Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Elvis, Tupelo & The Leslie Special

by Nancy DeWitt

I just returned from the joint conference of the National Association of Automobile Museums and the Society of Automotive Historians in Tupelo, Mississippi. To say that Tupelo is proud that Elvis Presley was born there would be a tremendous understatement. From the Elvis impersonator and goodie bags to the tour of Elvis' birth place and the hardware store where he bought his first guitar, conference attendees were immersed in Elvis-mania the entire trip. I'm still giggling from it all.

The conference was outstanding and it was great to meet people from the various car museums around the country. I also enjoyed mingling with the historian crowd, which included folks like Kit Foster (who has a great blog at http://www.kitfoster.com/) and Maggie Walsh--writers whose work I've admired and used in my research. 

The highlight of the trip, of course, was touring the Tupelo Automobile Museum. Folks, if you ever wander down to the South, you must include a visit to this museum on your itinerary. They have over 100 cars on display in 120,000 square-feet of exhibit space and restoration bays. I found several cars we have in common (like Cartercar, Owen-Magnetic, Chalmers-Detroit, Hupmobile, Pierce-Arrow) and a lot we don't (e.g., Knox, Winton, Lozier, Saxon, Glide and the 1921 Wasp below).

The museum also has an extensive post-war collection that includes foreign makes like Lagonda, Bentley, Talbot Lago (my fave!) and Hispano Suiza. A nice surprise was this 1954 Mercury that founder Frank Spain purchased in Anchorage (note the plate with the 1994 tag) and drove all the way to Tupelo. Apparently the Mercury broke down in Whitehorse and Frank had to have a part Fed-Exed to him, but that's another story.

Naturally, the museum has a car once owned by Elvis, plus one of Liberace's former cars. There's also a shocking green dress once owned by Dolly Parton in the museum! Another treat was seeing this 1963 Leslie Special from the incredibly silly movie "The Great Race."

Go visit if you can--there's so much to see! Many thanks to the Tupleo Automobile Museum for hosting a superb conference, and to Tupelo for such fine southern hospitality. I enjoyed it all, y'all!

Check out our Facebook page for more photos from the Tupelo Auto Museum: http://bit.ly/cgyaRT 

Friday, March 26, 2010

The "Creamer's Car"

On March 23 we moved the 1910 Chalmers-Detroit model K into the shop to start some of the repair work that is needed on the car. It had a couple serious oil leak issues that we need to repair, as well as lot of smoke when it runs. Here is the engine as we begin removing it.

Part of our Tuesday volunteer day includes coffee and sometimes doughnuts, and as you can see, work never gets in the way of food. Here Paul Tekin, (eating doughnut), Jeff Creamer (center), and Rick Larrick ready the engine for removal from the car.

Here we have the engine out and on the table, tranmission removed and ready to begin inspection and disassembly. On the left is a newcomer to our group, Johnie Newman (retired school teacher learned to wear his hat from his students), Rick Larrick (center) and myself. We found most of the problems with this engine and will cover it in a later blog along with the repair methods used.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chickasha Swap Meet

If you're looking for hard-to find antique car parts, the annual Chickasha Swamp Meet in Oklahoma is the place to be in March. As you can see by this photo, folks bring trailer loads of parts that you can spend hours sifting through to find that one item that has been eluding you. You don't want to miss looking at any of them, because down under all of that may just be the one part you need.

This is looking down one row next to the main building. Some vendors lay out all of their items on tables and on the ground, while others leave them all in their trailer for you to be able to fish for the treasures.

I did find a few items and met with a lot of folks in the hobby of old cars from all ages. The weather was great for the first 2 days, then the storm hit and I spent over 3 hours sitting on the tarmack waiting for the plane to be de-iced, but that's another story for another time.


P.S. I'll be at the Bakersfield Swamp Meet in April looking for more treasures.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alaska's Most Treasured Car

Willy is off to the Chickasha Swap Meet in Oklahoma, so I thought I'd write about an ultra-special car that he mentioned in an earlier post: the 1905 Sheldon Runabout. I'm guessing that few museums can claim that they have their state's very first car on display. The survival rate among our nation's earliest automobiles is fairly small, and only a handful of early first-production cars still exist. Fortunately, the little runabout built by Skagway resident Bobby Sheldon has survived the test of time -- and will soon be on display in the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum!

Sheldon was only 22 when he assembled buggy wheels, bar stools, a two-cycle marine engine and some wood and tin into a functional runabout. Amazingly, he had never seen a car before other than in magazine photos. What he did have was mechanical skills, ingenuity and a romantic goal: to win the attentions of a young lady who was being courted by a competitor with a fancy horse and carriage. Sheldon did take the lass on some rides and later drove the car in the Skagway 4th of July parade, but the car apparently didn't see much action after that. Above photo courtesy of Candace Waugaman.

After the car spent a few years in storage in Juneau, Sheldon donated it to the Alaska College Museum in Fairbanks in 1934. For the past 30 years the little buggy has been part of the Southeast Alaska Gallery in the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Thanks to a generous 5-year loan from their museum, we will soon be displaying this treasured artifact as part of an exhibit about Bobby Sheldon. The man was truly Alaska's foremost automotive pioneer, and we think visitors will love learning more about Sheldon's colorful life. The exhibit opening will be May 17 at 5:30 p.m. Several of Sheldon's descendants will be present, and Fairbanks historian and journalist Dermot Cole will give a talk about Sheldon.

Until then, we are trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the car's original engine. Apparently it was removed before the car was shipped to Fairbanks, so it could be in either Skagway or Juneau. If you have any leads on the engine's whereabouts, please let us know as we would like to reunite it with the car.


P.S. Did Sheldon win the young lady's heart? You'll have to come see the exhibit to find out!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Hupp in the Shopp

We recently finished a few repairs on our 1928 Hupmobile Opera Coupe that we'd been putting off since last fall.  It needed some wiring work to correct some mistakes from a past of poorly planned and executed repairs, which led to burned up wires and such minor things. We also rebuilt the u-joints on the drive line, made bushings to tighten up the crosses and gave it a good service Many thanks to the volunteers that helped out our Hupp.

The car will now be going into storage till spring (in preparation for some new cars that will arrive in a few months). I expect it will get a few miles on it from the folks at the main office, as they plan to use it for errands around town.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

1903 Cadillac Maintenance

On Tuesday we pulled the 1903 Cadillac off of the museum floor and brought it into the shop for some maintenance work and repairs.

As you can see, we had to remove the seats and pull most of the body off of the car in order to access the single-cylinder engine and other mechanical parts.

We're leaving it apart for several days in case you want to come by Sunday and see what the car looks like in its "undressed" state. Thanks again to all the help from the volunteers that make it easy to do projects like this: Ron Allen, Rick Larrick, and Paul Tekin for doing the lifting and helping get things apart, repaired and back together.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Fashion Twist

by Nancy DeWitt

Our museum isn't just about cars. We also have a pretty impressive collection of vintage clothing, much of which just went on display a few weeks ago. During our early planning stages, several women recommended that we include some period clothing exhibits for visitors who "just aren't that into old cars." We thought it was a great suggestion and promptly set about searching for vintage clothing on eBay.

After several months, we decided to upgrade our collecting efforts toward obtaining museum-quality pieces. Barb Cerny suddenly found herself in the position of Vintage Fashion Curator and was soon corresponding with experts and making trips to shows. She has done a fantastic job at finding exquisite silk bustle dresses, Edwardian walking suits, top hats, stunning gowns from the Titanic era, heavily beaded flapper chemises, antique purses, tuxedos and Chantilly lace creations, among other things.

Our vintage fashion collection now spans over 180 years, with most pieces paralleling the eras represented by our cars. There are almost 50 outfits on display right now, in cases and on mannequins. Our goal is to rotate many of the displays every several months--in part to keep the exhibits interesting by focusing on different eras throughout the year, and also to help preserve some of the more delicate pieces.

We are still looking for some antique textiles from Alaska to display, including Native Alaskan clothing. Please let us know if you have something to share. We are also working on the write-ups for each outfit and hope to have the signs printed soon.

I have to say that Barb (and Tim) have done a great job assembling this collection. Many thanks go out to the ladies who planted this idea in our heads back in 2008. Ironically, it seems that all of our "not that into cars" visitors end up loving the automobile collection, but we're still glad we have so many beautiful clothing articles on display in the museum.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tired Iron

With the sun shining but a chilly -20 F on the river, we ventured out of the museum last Saturday with the 1917 Ford Snow Flyer to head to Fairbanks' annual Tired Iron Rally. Since this event is held to celebrate vintage snowmobiles, we figured we'd take what we think is likely the oldest snowmobile in Alaska. We caught the attention of lots of rubber neckers on the way across town to get to the Graehl boat landing, where we planned to unload and head out onto the frozen Chena River to watch the races. After unloading we parked next to some old classic sleds like this one, a Hus-Ski, probably manufactured around 1963.

A friend described riding a Hus-Ski as "driving a belt sander while sitting on an ironing board." In other words, not very comfortable!

After coaxing the Snow Flyer into a run downriver to the Cushman bridge and back, we let him know that the event was called the Tired Iron. He became very steamed at this news and decided to rest for a bit, gather his thoughts and mark his territory with a little Sierra (environmentally friendly) antifreeze.

We soon discovered that the Flyer had thrown a fan belt, but after replacing it and talking nice for a bit, he agreed to perform the rest of the day without difficulty. We even managed to take several little kids for a spin up and down the river.

Tim showed up with a circa 1910 bear coat that I wore, along with a nice warm hat. I was very comfortable, but Tim nearly froze (naturally, he was more concerned for others than himself). 

A special  thanks to Rod Benson for his time helping and keeping things under control, and to Paul Tekin, Rick Larrick, Will Chase and Ron Allen for their help getting the Snow Flyer ready to run. Make sure you mark your calendars for next year's Tired Iron Rally. You may be surprised at what the musuem shows up with on the ice!

We had a great time and send thanks out to everyone involved for making this a great weekend. Here's a video of the Snow Flyer at Tired Iron: http://ow.ly/1dWLh, and here's one of some of the fantastic old snowmobiles taking part in the Jurassic Classic race: http://ow.ly/1ds67 We also posted photos from the event on our Facebook page at http://ow.ly/1dWSC.