Thursday, December 31, 2009

Many Thanks!

We'd like to end this year by extending our sincere thanks to everyone who helped make our first seven months a great success. Next year should be even bigger and better for the museum!

Stay tuned to this blog for an exciting announcement about a VERY special car that we are planning to exhibit starting in 2010. We also plan on showing off some new arrivals, finishing more of our exhibit panels, rotating some beautiful new vintage outfits out onto the floor, developing some fun hands-on displays, and hosting a very exciting old-car event at Wedgewood Resort next year. If you love old cars and have always wanted to travel (or return) to Alaska, 2010 would be an excellent year to do so (helpful hint: check out the low introductory airfares to Fairbanks on Frontier Airlines that start in May)!

If you have ideas or suggestions for our museum, please let us know. We hope to see you all in 2010!

Have a happy new year,
The Pit Crew

Monday, December 28, 2009

Heine-Velox Update 2

Below is a link to a short video of the Weidely V-12 engine from our 1921 Heine-Velox running prior to being removed from the chassis. This car is being restored at Allan Schmidt's in Escondido CA (Horseless Carriage Restoration). It is our intent to have it ready for the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance show next August, so you might want to put that event on your schedule to see its first showing (assuming our apllication is approved by the Concours committee). This is one of only four Heine-Veloxes that exist today, and I think it is the most attractive of them all. We were glad to see that the engine would still run prior to removing it from the car. Enjoy!


Monday, December 21, 2009

Cold Weather Driving - Then & Now

A few days ago the temperature dropped  to  –37º F (–38º C)  in Fairbanks. While we aren’t fond of venturing out in the extreme cold in our modern cars, imagine how demanding it was for Fairbanks motorists a century ago. First, after the day’s use all the car's coolant would have been drained and taken inside, engine oil as well, and the battery if it had one. In the morning both the coolant (a mixture of alcohol and water) and the oil would be heated up on the wood stove. The battery would be placed in the car first, then the heated oil, and last one would slowly pour in the heated coolant. After a few minutes to allow for the warm fluids to warm the engine, one would attempt to start the car and if successful let it warm up some.

Meantime there would be a soap stone or metal heater on the stove warming up, or a “modern foot warmer”  that held hot coals, that would be taken out with all the bundled up passengers going on the drive. Usually the warmer was placed on the floor in the rear of the car and lap blankets were placed over the passengers’ legs, allowing the heat to rise and keep everyone comfy.  The luckiest folks had good heavy fur coats, fur hats and mukluks to help keep them warm. A few cars were also equipped with winter sides, like the Franklin pictured above (photographed in Fox, AK in 1908).

After the car was started and folks were loaded in, one might think it was a breeze from this point.  But, consider that there were no roads, just trails that were not plowed or maintained, so tire chains were usually required and a snow shovel carried just in case. Tires in the early days did not have much traction, especially the balloon tires that were smooth and had no tread at all. When it became cold, the tires became very hard and had no flexibility to help with traction. They were also very susceptible to cracking and actually breaking the beads. Transmissions and rear differentials were very stiff because of the W600 oil that was used in them, and the wheel bearing grease also became very stiff and at times would cause the engine to die or stall when first trying to get it to move.

Upon arriving at the destination and, if planning to stay for more than an hour or two, one would have to once again drain all fluids and take in the battery. This ritual was required so that you could get the car started when it was time to leave again. So today, we northern motorists can be thankful that we have engine heaters, cars with good heaters, heated garages and remote start systems to make life more enjoyable. We also enjoy roads that are paved and maintained, tires with good rubber and radial designs for traction, and arctic grade lubes so that cars can function daily with very little if any problems.

To see more photos of Alaska's first "ice-road truckers," come to the museum! 


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Snow Devils!

In my last post I profiled what may be the oldest vehicle at our museum. Now for the oddest. We have on loan from the Pioneer Air Museum a Snow Motor, also known as a Snow Devil. The bizarre contraption consists of a Fordson tractor mounted on two revolving cylinders or “screws.” The revolving screws pulled the tractor across snow or even bare ground. Each one was controlled by a separate clutch that engaged depending on the position of the steering wheel.

The machine was marketed as the Armstead Snow-Motor, and there is an awesome promotional video made by the company at The video shows a Snow-Motor zipping across deep snow, making donuts, mowing down underbrush, pulling loads and illustrating how much better it is at negotiating deep snow than a rather unfortunate horse. The video also includes footage of a set of screws attached to a automobile--anyone know what kind of car it is?

Three Fordson Snow-Motors were brought to Alaska to haul supplies for a 1926 transpolar flight attempt from North America to Europe by Sir Hubert Wilkins and Ben Eielson. The plan called for the Snow-Motors to pull ten freight sleds bearing 15 tons of aviation fuel and oil, radio equipment and gas for the Snow-Motors. It turns out that the revolving cylinders didn’t work so well in interior Alaska’s cold, dry snow. The machines were also very slow and tremendous gas pigs. We have a photo from the expedition in the museum, as well as footage of a Snow-Motor pulling one of the expedition planes.

We’re pleased to be able to display one of these curious vehicles outside our museum and thank the Pioneer Air Museum for the loan, which included an extra set of screws. The Valdez Heritage Museum also has a set of Snow-Motor screws, apparently from a Fordson tractor owned by the Museum of Alaska Transportation in Wasilla. If anyone knows the whereabouts of the third tractor, please let us know.

P.S. Check out our more recent blog post about Fordson Snow Motors at

2/23/10 Update: We just bought a Fordson tractor, so now we have some missing parts to get this Snow Motor running. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Santa's Sleigh Lives Here

Perhaps the oldest vehicle in our collection is this 19th century Albany cutter sleigh. James Goold of Albany, NY developed the Albany cutter sleigh around 1833. His design was replicated over time and it eventually became the second most popular winter passenger vehicle in the United States (after the Portland cutter sleigh). The sporty Albany cutter was so fashionable that Kris Kringle was usually depicted riding in one!

The Albany cutter, also called a swan- or swell-body sleigh, is distinguished by its dramatically upswept runners that match the curvature of the carriage. Unlike other sleighs, the Albany cutter’s body and runners were built as one unit. Their elegant shape was obtained by steaming the wood components, a lengthy process that required extensive skill and craftsmanship.

Albany cutters were more highly decorated than other sleighs, frequently displaying eagle heads on the upper edge of the dash (as on our sleigh) and custom paintings dictated by the owner. The Fountainhead Museum's Albany cutter was meticulously restored by an Amish craftsman and pinstriped by hand. The vignettes, or ornamental designs, on it were painted by a Mennonite craftswoman. It's amazing to me that someone could paint such elegant lines without help from stencils, lasers or computers!

This month you can sneak a free peek at this lovely sleigh in the Wedgewood Resort Visitor Center. Keep in mind, though, that Santa has reserved it for Christmas Eve!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Heine-Velox Update 1

Greetings -

While we continue to work on the Stevens-Duryea I thought I'd post a quick update on the progress made on our 1921 Heine-velox.  A link to our last Heine update can be found here -

Right now we're going through the decision process of what color to paint the vehicle. 

Here's an original photo of the Heine-Velox parked in front of the Heine Piano Company showroom in San Francisco. In all the original (B & W) photos we have, of this vehicle as well as the Limo and one sedan, they all appear to be a gray primer color or  perhaps not painted at all but bare metal.  The story is that Heine planned to paint the vehicles whatever color the new owners wanted, but he never actually sold any of the five that were built.
Here's a shot of the 'before' restoration.  It was not in too bad a shape, structurally, but needed a lot of love, as well as a new paint and upholstery.  My first thought was to keep it true to the original and leave it bare metal.  But that, of course, would be terribly impractical and painting it gray would not be flattering.  The Harrah's collection painted ours in this off white color that isn't too bad, but it doesn't have the heir of luxury befitting of this massive vehicle. We are currently leaning toward a Chocolate brown body & wheels, black fenders & a tan top.  But the debate continues.  :-)

In describing the development of the Heine-Velox automobile, the company issued this statement -

"Heine Velox Motorcars in Beauty have been pronounced the CLASSIC CREATION of the century.  The object of constructing this car was to manufacture an automobile superior to anything that had ever been built, about twenty years of thought and experimental work was carried on before the first model was completed."  It goes on to list 13 features which were highly advanced for the day and some even revolutionary.  We probably won't get to see the Heine here in Fairbanks until the end of Summer, 2010.  But keep an eye out here on the blog for updates.  We'll plan to post another once it get's painted.