Monday, November 19, 2012

Old Dodge Rumbles to Life

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The year was probably around 1926 when the 10-year-old Dodge touring car's engine gave up. It probably wasn't worth the cost to rebuild it, so I'm guessing owner Tom Gibson decided to park it and use its parts to keep his other cars operating.

When the car came to the museum on loan from David Stone and Don and Ray Cameron, it was minus its engine and transmission and was pretty well stripped down. It looked rather homely compared to the museum's finely restored cars, but it had character as well as provenance. This car was quite likely the first Dodge in Fairbanks, and it hauled many passengers between Fairbanks and Valdez as part of Gibson's Auto Line.

It sat on display for some time before I convinced Steve Cary, a former heavy equipment mechanic, to get involved with us and work on the old Dodge. I think it took him awhile to realize what a challenge it was going to be, and by then it was too late, we had him hooked. Despite having no experience with this "old stuff," Steve set off at a rapid snail's pace to get the car running again. There were times I could tell he was getting frustrated seeing no visible results, but with continued encouragement he persevered.

I cannot say enough good things about the crew of volunteers that come in to help with projects like this, and the amount of hours that Steve put in to make this all come together. We hauled in boxes and boxes of parts, and Steve spent a lot of painstaking time just sorting and inspecting each one for use. All of the running gear was either rebuilt or serviced to make sure the Dodge could be driven.

On November 7 the Dodge was ready for its first run since 1926. It was below 0 F, and I must admit that the old car weathered the conditions better than the occupants! Still, we couldn't let the subzero temperatures deter us, as the Dodge had a parade date approaching. On November 12, the long-awaited new Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks was due to open, and a small group of antique cars carrying local veterans had been invited to inaugurate it. The Dodge would follow the Creamer family's 1910 Chalmers-Detroit, which had also opened the Cushman and Wendell Streets bridges decades ago.

It was around -5 F and breezy when we chugged over the bridge and through downtown that day. The old Dodge ran flawlessly in the cold, probably reminiscent of the old days of travel on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. It was a great feeling to drive it across the bridge and bring another bit of Fairbanks history back to life.

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