Friday, September 30, 2011

Baseball, Hugh Chalmers and the MVP Award

by Nancy DeWitt
© Luke Johnson/Southcreek Global

Two nights ago the sports world watched an astonishing drama unfold during the final games of Major League Baseball's regular season. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated aptly described it as "the most thrilling 129 minutes in baseball history." With the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees less than three outs away from winning their respective games, fans witnessed a series of spectacular, come-from-behind plays that propelled the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays to victory.

What does this have to do with antique automobiles? Well, there's a good chance that the 2011 Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards presented by the American and National Leagues will go to athletes that played in Wednesday night's games. And, it just so happens that baseball's first MVP award originated with an automobile company. Just over 100 years ago, the Chalmers Motor Car Company cleverly decided to promote their cars by piggy-backing onto baseball's popularity at the time. In 1910, president Hugh Chalmers announced that the player from each league with the highest batting average would be presented with a trophy and brand-new Chalmers Model Thirty. Controversy soon surrounded the American League's top contenders, Ty Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie, which Chalmers sidestepped by awarding each a new car.

Photo courtesy of the Creamer Family
Hugh Chalmers soon lost interest in the award and ended it in 1914, but not before broadening its scope to award "the most important and useful player to his club." The Chalmers Motor Car Company would meet its own demise in 1924 after producing 6,525 automobiles. Fewer than 150 of those survive today, one of which is generously on loan to our museum by the Creamer family. This 1910 Chalmers-Detroit Model K "30" Roadster has a rich Fairbanks history, arriving here in 1912 by way of steamship, rail car and sternwheel riverboat. It eventually passed to Charlie Creamer, owner of the northernmost operating dairy in America. Besides appearing in numerous parades, this treasured automobile was the first car to travel across two new Chena River bridges when they opened in 1953 and 1960.

While it remains to be determined who will be remembered as baseball's Most Valuable Players from 2011, this Chalmers-Detroit has already established itself as one of Alaska's most valuable automotive artifacts. While she still needs work to get her in top running condition, hopefully she will be ready to run in next year's Golden Days Parade--exactly 100 years after her arrival in this fair city.

Friday, September 23, 2011

1899 Hertel

by Derik Price

It's not everyday you experience the sound of a 110+ year old piece of machinery, let alone get to ride in one.  But yesterday we did both.  Willy and Charlie got the 1899 Hertel operational and we went for a ride - albeit a slow and gentle one.  For a brief history of our Hertel check out Nancy's blog post from when it arrived in Fairbanks back in October of 2009.  Now then, first thing you'll notice about the Hertel is that she appears to be a fragile, pair of bicycles with a motor.  But it was actually constructed quite well, as her endurance to this day can attest.  Next, you might wonder how the thing could work at all without a carburetor, distributor, spark plugs / wires, starter, and no real transmission.  Then you take a closer look at how the mechanicals operate and you really start to appreciate the tremendous effort that went into this machine in order to make it gloriously simply to operate.  And it does operate, perfectly well in fact.

The starting 'lever' is a tad inglorious in operation, but you start it from the seat by adjusting the 'air' setting with a little lever, twist the 'throttle' dial on the handle, squeeze the handle, then just pull back on the lever (20 or 30 times) and it'll fire right up. (Getting the proper fuel and air setting proved to be challenging.)  Willy, of course, failed to read the manual first which clearly states how to start the engine ----  "The handle having a rotary motion with an index on top to gauge the position of the charging valve.  The helical slot is shown in the handle at the right.  The small hand clip when closed upon the handle lifts the rod linked to it and the stop on the steering pawl, when the pawl drops into the teeth of the geared crank wheel and a fore and aft motion of the lever starts the motor in motion; at the same time a twist of the handle by the hand opens the the gasoline regulating valve by the movement of the rod and attached bell crank, shown at the left in figure 182, by which the long lever shown at the bottom of the cut, is given a horizontal movement that operates the plunger in the gasoline regulating valve shown at the lower left hand corner in the cut."    Pretty straight forward I thought.

But it does start, eventually, and the first thing you notice is a VERY unusual sound, mainly attributable to it's 'atmospheric' intake valves.  Anyone who has seen the movie 'Flubber' will have a pretty good idea of what the engine sounds like.  I tried my best to capture the sound in a video (posted here on our YouTube Channel)  Once started, just push the lever forward to engage the drive pulley to the wheel and you're off.  It does have two forward speeds which are - Slow and WAY faster than you should probably drive this thing.  The video I took was in 'slow' speed and the front wheels shake, shimmy and rattle like you might think it's coming apart.  And in fact, in just a few laps around the parking lot we lost a couple screws from the 'fuel system' (using that term loosely).  I told Willy before we started that he had a few screws loose, but that's a different story.

The experience of riding in the little carriage is very difficult to describe.  In some respects it's a very odd and slightly unnerving experience.  The Hertel is, after all, an antique piece of American History.  Something you've always come to understand as a 'display' in a museum that you don't get to touch, let alone startup and actually drive.  On the other hand, it's like an exhilarating time warp to the past allowing one to feel, smell and experience what it was like to drive an 'automobile' 110 years ago.  That was before the Wright Brothers flew the World's first powered airplane; when Electricity was a novelty in many cities;  the crank telephone was 'cutting edge'; and the automobile as a form of transportation was just an experiment - by putting two bicycles together and adding an engine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kirkland Concours d'Elegance

by Derik Price

It was a great pleasure to attend the Kirkland concourse this previous Sunday.  Willy, his wife Wilma, Charlie and I attended with the 1932 Cadillac V-16 Limo and the 1910 Whiting Roadster.  The weather was simply gorgeous and not a cloud in the sky.  Although the temperature did get up to near 90 F both days, we soaked it up ahead of our inevitable Fairbanks winter.

Willy, Charlie and Wilma performed no less than 'reality show' level of vehicle preparation  to meet the entry deadline and deliver the vehicles Saturday night.   I missed out on all the fun, so I was told.  Actually,  I was having my own 'fun' saturday afternoon as my rental car suffered a serious malfunction just minutes onto the freeway out of Sea-Tac.  For no apparent reason the front right wheel nearly locked up and a two lane dance ensued before I could safely reach the shoulder.  Never a dull moment...

But onto the show.  First off, I'll note with much lament that neither Fountainhead vehicle received an award this year.  The 1930's vehicles in attendance were all terrific.  First and second place went to a Packard and Lincoln, both restored by Murray Motor Car.  It was a big day for them and they deserved it.  I stood by our Cadillac for the most part and received no end of accolades and comments about the vehicle, its cavernous back seat, and its mighty V-16 engine.  But in the end, it just wasn't the Cadillac's day. 

The little Whiting was simply spot on.  It was beautiful and near perfect in every respect.  It's deep, deep red color, white tires and brass just popped under the summer blue sky and tree lined backdrop.   Honors for its class went to a huge Simplex that was truly a grand vehicle in every sense of the word.  But the perfect little Whiting, well, just wasn't grand enough I guess.   At least we'll get to enjoy it everyday once it arrives in Fairbanks in a few weeks. I can already picture it on the floor, shining like a little jewel.

On a side note.  One of the racing class awards went to a 1957 Aston Martin that i thought was deserving in every respect.  I consider it a privilege just to be next to the beast when it was fired up to drive around the winners circle.  The true measure of any real racing car I would sum up as this - when the engine is fired up in a public setting - animals flee, children start crying and men spontaneously erupt into cheers.  It achieved all three in mere seconds.

So we all had a good time and after the show and dinner Sunday night our little group of Alaskans were treated to one of the rarest sights of all - a warm AND dark night.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We Get Around

by Willy Vinton

The rather short window of warm weather for driving antique cars in Fairbanks is slowly closing. As a result, there's been a flurry of activity in the museum shop to get the rest of the cars outside for some exercise. In addition to the Stanley & Buckmobile featured in recent posts, we've taken out the following in the past few weeks, either for short drives around the Wedgewood Resort campus or for runs around Fairbanks with the Vernon L Nash Antique Car Club:

1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Series CL convertible sedan (coachwork by LeBaron)

This is a very impressive car to drive and see operating--very smooth and it is stunning to see up close. It has one of the finest restorations you will ever see.

1921 Daniels Model D 6-passenger touring (our star mechanic Charlie Jergens at the wheel, with docents Ron and Nancy Allen along for the ride).

This car has a very strong presence--a very striking car to drive and see. It is an original car with a 1960s paint job. We rebuilt the radiator and did some minor engine work, so it is good for another 50 years.

1907 Franklin Type D landaulet

This is a 4 cylinder, air-cooled car. It's a little temperamental and requires lots of attention. It smokes a little (okay, a lot), but that keeps the operator from getting mosquito-bit, as the bugs stay clear of it. In spite of its little issues, it is a fantastic piece of history.
Our new 1923 Mercury-bodied Ford Model T speedster.

Okay, now we're talking fun. This was the ultimate in a poor man's sports car. If you could not afford a Bearcat or Mercer, you just stripped down a T, got a Mercury speedster kit, hopped up the engine and you had this. What a kick to drive!
1911 Ford Model T open runabout

We just finished a full rebuild on the transmission of this car, so it was good to see it outside in operation again. If you were in the museum the last month, you saw the car on display, completely disassembled while we waited for parts (the transmission drums were the hold up). Runs like a charm now! Photographed at Creamer's Field by Ronn Murray Photography.

1905 Curved Dash Oldsmobile

This was the second time this season we had this cute little automobile out for some exercise. It is a very fun car to operate. You really don't need a speedometer, as you know when you're going fast enough! The "CDO" was one of the most popular cars of the day.

1936 Packard V12 Series 1408 

What a car! Charlie had it out for a test drive on Wednesday, and we are now working on the vacuum brake system. Once the brakes are up to specs, we'll put a few more miles on this impressive car.

1929 Ford Model A deluxe coupe

We just moved this to our corporate office for staff to use for errands. Like all old cars, this one requires a little TLC from time to time. We had to replace the ignition switch and put a head gasket in to make sure that it runs trouble free. If you see her cruising around Fairbanks, wave and smile, because she looks pretty good for her age.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

All Steamed Up

by Willy Vinton
Yesterday felt like a good day to blow off some steam, so we fired up our 1909 Stanley Model R roadster. We had a little issue with dirty nozzles and had to clean them a couple times to get it fired up. This is what happens when you flood it and have to burn it out to get it ready to fire again.

Whenever you fire up a steam car, it attracts a crowd. We had at least 20 people come out of the museum when they heard that we were firing up the Stanley. Only a few had the courage to stand close.

Once we had 350 psi of steam preasure, we were ready to put it in motion. Drip valve open throttle up and away we go! This is a fun car to operate and everyone enjoys seeing and hearing it running around Wedgewood Resort.        

Ed, one of our docents, takes his turn with the Stanley. I think it takes him about a week or more to get the smile off his face after getting a chance to excercise this 102-year-old steam car. We got the Stanley out for a total of 2 good days of running, around 3 hours of running time total. She's now back on the floor for another winter.              
After the Stanley is run, we have to blow the boiler down to clean out all the deposits that may have settled in the bottom. Its always impressive to see and hear a blown down. Too bad the noise can't be captured in a picture!

If you find this interesting, make sure that you keep up on this blog site to see when we are going to fire up our steam cars next season. And remember that this may be the best way to let off steam, out in the back lot alone......