Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why White Tires?

by Nancy DeWitt (with some help from Willy Vinton)

Yesterday I was admiring this photo of our 1907 White Steam Car taken by Troy Bouffard, and it reminded me of a question we are often asked: why are many of the tires on our oldest automobiles white? Quite simply, the natural color of rubber is white because of the zinc oxide in its composition. It wasn't until 1910 that the Silvertown Tire Company of London (followed by the B.F. Goodrich Company in the U.S.) added carbon black to tires, greatly increasing their durability.

Because white tires didn't last long, it's pretty rare to see an original pair on a car. Some think the tires on our preservation class 1910 Hudson are original, but they were made in England and added to the car about six years ago. In that short time these gray (not white) tires--which have been inside most of their life--have yellowed with age, giving you an idea how quickly these tires failed. 

White tires require a lot of care. Each time we drive a white-tired car the tires have to be cleaned before the vehicle goes back on display. Fortunately we have our Adopt-A-Car sponsors and wonderful docents (like Terry at right, who is using a toothbrush to scrub the tread!) to help with this task.

Not surprisingly, the next question often asked is: where do you get replacement white tires for antique cars? There are actually several companies that sell reproduction tires. I imagine we could find vintage tires too, but since we drive most of our cars we prefer less-fragile rubber between us and the pavement.

Perhaps some day I'll write about why the rear tires were larger than the front ones on many old cars and carriages.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Icepocalypse Now

by Nancy DeWitt
Photos and text © Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Most of Alaska is experiencing the mother of all ice storms right now, thanks to an epoch winter rain event that has essentially shut down Fairbanks and brought great joy to the towing companies. My attempt to drive to work this morning was similar to that of a friend who said, "My truck did a 180 at the bottom of the hill. Since I was then pointed home,  I continued that way." I too tucked my tail and returned home. Fortunately, I have a lot of historic photos here to keep me occupied. For your viewing pleasure, here are some ways Alaskans dealt with driving on snow in the early days:

At right is Bobbie Sheldon with passengers on the trail to Valdez. Sheldon cut down the axles of his Model T Fords so his tires would fit in the tracks of the horse-drawn sleighs. He also wrapped chains around the rear tires and put skis under the front ones.

Sheldon mounted a gas tank on the hood to maintain fuel flow to the engine while going up steep hills. It wasn't uncommon for drivers in those days to have to go up hills backwards because of the rear-mounted gas tanks.

I have no idea what this is...

...but these tracked vehicles look more familiar:

I think my favorite winterized rig is this motorcycle decked out with outrigger skis. I'm guessing it wouldn't have worked too well on today's icy roads, though. Nor would the Fordson Snow Motor we have parked outside the museum. Based on news reports, no vehicles are working too well today. Funny how we Alaskans don't let heavy snowfall or -55 F temperatures get in our way, but a little rainfall brings us to our knees!

Photos courtesy of Frances Erickson, Candy Waugaman and Nick Nugent. May not be reproduced without permission.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Big Wheels Arrive

by Nancy DeWitt

Christmas came early to the museum this year. Yesterday the BATS Motorsports truck rolled in from its trip up the Alaska Highway, and I always think of Santa's sleigh when that big rig arrives. We knew it was carrying two new cars for the museum; what we didn't expect was the other cargo tucked inside.

First off the truck was our 1917 Pierce-Arrow Model 66 A-4. I had been told by many how big this car! Pictures don't really do it justice, but keep in mind the guy on the left is 6'4" (in fact, all those guys look like Hobbits next to that car). The top is around 7' high, so your head isn't much lower than that when seated in this big beauty.

A few other big things about this car: its tires are 4' in diameter, the wheelbase is 147.5" and the 6-cylinder engine displaces a whopping 825 cubic inches! Despite its massive size, the car is very elegant--especially the interior.

Our 1907 White Steamer Model G also made the trip north. She's a tall car too, although it's not as evident without her windshield & top installed. The big radiator on the front is actually the condenser. It cools and condenses the exhaust steam back into water, then returns it to the water tank for re-use. This allows the car to travel further on a tank of water than a non-condensing steam car such as our 1910 Stanley. 

And for our added viewing pleasure, we got to see a special car that's made the news lately. A couple from Wasilla, Alaska recently converted a pickup truck into a giant Radio Flyer wagon. It's awesome! It even has a big tow handle that attaches to the front, although that had been removed for the trip. You can read more about the car and see additional photos here.

Many thanks to the volunteers who helped us unload the cars. We plan to move the White Steamer and Pierce-Arrow on to the museum floor by Sunday. Hope you can all come see them!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A New Face at the Museum

by Willy Vinton

The museum would like to welcome and introduce our newest team member, Charlie Jurgens. Charlie is a recently retired mechanic that has done aircraft restoration, as well as military vehicles in the past. He will be a great asset to our mission to keep the cars running and in top shape. We will do our very best to keep him from getting bored in his retirement. Welcome aboard Charlie!

This is Charlie's first challenge, to get the 1907 Franklin running properly.* After removing the intake we found a couple of bad seal rings, so we replaced those. Next we cleaned the carbon out of the valves, and are now rebuilding the carburetor. When we get done with it, it will purr like a big cat, no kittens here. As soon as it is back up and running, we will shoot a video of it outside and then put it back on display.

* Click here for a video on Willy's attempt to run the Franklin last month.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chasing Ghosts - Part II: White Steamers

by Nancy DeWitt

On December 17, 1908, this appeared in in the Fairbanks Daily News:

Fairbanks streets have taken on a decidedly metropolitan air with two large automobiles gliding swiftly about the city, the new 50-horse power White Steamer having gone into commission yesterday. 

The White Steamer is a splendid machine, having stood the severe test of years, and thousands of motorists on the outside are still divided on the merits of steam and gasoline cars. It is a beautifully made car, much heavier than the Franklin, which is advertised as one of the lightest cars made for the power...On her initial performance the machine did great work, running as smoothly as a clock.

The White Steamer Model K (pictured above) had been purchased "for the bargain sum of $3,400" by Fairbanks' pioneering lumbermen, Charles Carroll and Fred Parker. They immediately put the big car into service as a passenger stage between Fairbanks and Fox. It was only the third car Fairbanks had ever seen.

Naturally, we thought it would be wonderful to have a White in the Fountainhead Museum. As luck would have it, White Steam Car owners are a tight crowd and even have an on-line registry. During a trip to Boise, ID to visit family in 2008, I called a man listed on the registry and asked if I could see his Whites. He showed me his fine collection and then casually mentioned that not one but TWO of Alaska's original White Steamers were in California! Turns out that the Model K and a 1909 Model M (likely the one pictured below) had been dumped in the river in some time after 1926 and later salvaged by Alaska pioneer Bill Sherwin. Bill sold what was left of the cars to the current owner during the A67 Exposition in Fairbanks. Both are now undergoing "the world's longest restoration."

We met the owner of these Alaska Whites in Bakersfield last year. He asked if I could check to see if any car parts were perhaps hiding in the attic of Sherwin's former home, which now resides in Pioneer Park (hmmm, it no longer has an attic). Rumor has it that Sherwin put the rear end of one of the Whites into a portable sawmill that went to Tok. Anyone have any leads on where these various parts might be?

This was one ghost chase actually led us to two of Alaska's first cars. Since then, we've acquired a big 1907 White Model G to represent this important piece of Alaska's early automotive history in our museum. I can't wait to see it!

Chasing Ghosts: Part I

*Photos courtesy of Candy Waugaman. May not be reproduced without permission.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Vintage Fashion Tour

by Nancy DeWitt, Historian

Barb Cerny, our Vintage Fashion Curator, and I traveled to Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Our goal was to visit several fashion exhibits and hopefully come away with some new ideas, tips and inspiration for the Fountainhead Museum.

Our first stop was the Fashion Institute for Design & Merchandising, a private college with a museum and galleries open to the public. The fashions in their Re-Designing History exhibit were stunning, and the private tour of FIDM from Meghan Hansen was especially enlightening. She gave us a lot of tips on mannequins and storage, display and labeling of vintage garments. We especially loved the hair styles FIDM makes for their mannequins using drawing paper (!). Barb and I are pretty sure we won't be able to make similar hairdos for our own mannequins, but it might be fun to try to on some long winter evening.

Next up was the Petersen Automotive Museum to see the highly acclaimed Automotivated exhibit. This display highlights the parallels between early cars and clothing design, progressing from functional wear for open-air motoring to the graceful lines of cars and dresses of the 1930s. It's amazing to think that wealthy connoisseurs would collaborate with coachbuilders and couturiers to coordinate their fashions and automobiles!

Automotivated focuses on a similar theme we are working toward at the Fountainhead Museum with our vintage clothing, so this was a very interesting and informative visit for us. We owe special thanks to Museum Curator Leslie Kendall for the personalized tour, including a special trip into the basement to see the many cool cars they have in storage.

Our final stop was the L.A. County Museum of Art to see their Fashioning Fashion exhibit. Holy moly, the historic European clothing on display was incredible! I loved how they displayed corseted, bustled and or hoop-skirted mannequins alongside fully clothed ones to illustrate how the silhouettes were achieved. The descriptions for each outfit and the information about textile details were also excellent. Barb and I left LACMA with more ideas, not to mention a desire to acquire even more historic outfits for the Fountainhead Museum. All in all, a great trip!