Monday, July 21, 2014

A Dose of Hendersons

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Among the rare cars in our collection is a 1913-1914 Henderson Model 66, made by the Henderson Motor Company of Indianapolis. It has been in storage since the day it arrived in Fairbanks back in May of 2009. The car needs a lot of work to make it presentable, but we haven't decided just what that work will entail. Our challenge focuses on the body (from the doors on back) and rear deck of the car, neither of which are correct. With some sleuthing we found out why.

The car originally had a touring body that apparently was destroyed when the owner's son lit the back seat on fire. The damaged Henderson was then acquired by a farrier who cut off the back end and made the car into a pickup. Fewer customers had been bringing horses to him for shoeing, but now he could travel to his clients and maintain his business.

David Robert Kniskern later found the Henderson, complete with the farrier's equipment, in an area called Fish House near Johnston, NY. According to Kniskern's daughter-in-law, it was sold by a dealer named Bob Smith who handled used and obsolete autos. Kniskern, whose initials are on the car's doors, later sold the Henderson to Walt Myers, owner of the Bridgewater Automobile Museum in NY.

Myers converted the Henderson to the "speedster" shown here and then parked it behind chicken wire in a dusty stall inside his museum. Years later it was purchased by J. Parker Wickham, who sold it to us in 2008.

Thinking we might want to replicate a correct touring body, I set out several years ago to find other Hendersons and their owners. The bright red 1913 opera coupe at right is part of the Bill Evans Collection in San Diego.

I located a second car in California--a beautiful blue 1913 Henderson Model 56 5-passenger touring car owned by Walker Woolever in Santa Cruz. The owner kindly sent some pictures and said we were welcome to come take photos and measurements of his car.

The third Henderson owner I found--the appropriately named Bill Henderson--lives in Ontario, Canada. Bill had seen our Henderson in the Bridgewater Museum and recounted what Myers had told him about its history. Bill also sent photos of his 1913 Henderson roadster, along with a copy of a hard-to-find operating manual.

Last week, Bill and Sharon Henderson visited Fairbanks during the start of their Alaska cruise tour. I picked them up at their hotel and took them to the warehouse where our Henderson is stored. Looks like I should have dusted it first! Regardless, we had a great visit and I enjoyed seeing photos of Bill's restored Henderson and the other cars in his and Sharon's collection.

I'm told that there is only one other known Henderson besides ours and the three others shown here. Does anyone know where it is located?

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!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Australian Builds Reproduction of Alaska's First Car

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Don Langley of New South Wales, Australia, recently finished building a replica of Robert Sheldon's 1905 runabout. The Sheldon car was the first automobile built and driven in Alaska, and is on display in our museum,courtesy of the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Don's story is a fun one, and we appreciate that he allowed us to share it.

In 2012, Don had just finished building a Daimlan motorbike and wanted to build a four-wheeled vehicle. He found the story about Bobby Sheldon's car on the internet, which piqued his interest. "He was my kind of guy," said Don. "And to make that car, without ever having see a car--only pictures--far less driven one, was a marvelous achievement. I figured I could do that also. I would make a replica of his car using only a picture.

"Being an old chippy (woodworker), the chassis and engine compartment presented no problems and I made those components as close to possible to the dimensions given to me by Willy (Vinton). The engine is a Tecumseh 13 HP from a ride-on-mower and the differential, with the built in gear box, likewise. The axle assembly incorporated a four forward and reverse gears, a disc brake component and a main drive pulley for a V belt. To the engine (it had a vertical shaft) I fitted a centrifugal clutch, with V belt drive pulley.

"In the engine compartment I fitted a vertical steering column in a steel frame, a fuel tank, and battery compartment. The steering tiller works well and it is light to steer when moving. As for carbide lamps for headlights, I found such items impossible to acquire with having to mortgage my home, so I found some gas headlights which looked similar.

"The seating was a bit of a problem. Bar stools of satisfactory shape were not available. So I made a frame and upholstered it myself. It does not conform exactly to the original one but it was the best I could manage.

"The wooden wheels I designed and made myself, although I have no lathe, so a friend turned the spokes for me on his. I fitted steel rims to the perimeter, shrinking them on, and then glued solid rubber to the steel rim. The wheels look a bit chunkier than on the original car but I did that on purpose."

The project took Don over eight months to complete, and he drove it just prior to his 80th birthday. He named the car Isabella in honor of his wife Isabel, who graciously agreed to all the time and costs involved. We have never been able to determine the name of "the girl" for whom Sheldon built the car to impress. But, there was a girl in Skagway back then named Belle Everest and Sheldon did mention his girl was "the belle of the town," so maybe Don is on to something here!

Don admits the car isn't an exact replica and refers to it as a "Mark II Sheldon." A lack of information on details like the original transmission, locating items such as the same barstools and buggy wheels Sheldon salvaged, and limitations of time and money make building an exact replica impossible. Plus, Don enjoyed doing what Bobby Sheldon did--scrounging for local and readily available materials and adapting them to suit or making them himself.

Still, Don has built a great reproduction of the Sheldon car--AND it runs! Don sent us a video of it being driven and we will post it on our YouTube Channel soon. Many thanks to Don for letting us share what we think is a "marvelous achievement."

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!

Monday, July 7, 2014

New Acquisitions: Franklin and Kelsey

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We recently added two interesting automobiles to our Brass Era collection: a 1905 Franklin (right) and a ca. 1911 Kelsey. We now have 88 vehicles in the collection, not counting our antique bicycles.
The Franklin is outfitted with a rear-entry tonneau and is known as a cross-engine Franklin (as compared to our 1907 barrel hood Franklin and the later Renault hood, shovel-nose hood, horse-collar hood, and other styles of Franklin). It carries a 12 HP, 4-cylinder engine that is air-cooled. This Franklin has been parked in storage in Washington state since 1990 and will need some work to get it running again. It will arrive in Fairbanks this week.

This Kelsey Motorette is the first three-wheeled car in our collection. It was sold to us as a 1908 model, but  Kelseys weren't introduced until late 1910 so we'll have to do some research to determine its production year. Only about 200 Kelsey Motorettes were produced, but it's more than just a rare and unusual car. The story of Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey and his automobiles is a colorful one (culminating with the "Skycar" helicopter in the '60s), and I look forward to researching it and condensing it onto a sign for the museum.

This Kelsey was powered by a 2-stroke, 2-cylinder water-cooled engine (the first models were air cooled). The engine drove the single rear wheel, with steering controlled by a tiller. Despite their tendency to tip over on corners, we look forward to getting the Kelsey running again. It needs a lot of mechanical work and freshening, so we have sent it to Murray Motor Car in Monroe, Washington to be evaluated.

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!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Owen Magnetic Update

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

In the fall of 2012 we sent our 1917 Owen Magnetic Model M-25 touring car south to Murray Motor Car in Monroe, Washington, for some work. The Owen Magnetic was one of the most unusual and technologically advanced cars of its time, and was essentially an ancestor to today’s hybrid cars. It was most notable for its attempt to defeat the problem of shifting gears by means of an electromagnetic transmission designed by Justus B. Entz.

The Owen Magnetic’s drive mechanism had no direct connection between the internal-combustion engine (A) and the rear wheels. Instead, the engine powered a generator attached to the rear of the engine's crankshaft and caused a horseshoe-shaped magnet (B) to spin. This imparted energy to a steel armature (C) fitted into the air space inside the whirling magnet, causing it to spin via magnetic imbalance. This in turn induced current in the armature (E) of a conventional electric motor (D), which provided the energy to turn the drive shaft and propel the engine's rear wheels.

This continuously variable transmission produced an unlimited number of forward speeds, leading to the Owen Magnetic being marketed as “The Car of a Thousand Speeds.” The transmission, which also served as an electric starter, regenerative brake, and battery charger, was controlled by a small lever on the steering wheel. Speed was regulated by a separate lever.

The Owen Magnetic was one of the most expensive U.S. automobiles produced at a time when the average car cost about $1,000 and a Ford Model T cost less than $400. Its exceptionally smooth, quiet ride and beautiful coachwork by Baker, Rauch & Lang appealed to wealthy clientele, especially those who had trouble shifting. Celebrities, including Italian opera star Enrico Caruso, were drawn to the elegance and smooth operation of this “aristocrat of motor cars."
What color should we paint the wheels?

The top of the block on our Owen Magnetic was cracked into the water jacket, so we sent the car back in the truck that delivered our Biddle and McFarlan. We figured while it was in Al and Paul Murray's hands we'd have them repair some body cracks and repaint the car a dark gray. By the time they are finished it will be in show condition, and we plan to display it at the Pacific Northwest Concours at the LeMay Museum before sending it back north.

Of the 974 Owen Magnetics built from 1915 to 1921, only about a dozen are known to survive. We acquired this one from J. Parker Wickham, who had purchased it from Harrah's Museum.

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!