Monday, September 30, 2013

Museums Alaska Conference - 2013

Rotary snow plow used on the White Pass & Yukon
Railroad, Klondike Gold Rush National Park
by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Last week Diane Fleeks from the Fairbanks Community Museum and I drove 700 miles to southeast Alaska, passing through parts of the Yukon Territory and British Columbia to reach Skagway. How odd that one sometimes needs a passport to travel from one part of Alaska to another! 

My goal in Skagway was to visit the archives at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, primarily to see if I could learn more about Robert Sheldon's homemade automobile and the lady he hoped to impress with it. I left with more questions than when I started, but I also came away with some great photos of early cars in Skagway and several interesting transcripts and manuscripts. Many thanks to Karl Gurcke and Judith Munns for all their help.

Historic Fort Seward
From Haines we rode the ferry M/V Taku 14 miles down Lynn Canal to Haines, the site of this year's Alaska Historical Society and Museums Alaska conference. Our old hotel was once the bachelor officers' quarters for Fort Seward--very funky, but the view was amazing! From here it was a short walk to the conference in the Chilkat Cultural Center, a former cannery that was moved to its present location from across the inlet.

The annual AHSMA conference brings together a wonderful mix of museum professions and volunteers from around the state, as well as historians from Alaska and beyond. I was able to attend a workshop on using SketchUp to design exhibit layouts, and several interesting sessions on museum publishing, collections planning, and designing exhibits around a signature artifact. 

A highlight of the week was visiting the Hammer Museum, which I first learned about when it was involved in a David-and-Goliath trademark dispute with the Armand Hammer Museum back in 2007. Founder David Pahl has collected over 1,600 hammers and organized them into a very fun little museum. Don't miss it if you're ever in Haines! Just down the road is the Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center, which does a nice job telling the story of Haines' history and the area's Native people. The Sheldon Museum shared some wonderful early car photos with me, several of which may grace our museum's walls one day.

I only saw a few vintage cars and machines on the trip, including a 1939 Cadillac and the steam-driven contraption at left. But, I made some excellent contacts with other museums, and gained some new documents and photos for our files. The conference was very well organized, and I extend my thanks and appreciation to the host committee, volunteers, and Museums Alaska board and staff.

Skagway and Haines are delightful little towns, although it's a toss-up between which has the most interesting nightlife. We were treated to live performances by the Windy Valley Boys in both towns (a very fun band!), but only Haines had the spectacular Salvation Army fashion show put on by the film crew for the Discovery Channel's "Gold Rush" reality show. It was a sight to behold.

We were treated to some amazing scenery on the 1,400 mile trip, as well as some cool critter sightings. I had to hit the brakes once to avoid hitting a grizzly bear crossing the highway, and we saw more bald eagles than cars on the entire drive. I've lived in Alaska 22 years and never cease to be amazed by her beauty. Come visit if you haven't!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Our Pope-Toledo Wins!

 by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

A few weeks ago my lovely wife and I headed south for the U.S. Bank Kirkland Concours d'Elegance in Washington state. We arrived in Seattle to a very wet and rainy Thursday evening, and while driving out to Monroe we encountered one of the hardest rains I have seen in many years. The water was nearly a half-inch deep on 405, and the wipers on the rental car could hardly keep up. We were also treated to a very bright and noisy show with lightning that lit up the entire area. Definitely not the kind of weather for taking out a 107-year-old automobile!

We spent Friday and Saturday at Murray Motor Car getting our 1906 Pope-Toledo Type XII touring car cleaned up and ready for the show. This included oiling the clutch and taking the big car for a test drive to make sure everything was working properly following its trip to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August. Once everything checked out, we loaded the car for its trip to the LeMay Museum for Sunday's show.

The day started out a little on the cool side, but the fog burned off and turned into a great day for a show--not too hot, but still plenty warm. The Pope-Toledo certainly generated a lot of interest among the show visitors. There were some other beautiful cars in the Antiques Class, including a 1914 Lozier and 1910 Buick. Tough competition!

It was very exciting when we learned we had won the First in Class award for Pre-War Antiques. This speaks highly of the fine work done by Al and Paul Murray (pictured with me at left, along with Paul's son) and their crew. They are now getting the car ready to ship north to Fairbanks later this month.

As you can see, the Pope-Toledo has some very curvy lines. This style of body is known as "Roi-des-Belges," which translates as "King of the Belgians." It was the mistress of King Leopold II of Belgium who suggested he have a car designed with seats that resembled her richly upholstered armchairs. The bulging, tulip-shaped seats and graceful, inswept waist of the Roi-des-Belges body caused a sensation when it was unveiled on a Panhard et Levassor in 1902.

The Roi-des-Belges body, also known as a tulip phaeton, remained popular for several years. It was used on several American cars and was carried by two of the first automobiles in Fairbanks--a 1906 Pope-Toledo identical to ours, and a 1908 White Model K steam car. You need to come see it in person to realize how elegant it is.

I want to send out a big thank you to my wonderful wife, Wilma, for accompanying me to these events, dressing the part, and spending the entire day visiting with folks. It always helps to have a pretty lady with the car, but this year we were blessed to have two of them! Many thanks to Marlene for also joining us, dressed in her pretty finery. 

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Highwheelers in Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

One of my first jobs when we were planning the museum was to determine what cars were the first in Alaska. We wanted to acquire identical or similar models to help tell the story of the Territory’s automotive history. One of the most challenging tasks was finding a surviving Pope-Toledo—the first kind of automobile in Fairbanks. It took several years, but I finally tracked one down in Kentucky and the stars aligned for it to become ours. My sights are now set on finding a Pierce Great Arrow and an Imp Cyclecar.

Crary-Henderson Collection,
Anchorage Museum B1962.1.1963
A few of the museum cars, such as our 1908 Brush, were purchased before we learned that they represented early Alaska automobiles. Our 1909 IHC (International Harvester Company) Model D auto buggy at right is another example. We wanted a highwheeler in the museum because of their unique design and historical role as “the farmer’s auto.” The tall wheels (40” in front, 44” in the rear) gave the auto buggy a full 18” clearance, which helped it negotiate the muddy and rutted country roads of the day. The wheels were set 60” apart to fit in the tracks made by wagons.

A few years ago I came across the photo at right at the Anchorage Museum. This highwheeler was photographed in front of the Paystreak Roadhouse near Nome in 1909. Lo and behold, it’s an IHC auto buggy, identical to ours!

Courtesy of Candy Waugaman
There was at least one other IHC highwheeler in Alaska. In July of 1912, James Fish, Jr. shipped a 20-HP IHC auto buggy to Valdez on the steamer Mariposa. In addition to holding a number of mining claims, Fish owned a dairy, poultry farm and general store, was chief clerk of the post office, and operated the Valdez Transportation Company, which carried passengers to Fairbanks by horse-drawn stages and sleds. In the early 1900s he had secured a government contract to carry mail from Valdez to Eagle by dog sled. By 1912 he must have decided that upgrading to an automobile was the way to go, as he planned to use his auto buggy to transport mail between Valdez and Gulkana.

1911 IHC Model A Auto Wagon at the National Auto &
Truck Museum. By 1910, IHC highwheelers were redesigned
with a hood up front, even though the water-cooled engine
still resided under the seat and no radiator was needed.
“... (Fish’s) machine will be able to plow through mud a foot thick,” proclaimed the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Autos were tried on the Fairbanks end of the trail two years ago in the winter time but never before have they been used on (the Valdez) end. The Fairbanks people have been agitating for an automobile road to the coast and if successful Mr. Fish will bear the distinction of being the pioneer in using autos for summer travel.” I have yet to find any photos or other mention of Fish’s IHC, so I have no idea how it worked for his mail service. 

How I wish I knew what became of the Nome and Valdez IHCs, and if either survives! If you are aware of any other highwheelers that were in Alaska, please let me know.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, September 9, 2013

1902 Knox Runabout: Our Newest Acquisition

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We just acquired a unique automobile for the museum--a 1902 Knox Runabout. We have wanted to add a Knox to our collection for some time, so this news is very exciting. Our collection's theme focuses on early American automobiles with significant or unusual technology and/or design features, and the Knox certainly fits.

Harry Knox chose to make an air-cooled, one-cylinder engine for his first automobiles. Most makers of air-cooled cars at the time used fins cast integral with the cylinder block for cooling. Because this only worked for light-duty engines at the time, Harry Knox covered his cylinder barrel with over 1,000 two-inch pins. Each pin has a spiral-knurled surface, which reportedly increased the surface area for cooling by 100%. The combination of pins and a fan worked well to maintain a normal engine temperature.

You can see from the photos why the Knox earned the nickname of "Old Porcupine," although some thought the engine more closely resembled a hedgehog.

Our Knox is being shipped from its former home in Pennsylvania out to California for some TLC by Allan Schmidt's Horseless Carriage Restoration in Escondido. I'm not sure when it will make it to Fairbanks, but I want to to be the first to ride in that scary front passenger seat!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Amazing Coincidence of the Yellow Dress

Guest Post by Joan Skilbred

What are the odds of someone from Fairbanks, Alaska making a reproduction period dress, only to discover the original had also been purchased and was on display in Fairbanks too?

In January 2013, I was looking for a 1900-1910 dress to make for my daughter to wear during Gold Rush days in Valdez, Alaska, which occurs in August every year. I was looking for an attractive dress to copy that would give me some insights into construction methods and pattern drafting skills from that fashion era. After looking online at a great number of these dresses, one in particular caught my eye. It was a sunny yellow, and when I saw it, I knew it was the right dress for my daughter with her upbeat and sunny personality.

I began working on the pattern, first making a couple of test patterns and trying them out with a cheap muslin fabric until I had one that I liked. I then calculated the fabric and notions needed to make the dress and looked over my budget. It was a challenge to put the whole look together for under $200.00, but I did it by careful shopping over a period of 2 months.

I took advantage of store discount coupons and online discounts as much as I could. It was also difficult to match the exact dress as the print used in the original blouse is not made anymore, and the Chantilly lace featured on the original would have put me way over my budget. I had to make a decision to go with a nice ecru swiss dot silk charmeuse for the blouse and swap the colors on some of the original blouse colors from white to yellow to get a balanced look on the finished dress.

Finally, in late June all the materials had arrived and the pattern drafting was done. At last I could make the beautiful yellow dress! I started with the skirt and found it to be surprisingly easy to put together. Even sewing all those yards of black velvet ribbon went quickly and before two evenings were up, the skirt was finished! There was a glitch in the way one of the ruffles on the skirt was hanging but I wanted to finish the rest of the dress before I would go back to address that issue in case I ran short of time.

About the time the skirt was done, I received a phone call from the Pioneers of Alaska asking me if I would be the guest speaker at the Pedro Monument Rededication ceremony in mid-July. I was thrilled to be asked to do this and decided that I would finish the dress a little sooner, and wear it to the ceremony which is part of Fairbanks’s Annual Golden Days celebration. My daughter would have to wait to wear it until next year.

The next part to be made was the petticoat. One would think that would be an easy item to make, but it turned out to be very time consuming and difficult to gather all those miles of ruffles. I went online to look for an easier answer and found that using a ruffler attachment for the sewing machine would be the best bet. So after shelling out $60.00 for the attachment, I had all the ruffles gathered and sewn onto the petticoat in less than two hours. It was the best $60.00 spent on a sewing attachment ever! Finally the petticoat was finished in less than two nights of work thanks to that ruffler. I also discovered that the petticoat is worn with the ruffles to the outside.

Next came a delay, because I had underestimated the yardage on some of the fabrics, especially the velvet ribbon. I had to wait for the rest of the supplies to arrive in the mail before I could sew up the blouse which I made in two more evenings worth of work. I had also ordered a hat and needed to add some yellow embellishments to it so it would tie in with the look of the dress.

When finished, it took 6 evenings of work, 12 yards of yellow for the skirt, 45 yards of velvet ribbon, and 10 yards of gold fabric for the petticoat ruffles. It was a lot of work to look fashionable in 1906!

All this time I had only the photos from an online auction site that was selling the yellow dress to go by for creating my version of the dress. Working from just a few photos that only showed the dress on a mannequin was a real challenge, and I had to guess as to how many things were done to make the original.

Joan Skilbred models her reproduction dress with the original dress
at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum at Wedgewood Resort here in Fairbanks, and seeing the original dress on display in the museum! I could not believe my eyes, but there it was the original yellow dress right there in front of me! In my excitement I quickly told Nancy DeWitt the historian at the museum that I had made that dress. She looked at me with amazement and said no, that she was sure it was an original. I again said that I had made that dress and she insisted that would be impossible. So I took out my cell phone and showed her a photo of me wearing my dress at the presentation I did and then we both started to laugh. Before she could say or do anything, I handed my phone to her as I hopped over the rope and had her take a photograph of me with the dress so I could send it to my daughter.
As you can see the back of the dress is a lot looser in the fit. 
This was necessary because it had to be worn outside with other
clothing underneath if the weather was chilly.  The added room
in the back affords much more flexibility for the wearer.

The next day at the request of the museum staff, I did my hair up in an old time hairstyle and donned my dress for a photo session featuring the two dresses together. There are a few small differences, but the overall look is a pretty good match. When I wore my dress at the Pedro Monument Rededication Ceremony, the audience was very impressed. An audible gasp escaped the lips of many members of the audience when I walked up wearing my recreation of the fabulous golden dress. All the hard work to recreate this stunning ensemble was worth every bit of the effort I put into it. I learned a lot recreating this dress from the past and hope to work on another spectacular reproduction for next year! I think I will make it a point to stroll through the Antique Car Museum for some inspiration before I begin work on the next one.

Joan Skilbred is a professional seamstress and Alaska history buff who resides in Fairbanks Alaska.  Her main trade is manufacturing outdoor clothing and gear This was her first attempt at historic costume reproduction. We think she did an AMAZING job!