Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Minneapolis Tri-Car in Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

While searching for information about the first motorcycles in Alaska, I came across an interesting ad in Juneau's Alaska Daily Dispatch newspaper. Dated June 20, 1912, the ad was for a "Minneapolis Tri-Car Delivery Van." Its dealer, William Merchant, was the agent for Pierce and Indian motorcycles. He was also the agent for Ford, Overland, and Garford automobiles.

The Minneapolis Motorcycle Company advertised the Tri-Car as "a throughly reliable, dependable and guaranteed car," not "a motorcycle equipped with a makeshift van.” But, it was essentially a three-wheeled, 5 hp single-cylinder motorcycle with a storage box mounted between the two front wheels. Joe Michaelson designed the Minneapolis motorcycle engine, and he and brothers Jack, Walter, and Anton developed its sister motorcycle, the Michaelson.

Walter is credited with designing the Michaelson Tri-Car, as it was more commonly known. An excellent description of its engine, transmission, and starter can be found here. It was advertised as being cheaper, lighter, and easier to maintain than an automobile or horse-and-wagon.

It appears that Juneau resident Harry Raymond bought the “one-lunger” Tri-Car, which was well known for its noisy cough. “When it started up the street the sourdoughs took to the hills for the noise it emitted was like nothing ever heard before in Alaska,” according to one reporter. “Mothers used to scare their children by even mentioning the ‘terrible monster’.”

The Tri-Car’s next owner used it to deliver ice, “and with age its explosive qualities in the matter of sound only increased.” It must have been quite a spectacle in Juneau!

The Tri-Car will be featured in the museum's soon-to-be-published book, "Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers."

Are you coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In the Shop: Fageol Safety Coach Update

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We're slowly making progress on stabilizing the Fageol Safety Coach that once carried passengers into Mt. McKinley National Park. We have it in the carpentry shop at the Fountainhead Development corporate office in south Fairbanks, rather than at our shop in the museum. Below are some comparison photos taken on January 7 and March 29.

Brad recently drilled out all the corroded screws from the multiple door pieces and window frames. Pete has been busy building a new floor and a framework to support the sides and top. He is a MASTER at woodworking, and it's been impressive to watch his progress.

Most of the sheet metal was in good enough shape to reuse, which is remarkable considering that the coach was parked outside unprotected for many decades. With the exception of the wood and a new top, most of the the bus will remain original. 

We have finish trim parts on order and the top material is en route, so we are pretty much on schedule to have the coach to display at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge this summer. 

Many thanks to Pete for his great work!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A "Fat Man" Steering Wheel

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

One of the things I noticed when I first climbed into the driver's seat of an antique car was that I didn't need to move the seat so I could reach the pedals. That was a good thing, since the seats in early cars weren't adjustable. It was not a good thing if you were tall, which in the early 1900s seemed to be anything over 5'8" or so. The steering columns and wheels were also fixed in place. Until collapsable steering columns became available in the late 1960s, drivers were at risk of being impaled on the column in a crash.

The rigid steering wheel also posed problems, not just for people "of goodly proportions," but really for anyone entering or exiting the driver's seat because of the wheel's large size. Steering wheels designed to solve the latter issue became a popular aftermarket option in the 1910s. Nicknamed "fat man wheels," they could be rotated out of the way by pressing on a lever. Depending on the manufacturer, the wheel either tilted up or to the right. To read about some examples, check out this article from Hemmings Motor News.

We recently received a donation of a Spencer fat man wheel, which Willy is demonstrating here. In the early 1920s, the Spencer Lock Tilting Steering Wheel was made to fit on Ford, Dodge, Overland, Maxwell, Star, Gray, and Chevrolet cars. The "spiders" (spokes) were "attractively designed die cast aluminum, highly polished."

The Spencer steering wheel also featured a lock and key. When locked, the steering wheel spun but would not turn the car's wheels. It could be locked when the wheel was in either the down or tilted positions. The Spencer Manufacturing Company boasted that this theft-prevention feature would pay for the steering wheel by reducing an owner's insurance rate. Printed in the wheel's center is the slogan "It Locks. It Tilts." We hope to put this wheel on display 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. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the Road for a Bus and a Buick

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I recently took a quick trip to the Las Vegas area to scope out a few vehicles. After grabbing a rental car at the Vegas airport I headed for Sun City, Arizona, to check out this 1931 Buick Series 90 roadster.

You can see that it's a very nice car. I looked it over thoroughly and took it for a drive around the area. The detail throughout looks correct and very nicely done, and the car would be a nice addition to anyone's collection. We decided it wasn't a perfect fit for our museum, so watch for it to show up in a future auction.

While in Sun City, I had the opportunity to meet a few other collectors and see their toys. I had a good time, but my trip was too rushed. This area has a lot of other automotive treasures that I would like to see when I have more time in the future. Maybe then my camera battery will not fail me, like the darn thing did on this trip.

One of the main reasons for my trip was to check out the collection from Jim Rogers' Sunbelt Classic and Antique Auto Museum being sold by Mecum Auctions. I had never heard of Jim Rogers and his collection of more than 230 cars. His museum in Las Vegas was not open to the general public, but he did allow events to be held there.

The collection's 1926 REO Speedwagon bus was of interest to us, as we would love to transport visitors around Wedgewood Resort in a neat old bus or coach during the summer. The REO was a nice, older restoration that had deteriorated over the last 25 years or so. Much of the exterior had suffered from the dry climate, which caused the wood to crack and delaminate. The bus would require major wood work and a new paint job to make it presentable for a few more years.

It doesn't appear the bus windows were made of safety glass, so that's something else we would have had to replace to make it a passenger vehicle.

The engine compartment looked very tired, as if nothing had run for a least 25 years. The water pump was about half made up of JB Weld to seal the corrosion of the housing and tubing. I had no way to know if anything worked, or when the engine had last run. None of the cars at the auction were started, only parked with photos displayed on a screen. The REO sold for more than twice what I thought it was worth for its condition, and hopefully its new owner will give it the TLC it needs. Someday we will find the right bus for our use.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort.