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 Coghill...at 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."

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