Monday, March 26, 2012

Chickasha Swap Meet, McPherson Restoration College

by Willy Vinton

I had another great trip to the Chickasha Pre-War Swap Meet last week. The weather was very nice-- in the mid 70s to 80s--with mostly overcast skies. Fortunately it didn't rain until Sunday night.

As usual, I managed to take a few side trips away from the swap meet grounds. These first two pictures are from the McPherson Resoration College in Kansas. The students were tasked to see how fast they could put a Model T together and make it run. 

I checked my watch to time them, but got so wrapped up in the event that I forgot to check the finish time. The students worked as a team and each had a specific job to do. They performed very well, although I'm not sure I would jump in the car and drive it up the Alaska Highway without a few cotter pins, checks and such. They were a great bunch of young men having fun and I'm glad I got to visit the college. 

Back at the swap meet I checked out this old number 5 Hudson race car. I'm not sure what year it was built or if it had any interesting history, but it did look very period correct and would have been fun to play with.                        

This is a picture of the number 3 building, which shows some of the swap-meet crowd. By late Friday afternoon the crowd had thinned out a lot. There was no shortage of Model T and Model A projects, parts and nicely restored cars and pickups for sale this year, but I did notice a few empty booth spaces. I would think that the price of fuel has a lot to do with that.
Sure wish I could have driven this DeSoto Airflow back to Fairbanks, as it is a nicely done car. It is similar to one that was in Alaska back in the 1930s, but a few years newer.                 

The Oklahoma tornadoes stayed away from us by at least a 100 miles, but our flight back to Seattle took an extra two hours because we had to skirt a few twisters. We made it home in one piece, although we also came home empty-handed. Still, we made some good contacts, showed folks our new book and invited them up to visit our museum this summer.

Next stop, Bakersfield Swap Meet!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Volunteer at the Museum!

by Nancy DeWitt

We are seeking more volunteers to help at the museum this summer. Our primary need is for people to greet visitors and share information about the collections with them. Many of our visitors love meeting Alaskans, as well as learning about the automobiles and other artifacts.

No prior automobile knowledge is required, but volunteers should enjoy teaching and speaking in front of people. There are two mandatory training sessions, and volunteers should be able to commit to at least three shifts per month during the summer. Both daytime and evening shifts are available; each typically lasts 3-4 hours. Click here for a volunteer application.

The free training sessions cover the history and organization of the museum, the collections and exhibits, American and Alaskan automotive history, frequently asked questions, and a thorough tour of the museum.

Volunteers can also choose to lead full tours, either for adults, school groups, or both. Additional training will be provided. The school groups visit during the winter season, typically on Thursdays and Fridays.

We also need volunteers who want to do hands-on work with the cars. This can include polishing and detailing vehicles, helping us move them into the shop to prepare for driving, moving exhibits, or actually helping us with the repairs and tune-ups if you have mechanical skills. "Pit Crew" members must attend our two mandatory training sessions and are asked to work several shifts/month.

Lastly, we always have a need for help with tasks such as: moving displays, repairing historic clothing, assisting with special events (like the Midnight Sun Cruise-In), photography and car research.

This year's training sessions are on April 3 and April 10 from 6 to 9 pm. The first class will take place in the Wedgewood Resort Visitor Center, while the April 10 class will be held in the museum. Please contact Nancy at 458-6112 or projects@ to register or if you have questions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cleveland Motorcycle is Ready to Roll

by Willy Vinton
We only have one antique motorcycle in our collection (so far), a 1917 Cleveland lightweight motorcycle. Like a lot of old vehicles, it needed a little repair work to make it run safely and reliably.

Prior to starting any of our vehicles, we like to make sure they are sound so that we don't cause any damage. The Cleveland's two-stroke, single-cylinder engine turned over okay, but we didn't try to start it. Instead, we pulled off the cylinder to peek inside to see how it looked.

On first glance, the piston looked to be okay. After cleaning it up and taking a closer examination, however, we were surprised to find a problem that could have been disastrous for the engine.

You can see that the piston broke at one time and was then welded back together, filed off and reinstalled. If it had come apart while running it could have completely destroyed the engine. We also noticed that it had no locating pins to keep the rings in place, so they didn't rotate and have an end fall into a port. We have since had a new piston cast and machined. The wrist pin in this piston is stepped so that it will only go in one way, and is retained by the brass plug on the right side of the picture.    

The Cleveland is an interesting motorcycle, and you can read more about it here. Ours is repaired and back out on the floor, so if you visit this summer you may get to see it out running around the  Wedgewood Resort grounds.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wallace Reid & His McFarlan Automobiles

by Nancy DeWitt

Our museum is full of beautiful automobiles, but as we showed in our last Restoration Update, we have some gems that have yet to make the trip north to Alaska. One of these is a big, imposing car with an impressive provenance. Our 1919 McFarlan Type 125 four-passenger sport touring (#19133) was originally owned by Wallace Reid, one of Hollywood's leading male stars. Reid appeared in at least 180 movies with the likes of Gloria Swanson, Lillian Gish and Geraldine Farrar.

Automobiles and racing were an obsession for Wally Reid, and some of his best-known films were daredevil auto flicks like The Roaring Road (1919), Excuse My Dust (1920) and Too Much Speed (1921). Women loved him for his dashing good looks (dubbing him "The Screen's Most Perfect Lover"), while men flocked to theaters to see Reid perform his own driving stunts.

Reid "adored automobiles," according to writer and friend Adela Rogers St. John. "I have seen him sit on a curb and gaze at a new roadster for hours, pointing out its lines, emphasizing its beauties, explaining its mechanical perfections." Reid collectible a series of fine cars, among them Marmons, Duesenbergs, and several McFarlans. He loved speed and was known for racing up and down Sunset Boulevard in a Stutz whose horn could play "Yankee Doodle Dandy." His carefree, reckless abandon behind the wheel led to a number of accidents, including a high-speed collision in his Marmon coupe that killed a father and seriously injured the man's wife and two children. He apparently avoided any mishaps with his 1919 McFarlan. In 1922 be ordered another McFarlan--a TV Knickerbocker cabriolet. Sadly, he never got to drive it.

Reid had been severely injured in a train accident in 1919 and given morphine while hospitalized to treat his pain. This was the era when Hollywood actors kept an exhausting schedule, cranking out multiple movies a year. Reid's studio continued to supply their "investment" with morphine so Reid could meet the demanding work schedule. Not surprisingly, this led to a serious addiction. The next two years were a downward spiral of drugs, exhaustion and alcohol abuse for Reid. His wife, actress Dorothy Davenport, finally put him in a sanitarium but the pressure of withdrawal was too much. Reid passed away at the age of 31 on January 18, 1923. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle bought the 1923 Knickerbocker, possibly before Reid's death, and it now resides in the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California.

The immediate fate of Reid's 1919 McFarlan following his death is unknown, but it eventually found its way to William Harrah's museum in Sparks, Nevada. J. Parker Wickham purchased the car following Harrah's death, and we acquired it in 2007. It is presently being restored by Murray Motor Car in Monroe, Washington. Al Murray has done an outstanding job with several of our other automobiles, including our 19010 Whiting, 1914 Moline-Knight and 1927 Stutz. At right is a photo of the McFarlan at the 2010 Kirkland Concours d'Elegance, before its restoration.

Here is a peek at the McFarlan today. Once we get it in the museum we hope to exhibit it with a display about Wallace Reid. He was one of the most famous actors of his time, and it is only fitting that he drove such a grand car.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Midget Racing in Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt

Recently Willy and I were contacted by Thomas Schmeh, the curator for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum and Kevin Triplett, a racing historian and writer. They were inquiring about our three midget racers and were curious if they had ever been raced in Alaska. Except for some spins around the museum parking lot and local track, we're pretty sure our 1934 Offenhauser, 1937 Ford V8-60 and 1938 Elto were never raced here. All three were part of the J. Parker Wickham collection in Mattituck, New York, prior to coming to live at the Fountainhead Museum.

1934 Wetteroth-Offenhauser midget racer. Driver Bob Swanson was unbeatable in this car
and won the United Midget Association title with it in 1935.

 To the best of our knowledge, midget racing didn't arrive in Fairbanks until the early 1950s. Does anyone remember seeing midget cars race at the Rendevouz Speedway along the Old Steese Highway? Quarter midget racing picked up here around 1957.

Kevin Triplett has written an interesting article about the history of midget racing in Alaska, which you can read by clicking on this link and scrolling down to the March 3, 2012 stories. As you can see, there are some gaps in our knowledge, so if you have any additional information please let us or Kevin know.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Antique Snowmobiles, Iron Dog Race Take Center Stage

by Nancy DeWitt

Another fun Tired Iron vintage snowmobile rally has come and gone. We, along with hundreds of others, had a blast out on the frozen Chena River last Saturday. The snow was a little too soft and sugary for our Model T Snow Flyer's taste, but Willy was able to coax her from the boat landing down to the staging area for the Jurassic Classic race. We didn't dare give rides (we were boxed in anyway), but kids had fun sitting in the Flyer.

One of the things I love about Fairbanks is that there is rarely a shortage of things to do here, even during the winter. If we get bored, we sometimes use children as human bowling balls and try to knock down big plastic "moose poop" pins at the end of an icy lane. Great fun!

At Tired Iron one could also try their luck at hitting a golf ball into the top of an outhouse, or take a ride in a dog sled. One of Saturday's highlights was watching the winners of the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmobile race come screaming in to the finish line on the river. Congratulations to the winning team of Dusty VanMeter and Marc McKenna. They covered the route in record time (just over 35 hours running time) on their Ski-Doo snowmachines.

My favorite event at Tired Iron is the Jurassic Classic race. The organizers describe it as "intended for sleds no faster than 25 MPH, and for drivers that still have their faculties, but not necessarily their original teeth, hips, or knees." One racer was 84, and at least two others were older than 90! They all raced around a loop designed for a good view "for your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and for our CPR crew." Click on the photos for larger view of some of the sleds that participated.