Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Bicycle's Role in Automobile History

by Nancy DeWitt

Last week was "Bike to Work Week" in Fairbanks. Since I failed to live up to it, I thought I'd write about our budding bicycle exhibit instead. If you're wondering why a car museum has bicycles on display, bear with me.

Bicycle fever began brewing well before the first commercial automobiles were produced. Although the 'hobby horse' two-wheeler was invented around 1817, the velocipede (at left) was the first two-wheeler to be a called a bicycle and the first to powered by pedals. These were also known as 'boneshakers' for their rough ride (no doubt due to the wood and iron frame & wheels). Velocipedes first appeared in the 1860s and remained popular until around 1870. After much searching we've acquired a boneshaker for the museum and expect it to arrive soon.

Next came the highwheelers that many incorrectly assume were the first bicycles. The dramatically larger front wheel on 'an Ordinary' or 'Penny Farthing' allowed the rider to go farther with each revolution of the pedals, but highwheelers required much more skill and practice to ride. Around 1885 the 'Safety' bicycle appeared. These chain-driven bikes had medium-sized wheels of equal diameter and were the prototype for today's bicycles. You can see a highwheeler and several safety bicycles in our exhibit.

It's not a stretch to say that bicycles helped launch the age of the automobile, and also helped kick off women's liberation. In the 1890s, mass production of reasonably-priced bicycles allowed working men to use them for transportation and leisure. Bold young women donned scandalous bloomers and saw bicycles as their ticket to freedom. Susan B. Anthony would even declare that the bicycle "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." As the popularity of bicycles grew, so did the demand for decent roads. We can credit pressure from recreational cyclists for the development of the Bureau of Public Roads and the beginning of highway construction that would later benefit automobilists.

The bicycle craze was also responsible for the start of steel tubing manufacturing in the U.S. and the development of the modern brake drum and shoe, chain drives, variable-speed gears, freewheeling and pneumatic tires -- all of which would be put to use in automobiles. Even assembly-line mass production was employed by the bicycle industry, well before Ransom Olds and Henry Ford discovered its value. Despite these advances, riders eventually realized the limitations of bicycles and longed for engine-powered transport that offered the same freedom. Hello automobile!

That is why bicycles have a place in a museum that celebrates the development of America's first cars. Our exhibits nicely illustrates the progression of bicycle development right up to the birth of the automobile industry. Our 1899 Hertel runabout is displayed with the bicycles because it nicely shows the transition from bikes to horseless carriages. Click here to see why or better yet, come see this exhibit in person!

1979. American Bicyclist and Motorcyclist: 100 (12)
1982. The Automobile's Bicycle Heritage. Automotive History Review: Vol. 15.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Advancing a New Display

by Willy Vinton

We've made a lot of progress getting the 1905 Advance Traction engine prepared for display. We had to build a few items to make it complete, including a new smoke stack, fuel storage box and water tank. In this photo I'm fogging the entire interior of the boiler with Rust-X to seal it all up and prevent any further deterioration. Now we only have a few more final touches to address before she's ready for display.

We purchased this 16-HP straw burner from the LeMay Museum auction in Seattle in 2009. It's been a great addition to our vehicle collection, as traction engines revolutionized agriculture and load transportation at a time when draft horses were the main alternative.

These big "Iron Maidens" were used for many things, especially by farmers during the harvest season to power threshing machines. The large flywheel would run a flat belt that would then transfer power to the threshing machine, or whatever else they needed to power such as a pump or sawmill. In Alaska, traction engines (moving and stationary) were used to haul lumber, power pile drivers, run mining equipment, and pull road graders and snow plows. If anyone knows of other ways traction engines were used in Alaska, or better yet - has photos of any in early Alaska, we'd love to know more.

The Advance will be displayed outside the museum. Keep watching the blog - we'll post photos as we move her from South Fairbanks across town to the museum.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Local Antique Car Club

by Nancy DeWitt

Last night we were pleased to host a meeting of the Vernon L. Nash Antique Car Club. There were some very cool cars in our parking lot - can anyone identify them for me?

Approximately 75 people attended the meeting, which involved a lot of discussion about the club's upcoming car show at the Carlson Center May 29-30. That is a show you definitely don't want to miss! The meeting also covered our Midnight Sun Cruise-In set for June 18-20, as the club is organizing the Saturday car show and "Tour de Fairbanks" cruise. Many thanks to the car club for their support! I am constantly amazed at how much activity this club packs into our short summer season.

Afterward the meeting, club members got a good look at the new museum layout. Willy and his many helpers did a huge re-set of the cars this week, so if you've been here before you'll notice a lot of changes! Please note that starting Sunday our entrance shifts to the north side of the building.

Also on Sunday we shift to our summer hours: Monday - Thursday 11 am - 10 pm, Friday & Saturday 11 am - 6 pm. We're offering a cool new deal this summer - for only $15 you can get a pass to both our museum and the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Perfect for visiting relatives!

If you'd like more information about the Vernon L. Nash Antique Car Club, drop us a note or stop by the desk in the museum.

(Cars in above photo: R - 1909 IHC Model D Auto Buggy, L - 1907 Ford Model K Roadster)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Tax Man a '32 Ford

by Nancy DeWitt

Willy and Ron Allen zipped down to Anchorage last week to pick up a new treasure for the museum: a 1932 Ford V8 custom phaeton. This isn't just any old Ford, though, but one with right-hand drive and a rich history. It was built in 1932 by Ford of Canada (Ontario) and shipped new to Bombay, India. The car's first owner was a zamindar who collected taxes from peasants for a maharaja. At some point during the next three deades the car's original engine was replaced.

In 1966, a gentleman named Lowell Robert "Bob" Satin found the abandoned car while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in India. He restored it with a 1937 Ford V8 engine and drove it for three years before shipping it from New Delhi to Michigan in 1970. The car sat in storage in Kalamazoo for 10 years before being shipped to Washington, D.C. Bob re-engined it again, this time with an early 1932 Ford V8 engine (# *18-134*). When Bob moved to Seward, Alaska (where he would eventually become the town's mayor) in 1994, he left the car behind in heated storage.

After getting married in 2001, Bob told his bride that he was bringing his "Indian mistress" up from the Lower 48 to live with them, but assured her that he would keep the mistress in the garage. By 2003 he had the car running again and enjoyed touring in it until he passed away in 2009.

Willy hopes to have the car tuned up and running soon. Maybe the fancy tool kit that came with it will come in handy? We're very pleased to be the new caretakers of this interesting car and are grateful for the care and research that Bob put into his "Zamindar's Ford."

Monday, May 3, 2010

We've Been Steampunk'd

by Nancy DeWitt

I stopped by the museum yesterday only to find a bevy of guys in the shop huddled together, looking confused and mumbling about some "Steampunkers" that were visiting. My ears really perked up at this, as I had come across the term Steampunk on eBay way back when I first started shopping for vintage clothing for us to wear while driving cars. It was usually associated with aviator-type goggles but also the occasional Edwardian hat or pair of granny boots. I wrongly assumed it was a twist on the Gothic fashion trend favored by the kids dressed in all-black and chains that we see at the local malls.

Before I ventured out to greet our intriguing visitors, we tottered over to Willy's computer for a little Google action. Steampunk is actually pretty fascinating. Wikipedia calls it "A sub-genre of science fiction..., frequently featuring elements of fantasy or alternate history, that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used - usually the 19th century - but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne..." Steampunk fans usually dress in "Neo-Victorian" fashions and get together to discuss literature and technology, sip tea (really!) and essentially bring a Victorian imagination to life. No wonder they had come to our museum!

Meet the "Queen's Arctic Expeditionary Force," a delightful group of intellectuals who had a blast visiting the museum. We're glad they stopped by and hope to see them again, especially when we fire up a steam car this summer.

Steampunk in Alaska - who'd a thunk?