Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Charles Bunnell's Excellent Adventure

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

This photo was taken in Chitina, Alaska, on September 11, 1914. Robert Sheldon is standing on the far right. Next to him is Charles E. Bunnell, who had recently been appointed U.S. District Judge of the 4th Division by President Woodrow Wilson. Bunnell had hired Sheldon to drive him north from Valdez to Fairbanks so he could campaign for Alaska's Territorial delegate seat in Congress.

Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson
Notice that the car 's body has been removed, and that two wooden chairs have taken the place of the regular seat. Sheldon was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to make it to Fairbanks because of deep mud, so to lighten the load he removed the car’s body and seats, and then strapped two barroom chairs to the chassis. 

“I’ve never sat in a barroom chair before,” growled the judge, “but I suppose there’s always a first time.” 

By the time they reached Paxson, Sheldon and Bunnell had endured two days and nights of steady rain. Five inches of snow greeted them in Isabel Pass. In places the mud was so deep that they had to be pulled through by a team of horses. They didn't arrive in Fairbanks until the evening of September 17. Bunnell lost the election to Judge James Wickersham, but later served as the first president of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now the University of Alaska). While there he played a pivotal role in bringing Sheldon's homemade runabout to the University's museum.

Imagine riding on a wooden chair in an open car--for seven days in crummy weather! The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner wrote this about Sheldon's and Bunnell's drive:

Big Trail Has No Terrors for The Auto Driver and His Little Ford. It's Stripped for Action.
The weather may storm and threaten, rain and snow, all of which it did this trip. Mud may get axle deep, bridges may break down, creeks may overflow their banks, all of which was true this time. But Sheldon seems to beat the game any way it is played. He dismantled his machine before leaving Chitina, saving several hundred pounds of weight, and all roads have to give way to him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Replica of Alaska's First Winning Race Car

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The replica we've been building of Bobby Sheldon's first race car is almost finished, and the crew that has been working on it took it out yesterday for a spin.
Most of the parts that we used to build this replica were ones I gathered from around the state, so all the parts are of Alaska origin. A good portion came from the Nome area. Nome had a Ford dealer in the early days, and had lots of unsold new parts as well as a large assortment of used items. 

Long-time Fairbanks resident George Clayton flew for Wein Airlines, and he would collect and haul all kinds of items back to town from various villages. George always kept a good inventory of what and where the items originated. He would love to talk about them but would never sell any! Prior to his passing, though, he held an auction and a good amount of his Ford parts were sold to Bruce Campbell in Anchorage. Bruce passed all his collection of Model T parts on to me, and this is where most of the pieces came from for this project. We are grateful that George Clayton collected and saved these parts, and also thank Bruce for allowing me to be able to keep them in circulation to help others with their projects. If you need any T parts, let me know.

Photo of Bobby Sheldon before winning the first
automobile race in Fairbanks in 1917.
Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson
We still need a hood from a Model T to complete the replica, so if you have an old “rough” one, please get in touch with me.

Many thanks to the gang of docents that have been involved in the building of the replica from old and sometimes rusty pieces that I hauled in to the museum. Watch for this fun car driving around Wedgewood Resort this summer.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Be sure to stop by the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum this month and check out the interesting selection of gifts in our shop. There is no admission fee just to shop, although you might want to see our newest displays in the museum and climb into the 1911 Everitt for a fun Christmas photo. We're open on Sundays from noon to 6 PM, and will also be open on December 9 from 5-9 PM.

On December 9 from 5-7 pm we'll be hosting a book-signing with Sandy Jamieson and Nancy DeWitt, illustrator and author of our new Alaska's Automobile Pioneer: Ride Along With Bobby Sheldon Coloring Book. We're very excited about its release, which features 18 whimsical illustrations and text highlighting Bobby's inventions and adventures in the Last Frontier. Even adults will want to color some pages! The book is a bargain at $5.95. If you can't make it into the museum on a Sunday, the books are available 24/7 at the Wedgewood Resort front desk.
Nancy will also be signing copies of our museum book, Alaska's Fountainhead Collection: Vintage Treads and Threads on December 9. Beautifully illustrated with over 280 photographs, this book highlights 46 of the museum's rarest cars, plus several historic fashion pieces and entertaining snapshots from Alaska's early motoring days. The book sells for $19.95.

We have a nice selection of other books, including ones featuring period fashions, cars to color, and old-fashioned paper dolls.

You'll find plenty of stocking stuffers in our gift shop, including the ever-popular finger magnet tool from Busted Knuckle Garage ($9.95), day passes to the museum ($10), key rings, bookmarks, magnets, mint boxes, coasters, lapel pins, and antique car earrings (all under $20). We also offer season passes, which are $40 for an individual and $60 for a family (up to 2 adults and 4 children).

We have several shirts to choose from, including standard t-shirts and ladies tops sparkling with Swarovski crystals. Hurry in for one of our popular "Too Bad..." shirts shown at right, or one featuring our 1920 Argonne, 1932 Chysler, or 1906 Pope-Toledo and 1907 White Steamer together. We also have shirts, ball caps, and knit hats with our Auburn logo embroidered on them.

Fashionistas will love our selection of scarves, beaded clutches, retro hats, and vintage-inspired jewelry. Our cloche hats have been especially popular with museum visitors this year.

We carry such a wide variety of necklaces, pins, bracelets, and earrings that ladies may want to come in and make a wish list for their secret shopper. Our newest additions feature Art Deco-inspired necklaces and earrings, all reasonably priced.

Finally, don't miss our die-cast cars, infant onesies, and custom-made copper ornaments. There is something for everyone here! Our books, shirts, hats and several other items can be purchased by phone--just call 907-450-2100 to inquire.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the Road: Skagway

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
I just returned from a quick trip to Skagway, where Bobby Sheldon built Alaska's first automobile and Martin Itjen operated his historic street car tour business.

Skagway is a quaint little town that sits on the water at the head of Taiya Inlet. Getting there from Fairbanks isn't easy. One either drives 1.5 days, passing through Canada en route, or flies to Juneau and then hops onto a ferry or small plane for a ride north up Lynn Canal. I opted for the latter.

I have to say that upon arriving in Skagway via Seaplanes Alaska, I have not been that cold in a good many years. It was 27 F with a 35 mph wind blowing from the northeast, right down the streets like a wind tunnel. It felt like I was in Prudhoe Bay!

Photo courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush
National Park, Rapuzzi Collection
To warm up, I went and examined the Martin Itjen "Street Car #1" for the National Park Service. The bus has a lot of history and character about it, and is in need of some work to preserve it for the long-term.

The street car is an interesting blend of parts. It sits on a 1908 Packard chassis, and the rear part of the body is from a horse-drawn omnibus. The current engine is a 1919 Dodge 4-cylinder with a 3-speed transmission coupled to the Packard differential. A lot of additions were made to this unique vehicle, which I will write about in a future post.

Photo courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush
National Park, Rapuzzi Collection
It would be nice to know the history of the Packard that Itjen used in this street car. We would also love to know the history of the Veerac truck (at right) that he used in an earlier rendition of Street Car #1, which also carried the omnibus body.

Skagway is a neat place to visit if you have not been there, but I would recommend that you go during the summer and avoid that nasty wind.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!