Monday, April 30, 2012

The White Steamer's Turn is Near

by Willy Vinton

We rolled the 1907 White steamer into the shop last week for some minor work. We are anxious to fire up this big automobile and get it back in operation! Ryan Thurber and his son kristian will be coming up from California in May to make sure that all is well with the old gal, and that the automatics are all working as they should.

Unlike our Stanley, this car uses a condensor that recycles the steam. As a result, it can run up to 100 miles on a tank of water, versus the 20+ miles the Stanley can travel on the same amount of water.

The White's boiler operates at an impressive pressure of 550 to 600 psi at a peak temperature of 750º F. As its original temperature gauge has only three hash marks on it, it's hard to know just what the temperature really is. So, we are installing a modern temperature gauge for safety purposes and so we can have accurate readings for adjusting the automatics on the car. This requires some modification of the floor boards. As you can see, there is a lot happening under there.

This is the protective ring we're making that will go around the gauge in the floor, to keep feet off of the face of it.

We are really looking forward to the Thurbers' visit and will keep you posted when the big White is up and running.

Addendum 5/11/12: Here is a photo of the finished floor plate & gauges.

Monday, April 23, 2012

2012 Bakersfield Swamp Meet

by Willy Vinton

I sure wasn't expecting this kind of weather at the Bakersfield Brass Era Swap Meet this year. It was in the 70s or warmer the other times I've gone, and the forecast called for it to reach the 90s during this year's meet. Instead, it was cold, rainy and windy, almost like Hershey in the fall. They even had to close the Grapevine.
Friday brought almost an inch of rain, causing the grounds to begin to look like Fairbanks during "breakup" season. Lots of people got stuck in the mud. Even 4-wheel drives had difficulty maneuvering in the quagmire that the field became. Thankfully, the people in charge gathered up a few farm tractors and began towing motor homes and such out Friday night and Saturday morning.
This was the typical view on Friday, with most items covered, limiting the shopping opportunities. Some of the old die-hard vendors had some rusty items out for shoppers to search through, but the weather was just so cold and miserable that most people huddled up or went back to the hotel. The JC Taylor folks were graciously running around handing out some very appreciated rain panchos to shoppers. Although I kept my museum hat on, I admit that I became a walking advertisement for JC Taylor on this trip.

Despite the nasty weather, there were some treasures to be found. This 1913-1914 Cartercar was one of those. It is completely original, with just 2,023 total miles on it. Remarkable! It's still under full warranty--all you have to do is take it in to any Cartercar dealer for service or repair (good luck finding one!). It is always a treat to see an antique car that still has its original paint and pin striping. The upholstery, side curtains and top are still good. Even the wheels are tight. If we didn't already have a beautiful Cartercar in our collection (video), this would have made a nice addition to the museum.

Many thanks to all that put on this meet -- you did a great job in spite of the weather. Just a word to the wise, though. If it is muddy, do not drive through the crowd with a one-ton dually spinning your tires and throwing mud on the vendors and people with cameras. You may encounter some ire from folks (just saying).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Titanic Era Fashion

by Nancy DeWitt

Fascination with the glamour and tragedy of the RMS Titanic reached a crescendo this past week with the 100th anniversary of the ship's fateful voyage. It was hard to miss news stories about Titanic-themed museum exhibitions, memorial cruises and the release of the 3-D version of the blockbuster movie Titanic. A number of exhibits at other museums are focusing on clothing from the Titanic period, which I admit is one of my favorite eras of fashion history. Fortunately, we always have Titanic Era fashions (and automobiles) on display in the Fountainhead Museum.

The "Titanic Era" actually fell at the end of what we call the Edwardian Era, or La Belle Époque (the Beautiful Age). Around 1908 the curvaceous, womanly figure of the Edwardian lady gave way to a more lithe, fluid and upright look. Women no longer tortured their figures with the S-curve corsets. Instead, the new ideal was a long, slim silhouette reminiscent of the Directoire & Empire styles from 1790-1820. Single-piece dresses with high, empire waists were worn over long corsets that started just above the waist and fitted well down the thighs. This new style of corset did not squeeze in the waist, but it constricted the hips and was so long that sitting down was often a challenge.

Dresses during this period were often layered and sewn in asymmetrical patterns embellished with brocade fabric, lace trim, fringe or beading. Popular materials for day dresses included silk and velvet. Walking skirts of the time reached the ankle or instep.

Evening dresses were floor-length and many had trains. These were made of light or sheer fabrics adorned with lace or trimmings over a silk underlayer. Tunic styles were especially popular. Hats were not worn with evening gowns. Instead, it was fashionable to adorn one’s pompadour hairstyle with elaborate combs, jewels, aigrettes, feathers or a tiara. Long gloves were essential.

By day, women wore large hats to offset their narrow silhouette. These were adorned with an abundance of decorations, including flowers, lace, fruit, feathers and even entire birds. Hats that lacked these ornate trimmings compensated by being extremely wide. 

One hundred years after the Titanic's tragic voyage, the elegance of the era can still be seen in modern fashion. From Edwardian-inspired wedding gowns to the oversize, heavily adorned hats worn at the Kentucky Derby, these "unsinkable fashions" represent timeless sophistication. 

You can read more about our vintage fashion collection here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bodacious Bodices

by Nancy DeWitt

A collection of 1920s dresses
In the beginning, we didn't intend to feature historic clothing in our automobile museum. When several women in the local antique car club suggested we put some on display, we thought it sounded like a great idea. Armed with a small budget and an eBay account, we snapped up some pretty duster coats, a few mens' suits and several dresses and hats.

Fast forward to today. We now have more historic fashions on display than we do cars! Back when we were planning the museum, we didn't realize that clothing styles had evolved as dramatically as that of automobiles. Or, that some fashions were influenced by the automobile, and vice-versa. We also didn't anticipate how much our visitors would love seeing antique clothing alongside the cars. Barbara Cerny, our fashion curator, has done an amazing job at locating these historic pieces and exhibiting how fashions changed from the 1800s through the 1930s.

The oldest garments we have on display right now include several dresses from the late 19th Century. By the 1870s, fashion had evolved from hoop-skirted dresses of the 1860s to a narrower silhouette that emphasized the bust, waist and hips. Bustles and extremely tight corseting were used to achieve the desired shape. Overskirts, trimmings and trains were popular. Early in the decade, most bodices (the upper part of the dress) ended at the waist, but they soon began to lengthen. By 1877 bodices extended tightly over the hips, as seen on the black gown above, and bustles had diminished. Low, square necklines were common on evening dresses.

Dresses in the early 1880s, like the outer two in the above photo, had bodices that were short, tight fitting, and cut to a center point in the front. High, fitted collars were now fashionable. By 1880, trains began to disappear and "pannier" drapes at the hips became the rage. Skirts featured elaborate pleats, puffs, or draping, while decorations of ribbons, brocades and embroidery were now in vogue.

By the mid-1890s the bustle had disappeared. As skirts became more plain, bodices grew more elaborate, with frills, tucks, lace, embroidery, epaulettes and puffy sleeves. Some of these “leg-o-mutton sleeves” were so immense that they required two-and-one-half yards of material each!

We hope you will stop by to view these beautiful gowns up close, and to see how fashion continued to change from the Edwardian Era through the Roaring 20s and the glamorous 30s.

Monday, April 2, 2012

First Automobile in Alaska?

by Nancy DeWitt

We love telling the story about how young Bobby Sheldon built his runabout in 1905, but was this truly the first automobile in Alaska?

Several months ago I came across a story about the first attempt to reach Dawson City by automobile--in 1900. Now, the only way an automobile could get to the Klondike then was either by a Yukon River sternwheeler or a train ride from Skagway over the White Pass and Yukon Railroads--both of which require travel through Alaska. Intrigued, I uncovered the following details.

The expedition was led by E. Janne de Lamare of Paris, who had already traveled to the Klondike twice before. Joining him were E. Crom and Raphael Merville, also of Paris. According to the New York Times, they had "a special vehicle...constructed for the purpose, and is of an extraordinarily heavy pattern. The automobile is specially arranged so that the front wheels can be transformed into sled runners, while the pneumatic hind wheels can be replaced by spikes. The automobile will pull a sledge behind it on the ice." It weighed 450 lbs and was powered by a 5-HP gasoline engine.

1898 Leon Bollee Voiterette on display
at the Gilmore Car Museum

A "motor-tricycle" was also shipped from France for the trip, a 3-HP Leon Bollé Voiturette. Both vehicles were transported to Skagway by steamship, and then by rail to Canada's Lake Bennett, the starting point for the planned 640-mile drive to Dawson. As best I can tell, only the voiturette attempted the drive from Lake Bennett, accompanied by an oxen team pulling their gasoline supply on a sled. After enduring extreme cold, overflow, snow drifts, broken parts and a fire, they were thwarted by an early thaw on the Fifty-Mile, less than 100 miles into their journey. They detoured south to Atlin, arriving on April 4, where they made repairs and drove back to Lake Bennett. Lemare apparently shipped the heavier vehicle back to France, while a 1904 article in the Dawson Daily News claims that his voiturette was eventually brought north to Dawson City and abandoned. This photo does appear to be the automobile in Dawson.
A screen shot from the Motor-Car Journal,
Vol. 2. January 19, 1901

Do either of LeMarre's vehicles qualify as "the first automobile in Alaska?" I would say the answer is yes if they traveled under their own power from the dock to the rail station in Skagway. But what if they were pushed, or crated (perhaps even disassembled) and transported to the train by wagon?

There are further references to automobiles in Dawson from 1901 on, and I'm researching the possibility that an automobile was shipped to Valdez in 1903. Any of these might dispel the claim that Sheldon's was the first automobile in Alaska, but there is little doubt that his runabout was the first automobile built here.