Monday, January 27, 2014

Scottsdale Auction Week

 by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Things finally slowed down enough for me to write a little bit about the Scottsdale auction week I attended recently. I didn't buy anything for the museum, but saw some interesting stuff. At right is a very unique and attractive 1916 Stutz Bulldog Special. It has a custom body, much different from our 1918 Bulldog. These cars were special ordered and custom built for each buyer to their liking.

Take a look at the custom cabinets in the rear seat area of the Stutz Bulldog. These must have been ordered by someone who liked to party a little, as the right side opened to a bar. Overall it is a very nice car and the last year for the open valve T-head engine.
It was hard to miss this 1952 Mercedes, which made me think of the colorful VW bug owned by Kelley Rivers in Fairbanks. It was completely hand painted "to bring the car into harmony with nature." I thought that's what rust was for? I don't know why anyone would do this to a car, but it did draw a lot of lookers and comments, both good and not so good. Otherwise, it looked to be a very nice car that could be improved with a paint job.

Of course, no auction would be complete without a "Duesy." Wow, this 1929 Duesenberg LeBaron-bodied Model J phaeton was a spectacular car inside, under and all around! I spent a lot of time drooling over this one, and took several pictures. I noticed that they had the "elder" guys detailing this car, and not the young ones. It was originally owned by the notorious John Duval Dodge, and ended up selling for $1.7 million plus 10% buyer's commission.

Here is an interesting Stutz with a fabric body. It was not the most attractive car at the auction for sure, with the fit and finish far from good looking, but it probably made someone happy to take it home.

After the auctions, we got to enjoy the longest-running weekly car show at McDonald's in Scottsdale. There were around 500 cars or so on display, including lots of unusual stuff like this VW. It must have been built for young folks, because with no doors it would be rather hard for us old folks to put on and take off.  Ron decided he didn't want it, and our wives agreed.
And then there was this! Someone obviously had a lot of time, a VW that had been hit from the rear, and a couple rusted-out '57 Chevys. We tried to figure out what the goal was on this project:
1. how to make a VW faster.
2. how to make a '57 chevy get better gas mileage.
Or, was he just winging it? Whatever the goal, he did get it done, but I think I would have left the wing off the top.

It was a good week, but I'm ready to get home.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Early Bus Transportation in Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The first internal combustion buses appeared in the late 1800s in Europe, but Fairbanks wouldn't see its first one until 1925. Until the early 1920s, locals packed themselves into wagons, narrow-gauge train cars, automobiles, and trucks for in-town transit or rides between Fairbanks and other towns. One example is the Saurer truck at right, which served as a bus on July 4, 1913, transporting passengers to the ballfield to watch the first airplane flight over Fairbanks.

A few weeks later Robert Sheldon made his pioneering drive between Fairbanks and Valdez, proving that an automobile stage line to the coast was possible. For many years he relied on Model Ts, Cadillacs, and Dodges for his business, but eventually added buses to the fleet. By the 1920s he had formed the Richardson Highway Transportation Company (RHTC) with James L. Galen and George Hazelet, and in 1925 acquired the Graham Brothers bus shown here. "First Big Bus Comes to Town" proclaimed the May 25, 1925 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that year. "A fourteen-passenger bus was received on last night's train by the Richardson Highway Transportation Company for local use throughout the summer."

The RHTC next acquired the bus at right for carrying passengers between Fairbanks and the coast. I have not been able to identify its make, nor has the Museum of Bus Transportation. The coach somewhat resembles a Flxible, which was commonly mounted on chassis from Buick, Studebaker and Reo. I don't recognize the chassis either and cannot read the emblem above the radiator. There is some resemblance to Studebaker buses of the time (and there is a reference to the RHTC owning a Studebaker bus), but the front end isn't right. Any idea what it is?

The RHTC owned two of these buses, one of which was driven on the Richardson Highway by Bill Frame in the late 20s and early 30s. Thomas Groves drove the second one between Fairbanks and Circle "to connect with up and down river boats" according to an ad in the News-Miner.

In 1925 Robert Sheldon, James Galen, and Fairbanks mayor Thomas Marquam acquired the first automobile transportation concession in Mt. McKinley National Park. The Mt. McKinley Tourist and Transportation Company (MMTTC) used a variety of vehicles to carry passengers on tours, including a fleet of Studebaker Big Sixes, the Graham Brother bus shown above (and the 2nd car in this line), and even a horse-drawn stagecoach brought in from Yellowstone. Most of their customers traveled to the Park entrance by train, and then they were transported 12 miles to a base camp at the Savage River.

One of the most intriguing early buses in interior Alaska was a ca. 1924 Fageol (pronounced "fadgl") safety coach owned by the MMTTC, shown here with driver and naturalist George Lingo*. The name derived from its low center of gravity (it had an underslung frame and "under-worm" axle) and its extra wide track. The 5-door, 22-seat coach was powered by a 4-cylinder Hall-Scott engine and sat on a 218 inch wheelbase. Sheldon's daughter, Frances Erickson, recalls that the Fageol was very upscale.

By the mid-30s the MMTTC had several buses in their fleet, including these three that need to be identified.
From Snapshots from the Past: A Roadside History
of Denali National Park and Preserve

Available from Alaska Geographic
Of course, there were other buses in Alaska before 1940, but I lack the space to cover all of them. You can read about the Skagway "Street Car" tour buses here and see a photo of Juneau's first school buses here and here.

Above photos courtesy of Candy Waugaman and Frances Erickson. May not be reproduced without permission.

*According to the University of Alaska website, "Lingo was one of the organizers for the Mt. McKinley Tourist Organization, a group struggling to put 'The Mountain' on the map as a tourist attraction as early as the late 1920s. Several winters he was assigned the job of traveling through the U.S. placing exhibits of Mt. McKinley Park in all major transportation companies, and meeting with tourist companies and the press. In 1932 George was elected to the Territorial Legislature as a Fairbanks representative. He was 31 at the time, the youngest man ever elected to the House and the first Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines' graduate to hold public office. He served two terms." Frances Erickson remembers that Lingo knew how to pick up porcupines bare-handed, which no doubt prepared him for his career in politics!

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!

Monday, January 13, 2014

In the Shop: 1934 Offenhauser Midget Racer

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Since the weather has been in winter mode, I have procrastinated on working on this project. That's because as soon as our Offy midget racer is ready, I will want to fire it up and see how it runs. Come on, spring time!

This is the piston and rod configuration of the little racer.  As you can see, it is of the highest quality of the time, and as good as most today in the performance line.

This is the gear drive for the front of the engine that drives both camshafts, oil pump, and the magneto.

It's interesting to note that there is no timing marks on any of the gears from the beginning, but one would think that over time someone would have marked them for convenience of quick assembly if needed. I find it to be a very high quality set of gears, and tolerances are great.

One of the problems we found is the near valve seems to be either different from the others, or the keeper is not seated properly, so it will be removed along with the others to make sure they are all seated and installed as they should be.

This shows the crankcase with the openings that give access to the crank, rods, and the fasteners that hold the block to the crankcase. The block on the right shows the cylinders with the water jacket covers off. At this time the crank is fitted and two rods installed, so watch for it this spring, as it should make just a little noise when it fires up.

You can learn more about our Offenhauser midget racer in this video.

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!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Photo Quiz #1

We're digging through our accumulation of photos and have several that we can't identify. So, to kick off the new year, we're starting a new quiz series hoping that our readers can help.

The photo of these lovely lasses was taken along the Seward Highway and comes to us courtesy of Candy Waugaman. Can you name the make and year of the car?

It looks like those front fenders have seen some hammer time!