Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Our Year in Review: 2014

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

This was another exciting and rewarding year for the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. We received some prestigious awards, celebrated our 5th anniversary, and retained our rating as the #1 Fairbanks visitor attraction on TripAdvisor. In February we were awarded the AACA Plaque for Outstanding Achievement in the Preservation of Automotive History by the Antique Automobile Association of America. We are honored that the AACA recognized not just our commitment to preserve and exhibit antique vehicles, but also the effort we have dedicated to researching, archiving, and sharing automotive history--including through this blog.

Other notable highlights from 2014 include:
  • We updated our display of large-format photographs featuring scenes from Alaska's early motoring days and produced a printed guide to the museum's photo exhibit.
  • We opened a new exhibit titled Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Daring Drivers. This display about the first autos in the Territory and the hardships faced by their drivers was featured in Alaska Air Magazine, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Museums Alaska newsletter,,, and several television and radio channels.
  • Due to high interest and positive feedback, we continued our "Beauty and the Bird" feathered hat exhibit. We also added several new fashion displays to the galleries.
  • In June we hosted the 3rd biennial Alaska Midnight Sun Cruise-In at Wedgewood Resort. Despite rainy weather, we had excellent participation from car owners from around the state, a dry cruise to the Salmon Bake, and a good audience turnout for the car show before the skies opened that afternoon.
  • Several new acquisitions were added to our collection, including a 1905 Franklin and 1910 Kelsey. We stabilized our 1915 Mack truck and put it on display outside the museum. Our docents constructed a replica of the first car to win an organized race in Alaska, a Ford Model T racer.
  • Record rainfall in Fairbanks prevented us from exercising many of the museum cars, but we did manage to get several out on the road, even during December. We showed our 1911 Ford Model T depot hack and 1932 Chrysler at the annual Vernon L. Nash Antique Car Club of Alaska show and drove our 1919 Pierce-Arrow in the annual Golden Days Parade.
  • We entered our 1917 Owen-Magnetic in the Pacific Northwest Concours d'Elegance in Tacoma in September. We were pleased to take home the Best in Class trophy in the Antiques class. Congratulations to Al and Paul Murray for their fine work on this unique car.
  • We produced a new coloring book about Alaska automobile pioneer Bobby Sheldon. The book was illustrated by Fairbanks artist Sandy Jamieson and authored by our historian, Nancy DeWitt.
  • Brad Dietrich joined our team as a mechanic, providing much-needed assistance to manager Willy Vinton. As always, we had fantastic help from our dedicated group of docents.
  • We rescued the remains of the original Fageol safety coach that was used by the Mt. McKinley Transportation Company in what is now Denali National Park.
  • Staff represented the museum at several events, including the National Association of Automobile Museums annual conference in Los Angeles, Scottsdale Auction Week, Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, Bakersfield and Hershey swap meets, and Museums Alaska Conference in Seward.
  • We expanded the selection of items in the museum gift shop, including vintage-inspired jewelry, retro hats, and new t-shirt designs.
  • Our book, Alaska's Fountainhead Collection: Vintage Treads and Threads, was updated for a second printing and will go on sale in 2015.
Thank you for another great year!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Very Argonne Christmas

Wishing you all the best as we head into the year!

We will be open on Sunday, December 28, from noon to 6 pm.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Charles Bunnell's Excellent Adventure

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

This photo was taken in Chitina, Alaska, on September 11, 1914. Robert Sheldon is standing on the far right. Next to him is Charles E. Bunnell, who had recently been appointed U.S. District Judge of the 4th Division by President Woodrow Wilson. Bunnell had hired Sheldon to drive him north from Valdez to Fairbanks so he could campaign for Alaska's Territorial delegate seat in Congress.

Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson
Notice that the car 's body has been removed, and that two wooden chairs have taken the place of the regular seat. Sheldon was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to make it to Fairbanks because of deep mud, so to lighten the load he removed the car’s body and seats, and then strapped two barroom chairs to the chassis. 

“I’ve never sat in a barroom chair before,” growled the judge, “but I suppose there’s always a first time.” 

By the time they reached Paxson, Sheldon and Bunnell had endured two days and nights of steady rain. Five inches of snow greeted them in Isabel Pass. In places the mud was so deep that they had to be pulled through by a team of horses. They didn't arrive in Fairbanks until the evening of September 17. Bunnell lost the election to Judge James Wickersham, but later served as the first president of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now the University of Alaska). While there he played a pivotal role in bringing Sheldon's homemade runabout to the University's museum.

Imagine riding on a wooden chair in an open car--for seven days in crummy weather! The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner wrote this about Sheldon's and Bunnell's drive:

Big Trail Has No Terrors for The Auto Driver and His Little Ford. It's Stripped for Action.
The weather may storm and threaten, rain and snow, all of which it did this trip. Mud may get axle deep, bridges may break down, creeks may overflow their banks, all of which was true this time. But Sheldon seems to beat the game any way it is played. He dismantled his machine before leaving Chitina, saving several hundred pounds of weight, and all roads have to give way to him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Replica of Alaska's First Winning Race Car

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The replica we've been building of Bobby Sheldon's first race car is almost finished, and the crew that has been working on it took it out yesterday for a spin.
Most of the parts that we used to build this replica were ones I gathered from around the state, so all the parts are of Alaska origin. A good portion came from the Nome area. Nome had a Ford dealer in the early days, and had lots of unsold new parts as well as a large assortment of used items. 

Long-time Fairbanks resident George Clayton flew for Wein Airlines, and he would collect and haul all kinds of items back to town from various villages. George always kept a good inventory of what and where the items originated. He would love to talk about them but would never sell any! Prior to his passing, though, he held an auction and a good amount of his Ford parts were sold to Bruce Campbell in Anchorage. Bruce passed all his collection of Model T parts on to me, and this is where most of the pieces came from for this project. We are grateful that George Clayton collected and saved these parts, and also thank Bruce for allowing me to be able to keep them in circulation to help others with their projects. If you need any T parts, let me know.

Photo of Bobby Sheldon before winning the first
automobile race in Fairbanks in 1917.
Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson
We still need a hood from a Model T to complete the replica, so if you have an old “rough” one, please get in touch with me.

Many thanks to the gang of docents that have been involved in the building of the replica from old and sometimes rusty pieces that I hauled in to the museum. Watch for this fun car driving around Wedgewood Resort this summer.

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Be sure to stop by the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum this month and check out the interesting selection of gifts in our shop. There is no admission fee just to shop, although you might want to see our newest displays in the museum and climb into the 1911 Everitt for a fun Christmas photo. We're open on Sundays from noon to 6 PM, and will also be open on December 9 from 5-9 PM.

On December 9 from 5-7 pm we'll be hosting a book-signing with Sandy Jamieson and Nancy DeWitt, illustrator and author of our new Alaska's Automobile Pioneer: Ride Along With Bobby Sheldon Coloring Book. We're very excited about its release, which features 18 whimsical illustrations and text highlighting Bobby's inventions and adventures in the Last Frontier. Even adults will want to color some pages! The book is a bargain at $5.95. If you can't make it into the museum on a Sunday, the books are available 24/7 at the Wedgewood Resort front desk.
Nancy will also be signing copies of our museum book, Alaska's Fountainhead Collection: Vintage Treads and Threads on December 9. Beautifully illustrated with over 280 photographs, this book highlights 46 of the museum's rarest cars, plus several historic fashion pieces and entertaining snapshots from Alaska's early motoring days. The book sells for $19.95.

We have a nice selection of other books, including ones featuring period fashions, cars to color, and old-fashioned paper dolls.

You'll find plenty of stocking stuffers in our gift shop, including the ever-popular finger magnet tool from Busted Knuckle Garage ($9.95), day passes to the museum ($10), key rings, bookmarks, magnets, mint boxes, coasters, lapel pins, and antique car earrings (all under $20). We also offer season passes, which are $40 for an individual and $60 for a family (up to 2 adults and 4 children).

We have several shirts to choose from, including standard t-shirts and ladies tops sparkling with Swarovski crystals. Hurry in for one of our popular "Too Bad..." shirts shown at right, or one featuring our 1920 Argonne, 1932 Chysler, or 1906 Pope-Toledo and 1907 White Steamer together. We also have shirts, ball caps, and knit hats with our Auburn logo embroidered on them.

Fashionistas will love our selection of scarves, beaded clutches, retro hats, and vintage-inspired jewelry. Our cloche hats have been especially popular with museum visitors this year.

We carry such a wide variety of necklaces, pins, bracelets, and earrings that ladies may want to come in and make a wish list for their secret shopper. Our newest additions feature Art Deco-inspired necklaces and earrings, all reasonably priced.

Finally, don't miss our die-cast cars, infant onesies, and custom-made copper ornaments. There is something for everyone here! Our books, shirts, hats and several other items can be purchased by phone--just call 907-450-2100 to inquire.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the Road: Skagway

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
I just returned from a quick trip to Skagway, where Bobby Sheldon built Alaska's first automobile and Martin Itjen operated his historic street car tour business.

Skagway is a quaint little town that sits on the water at the head of Taiya Inlet. Getting there from Fairbanks isn't easy. One either drives 1.5 days, passing through Canada en route, or flies to Juneau and then hops onto a ferry or small plane for a ride north up Lynn Canal. I opted for the latter.

I have to say that upon arriving in Skagway via Seaplanes Alaska, I have not been that cold in a good many years. It was 27 F with a 35 mph wind blowing from the northeast, right down the streets like a wind tunnel. It felt like I was in Prudhoe Bay!

Photo courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush
National Park, Rapuzzi Collection
To warm up, I went and examined the Martin Itjen "Street Car #1" for the National Park Service. The bus has a lot of history and character about it, and is in need of some work to preserve it for the long-term.

The street car is an interesting blend of parts. It sits on a 1908 Packard chassis, and the rear part of the body is from a horse-drawn omnibus. The current engine is a 1919 Dodge 4-cylinder with a 3-speed transmission coupled to the Packard differential. A lot of additions were made to this unique vehicle, which I will write about in a future post.

Photo courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush
National Park, Rapuzzi Collection
It would be nice to know the history of the Packard that Itjen used in this street car. We would also love to know the history of the Veerac truck (at right) that he used in an earlier rendition of Street Car #1, which also carried the omnibus body.

Skagway is a neat place to visit if you have not been there, but I would recommend that you go during the summer and avoid that nasty wind.

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Alaska's First Pierce-Arrow

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Pierce Great Arrow in Fairbanks, Alaska
Photo courtesy of Candy Waugman. May not be used without permission.
The 1906 Great Arrow shown above was the first known Pierce-Arrow in Alaska and the fifth automobile in Fairbanks, arriving on the steamer Tanana on September 6, 1909. Dave Coutemanche, owner of the Comet Barber Shop, used it for a passenger stage between Fairbanks and Ester until one fateful day in November of 1910.

“Courtemanche Auto Wrecked By A Fire” proclaimed the headline in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Because of a leaking gasoline tube, one of the few autos in the camp, the Pierce Arrow car of Dave Courtemanche is now a burned and twisted wreck, the auto having caught fire…and burned so fiercely that it was almost impossible to extinguish the flames." The leaking gasoline spread the fire onto the roadway for several meters around the burning car. "An attempt was made to pull the auto out of the burning pool but that proved useless as a new pool of fire was quickly formed.” 

Fortunately, the Great Arrow was not a complete loss, and someone performed some major repairs on it after the fire. By the time Charles W. Joynt purchased it in March of 1914, it only needed some minor work to make it operational. Joynt, who was manager of the Tanana Valley Railroad, intended to use the automobile to transport passengers between Gilmore (located several miles north of Fox on what is now the Steese Highway) and Summit Roadhouse. Passengers could ride the train or electric rail car between Fairbanks and Gilmore, but from Gilmore the railroad turned west and north to Olnes, passing through the site of today’s Hilltop CafĂ© on the Elliot Highway. The Great Arrow provided quick access to and from the Summit Roadhouse, which was located to the east on Cleary Summit.

Joynt's venture must not have done well, for he sold the Great Arrow to Hosea Ross (likely the driver pictured above) the following year. While carrying passengers between Fairbanks and Big Delta, the car became hopelessly stranded near Shaw Creek during the big October blizzard of 1915. Then on August 14, 1916, with five passengers and driver R.T. Blakely aboard, it plunged through the bridge spanning Chena Slough and into the water. “Six Men Narrowly Escape Death When Bridge Collapses” noted the Fairbanks Daily Times. The big car was almost completely submerged, upside down, and one passenger nearly drowned. Apparently the nine- year-old bridge had been considered unsafe for some time. The car was salvaged and was still in Fairbanks in 1922, but its fate after that is unknown.

1907 Pierce Great Arrow at the Nethercutt Museum
Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Steam Whistles & a Locomobile Engine

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Be sure to look closely under our video players when you visit the museum. You'll find some interesting artifacts, including these steam whistles and Locomobile steam engine.

Steam whistles were commonly used on locomotives and steam ships as warning devices, and in factories to signal shift changes. When the lever was pulled, a valve opened and let live steam escape through an aperture. The steam alternately compressed and expanded inside the bell, creating the sound. The whistle’s tone depended on the bell’s length and how far the operator opened the valve.

The 2-cylinder Locomobile double-acting steam engine was designed by the Stanley Brothers and is nearly identical to the one in the museum’s 1901 Rochester (not  presently on display). In addition to powering automobiles, Locomobile engines were used for industrial purposes like driving conveyors and hoists, and feeding sawmill carriages.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Vintage Threads: Automobile Lap Robes

by Nancy DeWitt
Lap robe and foot warmer. A "carbon coal brick" was
ignited and placed in the foot warmer's tray for heat.
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We don't have a lot of artifacts beyond cars and fashions in our museum, but visitors may have noticed a traffic light, gas pump, spark plug collection, and some displays in the video kiosks. Careful observers may have also noticed a few blankets hanging behind the front seats of several of the cars. These lap robes are carryovers from the carriage and sleigh days, and served the same purpose after the advent of the automobile; that is, something to snuggle under while riding in an open, unheated vehicle.

Lap robes were typically made from wool, mohair, horsehair, curly silk, or alpaca. Some were made from leather or had a rubber outer layer for use in wet weather. Robes came with many different designs, ranging from solid colors and geometric patterns to flower and animal motifs. The 1912 Chase catalog alone offered more than 150 lap robe designs. In Alaska, fur-covered hides from caribou or bear were probably the warmest choice.

A garment rack or robe rail gave passengers a place to drape their robes and coats when not in use. Robe rails were typically made of brass, nickel, or braided cord.

As the automobile grew in popularity, so did the diversity of lap robe options. Some had special pockets for feet, while others had fur handmuffs sewn inside.

Some lap robes were precursors to today's "Snuggies," where the user fastened him- or herself into a custom-fitted bag. The one at right, featured in the February 1915 issue of Popular Mechanics, offered a chest protector." I'm unclear what this entailed. A built-in bra? A leather shield to protect from flying rocks? Or simply a layer of blanket worn over the chest?

When upscale car manufacturers started giving wealthy buyers their choice of coachwork, some blanket companies began offering the option of ordering a lap robe to match or complement a car's interior.

Other entrepreneurs developed accessories for lap robes and rails, including locks that secured a blanket or coat to the rail (photo at left). One invention rolled a robe out of and back into a spring-loaded case, so one could pull it out like a window shade (see ad at right). Another inventor developed a child seat that attached to the robe rail. In 1929, a patent was issued for a robe rail with a removable cap on one end, allowing for an umbrella, cane, or fishing rod to be inserted for storage.

Robe rails were added to automobiles for many decades, and one can be found in one the youngest production cars we have on display, a 1934 Packard. Automobile robe rails and straps were not uncommon through the 1950s, as car heaters were wither absent or insufficient for warming the back passenger area. Although modern cars don't carry robe rails, I can tell you from experience that some Alaskans still resort to using lap blankets when riding in a car here at -40!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Meet Our New Mechanic

We're pleased to announce that Brad Dietrich has joined our museum staff. He comes to us after 40 years of work as an automobile mechanic. While his career has had him fixing everything from Rolls-Royces to Subarus, he says that nothing has had him as excited as the opportunity to work on the amazing collections of classics that the museum has collected.
Working on the Model T engine for our replica race car

When not working on cars, you'll find Brad working on his small produce farm here in Fairbanks (Bender Mountain Farm--they have the most amazing potatoes!), or cruising local rivers and trails via boat and snowmachine. There's a good chance, though, that working at the museum will bring an addictive new hobby to his antique car!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hershey Annual Swap Meet 2014

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

When I arrived in Hershey, PA this year for the annual swap meet I was greeted by rather decent weather. It didn't rain until Saturday morning, and then not too much, so it was much better than 2013 when we almost got washed away. It appeared that visitor numbers were down, but they were spending money and the vendors seemed busy.
This early original, single-cylinder Cadillac was a great looking survivor, and I would have brought it home if owner was selling. It was one of those cars that reached out and called my name, saying, "I would fit into Fairbanks just fine!" The owners were driving the car/pickup around the meet and it appeared to run smoothly like a Cadillac should.

This was a first for me, as I had never seen a Model T converted to a 4x4 like this. It was a very crude but clever job, and looks like it would have worked fine. It really makes you appreciate how these old cars got modified and used.
If you have never made it to the Hershey fall swap meet, you should go just to see what all is there. It always amazes me to see some of the things that show up at a swap meet for old CAR parts. I never thought I would see a pronghorn mount or a bear rug for sale there, but there they both were. I didn't bother to stop and ask what he wanted for them.
It is rather hard to imagine a scene like this--a nice warm day, and not having to elbow your way thru the aisles between the rows of vendors. Granted, this photo was taken early in the morning, but it is normally much busier than what I encountered. I think the rain last year must have scared some folks away.

I didn't find a lot of the parts we needed, as most are rather rare items. I did, however, find this and thought, "Wow, this would be perfect for the wife!" Then either common sense or fear made me rethink that idea.

There are always treasure collections that you can't walk by, just in case the part you need is nestled in one of the piles. And no, I did not buy the full antelope mount standing near the trailer.

So, another Hershey meet has passed, and I'm already planning to go to the 2015 meet.  I know our parts will be there!

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