into the boxes. At other times, the customer had to send in a proof of purchase, such as a box top, to receive the promotional item. 

Somewhere along the way an ad agency decided Quaker Oats should offer something that would entice customers to buy Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice while at the same time promoting the “Sergeant Preston” television series. They came up with the idea of a land give-away. 

Quaker bought just over 19 acres of land in the Yukon Territory of Canada for $1,000 US. Nineteen acres is more than 119 million square inches. Quaker printed up 21 million deeds, each for one square inch of the land. Then in a legal maneuver Quaker transferred the land to a shell company, the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company, which became the owner and manager of the land and deeds.

At first customers had to mail in a form along with a box top to get a deed. However, the state of Ohio issued a ruling that Quaker could not send customers the deeds in exchange for a box top until it became licensed to sell land in a foreign country. Thereafter Quaker just included the deeds in the boxes of cereal.

My brother and I had at least three or four of the deeds, and we often speculated on how we would, first, get to the Yukon, wherever that was — we were kind of vague on geography — and then find our land and strike it rich prospecting for gold.

This wasn’t the first time Quaker Oats tried such a scheme. About 50 years earlier, it had included coupons in its oatmeal boxes that could be redeemed for deeds to ten-foot-square lots in a 15-acre parcel of land in Milford, Connecticut. People claimed the deeds, which were legitimate, and began paying miniscule amounts of property taxes to the town, but because the tiny “oatmeal lots” had to be cobbled together to allow anyone to build a house, the subdivision never came to be.

And, on investigation, it turns out the Klondike deeds were really a scam worthy of Erik the Red and his Greenland escapades centuries earlier. In their advertising in newspapers, Quaker proclaimed that deed holders would actually “own” one square inch of land in the Yukon, but the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company never registered the deeds, so they were not legally binding. Also, the deeds never included the mineral rights on the land. We ate all that puffed rice for nothing!

I don’t know what happened to my deeds, but the notion that I “owned” three or four square inches of the Yukon never left my memory. As far as the Great Klondike Big Inch Land Company was concerned, the Canadian government foreclosed on the land in 1965 because the company failed to pay $37.20 in back taxes. The next year the company was dissolved.

It is rumored that my three or four square inches of Yukon Territory are now part of the Dawson City Golf Course.

But I guess that’s what you can expect from a company that once aired television ads depicting a Quaker firing a cannon, even if it only shot puffed rice.

As Sergeant Preston would say to the dog at the conclusion of each episode, “Well, King, this case is closed.”