Monday, May 27, 2013

Our Handsome Hupmobiles

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

In 1908, the first automobiles began arriving in Fairbanks, among them a Pope-Toledo, Pierce Great Arrow, Franklin and White Steamer. Like all automobiles here until the mid-teens, they were shipped in on sternwheelers via the Yukon and Tanana Rivers. It would take almost two decades and a railroad, however, before any Hupmobiles made it to this frontier town.

The first mention of the marque appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on May 8, 1926 under the headline “Brisk Market for Automobiles here.” The Fairbanks Exploration Company was noted as having purchased three six-cylinder Hupmobiles. A Hupmobile Eight was apparently due on the next train, and in 1927 dealer L.W. Rogge ran a series of ads for Hupmobile Sixes and Eights. What became of these cars is a mystery, but fortunately our museum has been able to acquire two lovely "Hupps."

After arriving here from Seattle in the early 1970s, our 1928 Century Series A opera coupe (# A77315) passed through three Fairbanks owners before we purchased it in 2007. The car’s whimsical but authentic color scheme--a red-orange body highlighted with black fenders and trim of mint green and dark brown --draws a lot of praise (and a few raised eyebrows) from museum visitors when we have it on display. 

The museum’s 1933 K-321 Victoria (# K8170) attracts a lot of attention, especially among women visitors. The sweeping lines and metallic turquoise paint job on this beauty really stand out. Few people walk by this car without exclaiming, "Wow!”

Considered one of the most beautifully designed cars ever produced, the Series K-321 Hupmobiles had the distinction of being the first automobiles designed by famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy together with stylist Amos Northrup. These Hupps introduced dramatic style features such as a V-shaped radiator grille, sharply raked windshield, extra-long streamlined running boards, swan-like taillights and a flying H hood ornament. The most striking new features, though, were the “cycle fenders” that tightly hugged the curves of the tires.

This 1933 Victoria features eight hand-operated ventilation doors in the hood, dual trumpet horns, suicide doors (hinged at the rear) and an artificial leather roof panel. The car is powered by a six-cylinder in-line L-head, 90-horsepower engine with a displacement of 228 cubic inches. It has a unique “free wheeling” three-speed transmission, which allows the car to coast when the driver’s foot is lifted from the accelerator. 

Only seven 1933 K-321 Victorias are known to still exist. We were pleased to exhibit ours at the Vernon L. Nash Antique Car Club show this past weekend, although it and our crew overheated in the 80-degree heat!

Photos of  fender/spare and suicide door by Ronn Murray Photography.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Field Trips to the Car Museum

By Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We just wrapped up a busy week of field trips to the museum. Most of the students who visit us have never been inside a car museum before, and hearing their exclamations of "Wow!" when they walk in the door always brings a smile to our faces. In fact, most of these kids have never seen an antique automobile up close, and it is especially fun to show them the cars and their place in American history.

The field trips are tailored to each age group, although each covers the history of the automobile, different ways cars were powered (steam, electricity and gasoline), special clothing needed to stay dry and warm in early cars, and Alaska's zany automotive history. The story about how Bobby Sheldon built Alaska's first car is always a hit.

If time allows, students can dress up for a photo in the 1911 Everett and/or do a scavenger hunt in the museum. Anyone visiting the museum with children can ask for one of our scavenger hunt forms, and there is a little prize awarded for completed forms.

Many thanks to Nancy Allen for designing our field trips and leading so many of them for us. A retired school teacher, Nancy has a gift for keeping the kids' attention and herding rambunctious groups through the galleries.

Field trips are available only during the school year. For more information, click here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Abbott-Detroit Bull Dog

 by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
William B. Norton Photographs, P226-099
Alaska State Library
When I began working with the Fountainhead Museum during its development stage, one of my first tasks was to research which automobiles were the first to reach Alaska. I found the intriguing photo at right in the digital archives of the Alaska State Library. It is labeled "Chas. C. Percival. Skagway, Alaska. Enroute 100,000 mile durability run. The Abbot-Detroit Bull Dog." I had never heard of an Abbott-Detroit before, and was curious to know why it was in Skagway in 1911. It turns out it was in Alaska during a famous publicity stunt.

1912 Abbott-Detroit, courtesy of
The Abbott-Detroit was a luxury automobile produced in Detroit from 1909-1916. Most were powered by Continental four or six-cylinder engines (a few carried eight-cylinder Herschell-Spillmans), considered by many to be the most durable engines of the time. Indeed, the company advertised that "Durability...stands out pre-eminently as a designating characteristic of all Abbott-Detroit cars." To prove this point, Abbott-Detroits were entered in numerous endurance contests, most notably Charles Percival's cross-continent adventure in the car above, nicknamed the "Bull Dog."

Percival was a journalist who "combined the chest-thumping machismo epitomized by Theodore Roosevelt's hunts in Africa and South America with an enthusiasm for the quickly emerging, fast-changing, and experimental technology of the early automobile." (Ducker 1999) The Abbott Motor Car Company had recruited him to drive a 1910 Model "30" stock touring car around the continent until 100,000 miles had been logged. The ambitious plan included a trip to Alaska, where Percival hoped to become the first person to drive an automobile from Skagway to Dawson City. He wrote a colorful account of his northern adventure in a book titled The Trail of the Bull-Dog.

Percival and his mechanic/driver, George Brown, arrived in Skagway via steamship in late September of 1911, where he proclaimed (incorrectly) that "The Bull Dog was the first automobile ever in Skagway."  After giving rides to many of the townspeople, they departed a few days later with Mr. J.J. Chambers of Skagway as an observer. Percival had hoped to cross the White Pass on snow, with runners on the Bull Dog's front wheels and spiked tires on the rear, but they had arrived too early for snow. Instead, they received permission to drive on the narrow-gauge railroad to get over the pass. The bumpy ride included crossing the 297' high steel bridge over Dead Horse Gulch, which they did at a brisk 15 mph in heavy fog.

It was a difficult trip. Between Lake Bennett and Caribou, Percival and Chambers walked alongside the car, laying down planks to cross bridges and culverts where the railroad ties were widely spaced. From Whitehorse to Carmacks they had to build corduroy sections to get across muddy portions of the old government trail. The unfrozen Yukon River prevented them from traveling beyond Carmacks, so they were forced to turn around. Despite their failure to reach Dawson, Percival and Brown were presented with a trophy from the Daily Alaskan for being the first to drive an automobile from Skagway to the Yukon River over the White Pass. While sailing south, the Bull Dog was supposed to become the first automobile to drive the streets of Juneau, but it never left the ship while docked there.

Percival logged only 50,000 miles on his journey, but that did not dissuade the Abbot Motor Car Company from boasting of the Bull Dog's feat. Sales did well, and in 1916 the company moved its operations from Detroit to a larger factory in Cleveland and renamed its cars Abbotts. As with many auto manufacturers of the time, this proved to be the company's undoing. Overextended, the company was bankrupt by 1918.

This is just one of the 80 or so large photographs from Alaska's pioneer days that we have on display. Be sure to budget an extra hour in the museum if you want to see them all and read their captions!

Ducker, James H. 1999. An Auto in the Wilderness. The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 90(2): 77-88.
Percival, Charles C. 1912. The Trail of the Bull-Dog. American Chauffeur Publishing Co., Cincinnati, OH.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Wild About Wedgewood Resort

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I’m dedicating this blog post to our most important museum sponsor, Wedgewood Resort. The Fountainhead Museum is located on the grounds of their beautiful, 105-acre campus just north of downtown Fairbanks. I encourage our out-of-town visitors to stay at Wedgewood Resort, because by doing so you’ll be supporting the continued preservation of the museum’s artifacts, as well as our educational programs. You’ll also receive special museum privileges and can watch for one of our cars cruising right past your hotel building!

Guests at Wedgewood Resort and Bear Lodge* (or Sophie Station Suites or the Bridgewater Hotel), receive half-price museum admission and VIP access to our scheduled tours. You can also ride the free “Around-Town Shuttle” to the University of Alaska Museum of the North and Pioneer Park (home of the Pioneer Aviation Museum). If you’re a car club or other group, you’ll love the resort’s meeting facilities, catering services, and ample parking.

Bear Lodge and the resort’s Convention Center are like bonus museum galleries, with interesting vintage clothing exhibits and photographs of classic cars, local wildlife, and Alaska history on display in the lobbies and hallways. Be sure to budget time to see these, as well as the historical exhibits located throughout the resort. Nature enthusiasts will love the breathtaking flower displays, proximity to Creamer’s Refuge, and free entry to the resort’s private nature reserve. The 75-acre Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary offers a unique opportunity for guests to explore the nature trails, take a self-guided or naturalist-led walk, and watch for wildlife at Wander Lake.

You can choose from one- or two-bedroom suites at Wedgewood (perfect for families), or spacious hotel rooms in Bear Lodge. Parking and high-speed WiFi are free, and there is an on-site restaurant, lounge, and Internet cafĂ© open from mid-May through early September. The location, fabulous hospitality and variety of amenities at Wedgewood Resort can’t be beat, especially for old car and vintage fashion enthusiasts!      

*summer season

 “If you are up this far north, you won't find a better place to stay! The Bear Lodge is a first rate hotel with fine dinning, and a great buffet breakfast too. Be sure to check out the car museum! This may well have been the highlight of the entire trip to this state. The car collection is vast and first rate, many of which I have not seen anywhere else before. This hotel has everything you will need right here on site, It is a gem, this far north!”   TripAdvisor Review