Friday, December 30, 2011

A Brush with History

by Nancy DeWitt

Our little 1908 Brush runabout has a story to tell, and not just because its frame and axles are made of wood. This unrestored, single-cylinder automobile once belonged to Gilda Gray, a silent film star who popularized the "shimmy" dance in the 1920s. The thrice-married Gray led a colorful life, performing in the Ziegfeld Follies and Vaudeville before becoming a screen sensation. You can see her shimmy in a movie playing on a video kiosk near our Brush.

While researching the history of automobiles in Fairbanks, I was delighted to find that at least one Brush was imported here, a 10-HP, 4-passenger runabout that arrived in 1910. Its new owner was William A. Coghill, a "circulator" for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The August 3, 1910 issue of that newspaper included this colorful opinion of Coghill's new purchase:

 "Bill great trouble and expense to himself has invested in a gasoline buggy that this great purveyor of news and molder of public opinion may be placed in the hands of the readers in a manner that is thoroughly modern. Hereafter, the asthmatic cough about the hour of five o'clock will announce to the residents of Ester that the latest news sizzling hot from the press is about to be delivered upon them. Then from a blue gasoline haze and brown dust blur, from which comes the clank of machinery and the cooing noises of the chauffeur talking baby talk to his pet, the readers of the sheet will be prostrated by the blows of the paper delivered by that powerful left-handed flip of Coghill."

Coghill would go on to start an automobile passenger service between Fairbanks and Ester with the little Brush. In 1913 he purchased a Metz and three years later imported the first automobile to Nenana--a Ford truck. A 1922 edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner listed a Brush among the town's 120 automobiles, but the fate of Coghill's first car is unknown. At least we know what became of the Brush that once belonged to the "Shimmy Queen."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hobbled by Fashion

by Nancy DeWitt

Of all the fashions of the Edwardian era, none was more controversial—or dangerous—as the hobble skirt that was popular from 1910 to 1914. Hobble skirts were so narrow at their base that wearers were forced to take tiny, geisha-like steps. Many denounced the hobble skirt as unsafe, while others ridiculed such a restrictive fashion appearing at a time when suffragettes were demanding more freedom.

We just put this beautiful blue hobble dress on display. It is hobbled by its narrow cut and a placquet that hugs the knee area.  Made of fine woven silk with oriental or early Art Deco motifs, the fabric is very lightweight and seems more appropriate for a scarf than a dress. The dress was likely made by a private or skilled home seamstress.  

Hobble skirts were outrageous enough to make an impact on the transportation industry. By 1914, streetcars throughout the world were modified with special ‘hobble skirt cars’ that had low doors, allowing a woman to mount and disembark the car “without encouraging curiosity and diminishing privacy.” Ironically, the hobble skirt trend died soon after these streetcars were introduced.

Can you think of any other fashions that influenced transportation design?   For a video about Hobble Dresses, please visit our Fountainhead Museum YouTube Channel.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another Fordson Snow Motor

by Nancy DeWitt

This past Sunday, two men braved Fairbanks' sub-freezing temperatures and extremely slick roads to visit the museum in their Model A Fords. One of the drivers wanted his car photographed next to our 1926 Fordson Snow Motor. This unusual "Snow Devil," which is on loan to us from the Pioneer Air Museum, attracts attention from around the world. In fact, the above link takes you to one of our most-read blog posts. 

This past week we were delighted to receive several Snow Motor photos from Clem Clement of Virginia. Clem, a train collector, did a 7,400-mile cross-country tour last summer that included a stop at the World Mining Museum in Butte, Montana, home to the Snow Motor pictured here. Clem graciously allowed us to post his photos on our blog.

Armstead Snow Motors, Inc. of New York developed and marketed the snow-motor apparatus as a conversion kit that could fit on a number of conveyances, including cars. The kit was patterned on the “Snow Motor Vehicle” patented in 1920 by Frederick R. Burch of Seattle, who later assigned the rights to Armstead Snow Motors.

The spiral ribs you see on each cylinder are mirror images of one another; when power was applied, the cylinders revolved in opposite directions and propelled the vehicle forward or backward. Each cylinder received its power from a separate clutch that engaged and disengaged according to the position of the steering wheel. In the summer, the cylinders and yokes could be removed and replaced by the tractor’s original axles and wheels.

The World Mining Museum's Snow Motor has a few more intact parts than the one we have on display, including the rear driving wheels, drive sprockets and chains. Nice to see that theirs still has the patent plate. The most complete Snow Motor we know of is the one at the Hendrick Ag History Center near Sacramento, California. You can see photos of it here.

Thanks again to Clem for sharing these photos!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In the Shop: 1907 Ford Model K Roadster

by Willy Vinton

This is our 1907 Ford Model K Roadster, one of only 25 known to still exist and the oldest roadster known. It is powered by a 6-cylinder, 405-cubic-inch vertical inline L-head engine. Although conservatively rated at 40 horsepower, this sporty roadster is capable of 70 mph.


The upscale Model K was forced upon a reluctant Henry Ford by company directors determined to enter the lucrative luxury car market. Ford felt it was too expensive, too complicated for the average man, and too hard to maintain. The K was plagued by mechanical failures, and its production ended in 1908. Only 900 Model Ks, including 50 roadsters, were built during its two-year run.

As you can see, the engine was rather complicated compared to the type of car that Henry wanted to--and would--build. We are almost finished with the work on this car, so if we get some warm weather in the next week we might be able to run it around the parking lot. I don't think those tires will offer much traction, though!

* See an October 2012 update here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In the Shop: Mercury-bodied Model T Speedster

by Willy Vinton

Just out of high school? Need a sports car? Can't afford a Stutz or Mercer? Back in the 1920s the answer was to go out and find a Model T Ford, strip the body off, hop up the engine and purchace a Mercury Speedster Kit. The cost of the kit ran about $185 and would make a sporty little ride like the one in our museum. We finally had time this week to attach its step plates, so that was Tuesday's workshop project (along with a few others).

This is the finished product. As you can see, the steps help complete the car (ignore the skinny guy in the driver's seat). This speedster is a fun little car to cruise around town in, (warm days only).
The engine is a Model T Ford built in 1923, equiped with a Rajo overhead conversion, upgraded ignition system, and a few other custom tricks. A stock transmission, built with a up graded high speed clutch, delivers the power to the rear diff, which is stock T.

Thanks to the crew for their help with this project. Ron Allen, Rod Benson, Paul Tekin, and Mike Lecorchick.

You can see a video of this speedster here.