Monday, June 24, 2013

The Great Race of Alaska?

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

A most extraordinary around-the-world race took place just over 105 years ago. On February 12, 1908, six automobiles and their crews gathered at New York's Times Square for the start of the Great Race from New York to Paris. The American team's car was a big Thomas Flyer, adorned with  ropes, shovels, spare tires and extra parts, plus a pair of 14-foot planks for crossing ditches and mud. There was no road system connecting North America's east and west coasts, so it was no surprise that the teams faced many challenges and breakdowns during their journey across the United States. The drive across Asia would be no less formidable.

Remarkably, the race called for teams to ship their automobiles to Valdez and drive across Alaska to Nome during the month of March. That can't even be done today, winter or summer! Yet, numerous Alaska miners and freighters had apparently claimed that the trail out of Valdez would be solid enough for automobile travel, even though no motorized vehicle had ever driven over it. From Nome, the racers were to find a way across the Bering Strait and resume land travel across Siberia.

The American team was the first to reach San Francisco and head north by ship. The entire population of Valdez, including the local brass band, turned out to greet their arrival. It was the first automobile ever seen in Valdez, but unfortunately it never left the dock after being unloaded. The snow was much too deep and the trail too narrow and soft for an automobile. Race officials nixed the Alaska route, and the Thomas Flyer was loaded onto the next ship for Seattle. The new route took racers to Japan, and then on to Siberia. Despite their side trip to Valdez, the American team would go on to win the race. Several books have been written about the Great Race of 1908, with Hard Driving by Fairbanks journalist Dermot Cole featuring the best write-up by far about the Alaska segment.

In early August, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum will host a special presentation by Jeff Mahl about the Great Race. Jeff is the great grandson of George Schuster, driver and chief mechanic of the Thomas Flyer during the race. Jeff tells the story of the race in character as his "Great Gramp," regaling audiences with a first person perspective of the stirring events and human trials of the event. His performance features stories never before published about the race, showing the human side of the race and building true appreciation for the marvelous machines that propelled the daring crews around the world.

The presentation will take place on August 6 at 7 PM, and is free with museum admission or a season pass. Jeff's program includes original photographs from the race projected onto a screen behind him as he tells the story from the seat of an antique car. As an added bonus, Jeff will also show what the 2011 World Race looked like from "over the hood" 105 years later. I saw Jeff's presentation at Greenfield Village a few years ago, and can honestly say that you will NOT want to miss it!

"Absolutely brilliant storyteller...kept the audience enthralled and thrilled. A terrific performance that attained a very high level of inspiration and genuine emotional impact." Marty W. Merkley, Chautauqau Insititution, New York

Monday, June 17, 2013

In the Shop: 1906 Cadillac Model K

by Nancy DeWitt and Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The Model K represents an important milestone in Cadillac's history. Henry Leland had introduced the first Cadillac in 1903, an attractive "one lunger" that sold surprisingly well and quickly earned a reputation for reliability, driving simplicity, ease of maintenance, and remarkable pulling and climbing capability. The Victoria, or “tulip,” body, in which the gracefully curved seat sides resembled a flower petal, became an immediate sensation when Cadillac introduced the Model K in 1906.

While other cars of the time were heavy and expensive to run, the single-cylinder Cadillac was light, reliable and cheap to operate. The Model K was also quite fast for a one-cylinder car, helping Cadillac reach their highest single-cylinder production total of 3,650 cars in 1906.  Because under-seat engines were by then passé, Cadillac disguised the Model K with a dummy front hood that housed only the radiator and water tank.

Leland, who came from the arms industry, understood the importance of precision-engineered interchangeable parts that could be assembled without the hand-fitting that characterized most automobile manufacturing in the early 20th century. Many doubted such a thing was possible, so Leland proved it in a standardization test conducted by the Royal Automobile Club in 1908 in Britain. During the test, three single-cylinder, 1907 Cadillac Model Ks were entirely dismantled into 2,163 parts. The test required that “no fitting, filing, scraping of bearings or grinding with an abrasive cloth” were allowed. Using only wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers and pliers, mechanics then reassembled the cars. All the parts fit precisely, and each. car was then driven for 500 miles on a track without any adjustments having to be made.  For this remarkable feat, Cadillac won the much-coveted DeWar Challenge Trophy, an award presented annually to the company making the most important advancements in the automotive field. Cadillac was the first American-made car to win this prestigious award. 

We rolled our '06 Caddy into the shop recently to get it ready for some exercise around Wedgewood Resort. It's a nice-driving car, and it even carried the Alaska Governor in the Golden Days Parade a few years ago. Alas, like many of the cars that sit for several months, the "bench gremlins" got to it. When we ran this car last fall, all seemed to work fine. However, when we got it serviced and ready to fire, the crank chipped off a little of the mating face (see photo at right) and gave me a little surprise. We ended up removing the crank adapter and had to fit the crank and the adapter so it would not let the crank spit out before it should.

As you might guess, when that happens these little spots of "hangar rash" begin to appear, and that just leads to more time in the shop...

This chipped fender is the result of the crank coming out prior to its normal departure time. In spite of these issues, the car is up and running again and will be out for some exercise in the next few days.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Museum Cars - Then and Now

by Nancy DeWitt

It's been a busy week at the museum, so we thought we'd treat you to some flashbacks. Here are some before-and-after restoration photos of a few of our cars.

At right is our 1914 Moline-Knight Model MK-50 7-passenger touring car, after it was acquired by J. Parker Wickham of Mattituck, New York. That's Mr. Wickham at the wheel.


Mr. Wickham restored the Moline-Knight, but we had it repainted before shipping it to Alaska.

Our 1918 Biddle town car, after Henry Austin Clark recovered it in 1952 from a collapsed garage on Long Island in New York.

The Biddle after restoration by Allan Schmidt of Horseless Carriage Restoration.

Our 1904 Buckmobile, after Walt Meyer disinterred it from a barn in New York in 1937.

Previous owner Joe Whitney performed a meticulous restoration on the Buckmobile.

The 1898 Hay Motor Vehicle. It was discovered in a Connecticut barn in the 1940s, but we assume this photo was taken much later than that.

The Hay after an extensive restoration spanning several owners, including the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum.

The 1921 Heine-Velox Victoria Sport Touring as it looked during Parker Wickham's and William Harrah's ownership.

The Heine-Velox after restoration by Allan Schmidt and Horseless Carriage Restoration. It is such a big and imposing car that we chose a dark paint for it. The light paint reminded us too much of a battleship!

Our 1933 Hupmobile Series K Victoria when it was purchased by Parker Wickman.

 After restoration by Mr. Wickham. Women expecially love this paint color!

And finally, our 1919 McFarlan Type 125 Type Sport Touring, as it looked while William Harrah and Parker Wickham owned it. Like with the Heine-Velox, we thought such a large car called for a darker paint job.  

Here's the McFarlan after Al Murray of Murray Motor Car restored it. First in Class winner at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and the 2012 Kirkland Concours d'Elegance!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Robe de Style: The Alternative Silhouette of the Roaring Twenties

Robe de Soir de Worth by George Barbier
June, 1921, La Gazette du Bon Ton
by Abigail Cucolo
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

With the recent release of Baz Lurhmann’s cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s renowned novel, The Great Gatsby, there will inevitably be a surge of interest in the fashion of the Roaring Twenties. People will once again be enamored with the fringes, bobs, and beaded, boyish silhouettes of the vivacious Flapper. Because, of course, when most think of the fashion of the 1920s, the Flapper is the first (if not only) image that comes to mind. Her look was dynamic and flashy, but, for most, was work to achieve. Women, who just years before were sculpting their bodies into an über-feminine hourglass, hadn’t suddenly evolved to skip puberty simply because fashion called for it, and not every lady could, or wanted to, mold their girlish curves to fit the flat chest and narrow hips of the Flapper figure. For those more romantic at heart (or organic in physique), an alternative design was consistently present throughout the 20s in the form of the Robe de Style (pronounced steel). Influenced by the sumptuous style of the 18th century, the Robe de Style was primarily an evening silhouette whose most distinctive feature was a full, bouffant skirt that jutted out at the hips like panniers. Also referred to as the “picture dress,” Robe de Styles were beloved for countering the boyish shifts by evoking nostalgic images of a feminine shepherdess.

Illustration by Erté 
Ranging in length from just below the knee to ankle, the gowns were typically made from luxurious fabrics like silk taffeta, organdy, velvet, chiffon, or satin. More subdued fullness in the skirt could be created through gathering, pleating, and shirring; however, many styles still required support from actual pannier-like underpinnings (wire basket-like supports). During the early 1920s, the waist placement was natural, with a close-fitting, sleeved bodice having a scooped or boat neckline, but as the decade progressed, variations of the Robe de Style with a sleeveless, deep-V neck bodice and dropped waistline appeared. Though a more modest silhouette than that seen on the Flapper, it was still a brainchild of the Roaring Twenties. In keeping with the flash and luxury idolized by Jazz Age fashion, the gowns could be lavishly trimmed in glitzy beads, sequins, lamé, diamante, and paste.
Here at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, we are fortunate enough to have a Robe de Style in the costume collection and on display. A sweet little number, it is made from black silk tissue taffeta trimmed with ivory embroidered chiffon at the collar and sleeves. The skirt, accented with shirring, has fullness supported by built-in wire panniers, creating the characteristic shape of the Robe de Style. To complete the charm, the waistband culminates in a large bow at back, and is decorated at the front with a colorful jewel toned velvet floral appliqué.

The Robe de Style was a stark contrast to the straight sheath of the popular style; a unique substitute that was beloved by designers Jeanne Lanvin and Lucile, and often featured by iconic illustrators Erté and George Barbier. While it may have been considered the “safe” choice by some fashion elite, it was nevertheless an elegant classic and perfect Dress of Style