Sunday, January 31, 2010

Historic Alaska Videos Up & Running!

We just finished setting up three more video monitors that display archival movie footage of cars in 1930s Alaska. The videos are extremley fun and educational to watch, and well worth a trip to the museum just to see them.

One video is called "Early Motoring Around Alaska" and includes footage from Fairbanks, Valdez, Anchorage and other Alaska towns. Look close and you'll see an American Austin taxi in one of them! Another highlights the 4-month motorcycle trip made by Slim Williams and John Logan from Fairbanks to Seattle--several years BEFORE the Alaska Highway was built. The third video shows travel along the Richardson Highway, including portages by ferry across the Tanana River and a stop at Sourdough Roadhouse. All of these really make you appreciate how easy it is now to drive around Alaska.

Come on over to the museum and take a look!


P.S. Many thanks to the Alaska Film Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Elmer Rasmuson Library for supplying these wonderful video clips!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

1928 Pierce-Arrow Coming Along

We had another great work party on Tuesday with lots of work being done and projects getting finished. In this photo I'm giving the exhaust on the Pierce-Arrow a final fitting. With a fresh engine and running gear, it's beginning to look like a finished project! We still have a few details to complete, but it should be running very soon.

Ron Allen, one of our great pit crew members, puts the final buff and polish on the rumble seat lid. Lots of work went into polishing and cleaning the paint up on this car, as it was spotted and faded out pretty bad, but good polish compound mixed with a lot of sweat made it look a  whole lot better.

Paul Tekin, also on our pit crew, finishes up the detail on rear of car and mounts the license plate.

Thanks guys for all the help! And to think they do this for fun, and a free lunch. :-)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Our T Has Skis!

Snowmobiles--or "snowmachines," as we in the far north like to call them--are commonplace in Alaska. The modern-day snowmobile was developed in the mid-1950s, not long before Alaska achieved statehood. However, vehicles designed for traveling on snow appeared decades earlier (see our Snow Devils post last month for one example).

I'm not sure who the first person was to come up with the idea of rigging up a car with skis and tracks, but Virgil White of New Hampshire gets credit for patenting the first conversion kit in 1917. He copyrighted the term "snowmobile" and began marketing his kits to Ford dealers in 1922. Competitors soon followed with their own conversion kits. These included the Snow Flyer, of which we have an example on this 1917 Ford Model T depot hack.

Our Snow Flyer came from Montana and is featured in a film called "The Incredible Model T Snowmobile Rediscovered." Willy is presently looking for some new wheels for it so he can get it running and out on the snow this spring.

Snowmobile conversion kits for cars were popular in the 1920s, but demand dropped as the use of snow plows increased. Still, the idea has made sporadic attempts at a comeback, as evidenced by this snow-going Metropolitan I found on the Internet...

...and this hideous contraption:

 We think our Snow Flyer is much better looking! We'll let you know when she's ready for her maiden Alaska run.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Cool Air-Cooled Cars!

While visiting a collector in Tuscon, he recomended that we stop and visit the H.H. Franklin Museum they have there in town. So, after several hours of visiting with the collector and admiring his cars (another story, another time), we decided to go to the museum. It is not listed on the good old GPS (which also failed to locate the address) and is on a dirt road with only a mail box to give away its location. It began as Thomas Hubbard's private collection and was put into a foundation upon his death. It is a great collection of cars of which this 1931 Model 153 town car is one of the nicest cars I saw there.

This town car was H.H. Franklin's official company vehicle. It's a great looking custom-bodied Franklin with a Dietrich body that was very nicely restored.  If you are ever in Tucson and want to see some nice Frankins, take the time to find this museum. Make sure you check their website for days and hours, as their hours are limited.


P.S. When we left there the next morning we found our car covered in frost and ice and snow on the country side. ""ITS SUPPOSED TO BE WARM,"" was Wilma's comment......

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


While visiting with Allan and Beth Schmidt at their restoration facility in Escondido, CA last week, Wilma and I had the honor of being invited to attend a monthly gathering of great minds that has been ongoing for many years. Allan and Beth have been hosting a dinner and open meeting at the restoration shop every 1st Tuesday of the month. Folks come from all over the country to attend these get-togethers, and if one could only capture the knowledge and experience that was there we could fill several books. In the foreground is our Rochester steam car project we laid out for folks to see and comment on. It got lots of attention, as there were a few steam guys there.

Beth and Wilma spent the day cooking up a storm, and we had a great dinner that consisted of a large roast, mashed potatoes, carrots, gravy and fresh dinner rolls, followed by a great dessert. We had planned on leaving there on Monday, but decided to stay for this gathering and left on Wednesday instead. It was worth it to meet these folks and gain a little more knowledge as well.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Skinny on Cyclecars

Have you ever seen a cuter rear view of a car than this (and can you name the make and model?)
You're looking at the back end of a cyclecar, which in America was defined as a vehicle with four wheels, a narrow tread (distance between the left and right wheels), and an engine no bigger than 71 cubic inches. These skinny, lightweight cars were little more than a motorcycle with four wheels and a chain drive. Wheelbases rarely exceeded 100", and the bodies were so narrow that the passengers usually sat in tandem, rather than side-by-side.

The first cyclecar was likely the 1910 French Bedelia, made by the Bourbeau et Devaux Co. of Paris. While they became hugely popular in Europe, the cyclecar boom didn't last long in America (roughly 1913-1915). Cyclecars were an inexpensive and efficient alternative to the typical autos of the day, but they had few features and were often poorly constructed, flimsy machines. They also couldn't compete with the inexpensive Model T in price, comfort and reliability.

Most American cyclecars had whimsical names, including Dudley Bug, Zip, Imp, Cricket and my favorite, Oh-We-Go. The Woods Mobilette was touted as America's first cyclecar, and we are delighted to have this 1914 Woods Mobilette Model 3 tandem roadster on display. It has a 69 cu. in. 4-cylinder engine, gets an incredible 35 miles to the gallon and can allegedly go 35 mph. I think pieces would bounce off if we went that fast, however. I also wouldn't want to go faster than 15 mph around a corner on its 36" tread, as it felt very tippy the one time I drove it. Still, I love this car and it's one of the favorites of many museum visitors. Everyone chuckles when they learn that brakes were optional on the Woods Mobilette, costing $10 more if you wanted them added!

You can see the Woods Mobilette in action in this video.


P.S. If you know of an Imp cyclecar for sale, let us know!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Fine Pierce-Arrow Collection

Here are some pictures of a private collection of Pierce-Arrows I had the privilege of seeing while in LA last week. I am not sure, but it may be one of the largest private collections of Pierces. It was a great collection with lots of original cars, and the owner was gracious enough to make a water side cover for our Model 81 Pierce as well.

While going to tours and shows, one must travel in style. The owner's tow vehicle is a very nice '31 Pierce sedan with a cummins turboed diesel engine installed. It all looks stock when the hood is closed, but it has lots of towing power and gets great fuel mileage. There is less that 1/2 inch clearance from the engine to the hood when closed. Now that's class!


Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Day with Jay Leno

January 2nd found us visiting with Jay Leno at his Big Dog Garage in LA. We looked at all his cars and motorcycles, he started up an early Autocar truck and had George, one of his mechanics finish tuning it and had it running at 76 RPM.  Here we are talking about his 30 HP White Steamer, discussing the merits of putting in a new gas tank and what he used for it. Allan and Beth Schmidt joined us and made it a very fun trip from their place in Escondido to LA, and we met with his brother Arnold who runs his own restoration business in Valencia just north of LA. He is working on some very interesting cars in his shop including a couple early Lincolns. He is into steam cars, and specializes in Doble Steamers, and may be a candidate to come to Alaska to help with the steam cars we have. Jay was very entertaining and a pleasure to talk to, very willing to share any information we need for our collection.   Thanks Jay for your time.                                                                Willy, Wilma, Allan and Beth