Monday, February 24, 2014

Museum Wins Prestigious AACA Award

Every year the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) presents national awards to recognize exceptional achievements and contributions to the AACA and the preservation of collector cars. At their annual meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in early February, the AACA Plaque for Outstanding Achievement in the Preservation of Automotive History was presented to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum.

The AACA is the world’s largest special-interest automobile club, with over 60,000 members in more than 400 chapters across the U.S., Canada, and over 50 countries. “We are honored that the AACA recognizes not just our commitment to preserve and exhibit antique vehicles,” says museum owner Tim Cerny, “but also the immense effort we have dedicated to researching, archiving, and sharing automotive history.”

Cerny believes that his museum has a vital responsibility to document and preserve such history for future generations. Nancy DeWitt, the museum’s historian, has spent countless hours researching their most rare cars, including several one-of-a-kind and sole-surviving models. Her research also focuses on the colorful stories behind Alaska’s first automobiles and motorists. 

Nancy DeWitt and museum manager Willy Vinton
with the award.
“Until our museum opened in 2009, Alaska’s automotive heritage was completely overshadowed by our aviation, rail, and riverboat history,” says DeWitt. “We have worked hard to change that, at the national as well as local level.” She has published several articles in national magazines, writes a history column for the museum’s blog, and recently authored a book about the museum collection.

DeWitt’s research also forms the basis for the signs, interpretive exhibits, and historic photos and videos displayed in the museum’s galleries. “Our goal is to present automotive history in an informative, engaging format.” Feedback from museum visitors indicates they are on target, with this comment being typical: “The signage was readable and informative, and full of stories to help you remember these unique cars. Neither of us are car enthusiasts, and we LOVED it.”

Thank you, AACA!

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, February 17, 2014

Docent Day at the Museum

by Willy Vinton

The museum recently helped celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Japan Airlines charter flights to Fairbanks with an open house. As with most events in the museum, we had to move several cars to accommodate the food and people. Our docents provide valuable assistance with this task. As we do on many of our weekly volunteer workdays, we started with a "quick" coffee break and discussion about the day's goals. Then, we were off and running in all directions to put the museum back in order after Monday's event. Above right is Steve overseeing the correct placement of ropes and drip pads for the 1911 Ford Model T depot hack.

Some of the cars get stored in the shop during events. Here Terry, Rod, and Mike get ready to skate the 1914 Grant out from under the lift, where we had to store it to make room in the shop. Otherwise, when we have six cars in the shop there's no room for projects. The skates are a great tool to use around the museum. One goes under each tire, then each is jacked up so the tires are off the floor and the car can be pushed in virtually any direction.

Once everything is put back where it belongs, it's time for another coffee break to wash down some cookies and discuss the next project. We decided that it was time to do something with the '09 Model T Ford, which developed a serious knock in the engine last summer. With only 20 or so miles on it, I think it may have been a very poor engine build from the start, so we will know before long.

We let Rod, the youngest of the crew, work on the easy-to-get-at things, while Mike, the oldest docent, got underneath for the hard-to-access parts. What's wrong with this picture???? I guess that's what happens when you get too many chiefs in charge! I noticed Steve gave them a hand, but it seems to be just resting on the seat...

With the hogshead ready to remove, we were able to check the 4th main. It seemed to be okay, so I suspect that we will find an issue with one of the main bearings in the engine. Next Tuesday we will pull the engine out of the car and proceed from there to find the problem, I think the guys are having fun with this project. I know we sure appreciate all the help that our docents give us, and hope they learn a little with each project.

The day ends with the firewall and the steering out of the way. We got a lot done during this docent work session! Even some of the floor got scrubbed, thanks to Paul and his floor scrubber driving skills. Be sure to look into the shop if you come by the museum on Sunday to see our progress on the Model T.

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, February 10, 2014

Back Seat Driver's Guide

This handy guide was printed and distributed by The Alaska Miner, a weekly supplement to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner printed from 1938 to 1941. We wonder if drivers really handed these out to passengers?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Baby Doe Tabor and the Red Dress

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Doris Langley Moore dress.
Among our collection of 600+ historic textiles are several garments and accessories that reportedly belonged to famous figures, or people with well-known names. These include a man's morning suit custom made for E.P. Pillsbury (of the Pillsbury Foods family) and a 1930s dress custom made for Mildred Barnes Bliss, the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina (1917-1933). We also have a lovely dress from the collection of Doris Langley Moore, costume designer for Katherine Hepburn in "The African Queen," fashion historian, and founder of the Museum of Costume in Bath, England.

In some cases we can verify a costume's provenance through photographs or paperwork, but in many cases the best we can do is "attribute" the gown or suit to an individual. Such is the case with this eye-popping, red silk dress fashioned with latticed bands of crimson velvet. It was made by Chas. A. Stevens & Brothers was reportedly owned by Colorado resident Elizabeth McCourt Tabor, best known as "Baby Doe" and once called "the best dressed woman in the west."

Baby Doe was the second wife of wealthy silver magnate Horace Tabor. Horace created a scandal in 1883 when he left his first wife to marry Baby Doe, a woman almost half his age. They lived a lavish lifestyle and Baby Doe gained a "reputation of one of the most beautiful, flamboyant, and alluring women in the mining West." At one point the Tabors were among the five wealthiest families in the country, but they lost their fortune following the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act and subsequent Panic of 1893. Both died destitute, Horace in 1899 and Baby Doe in 1935. Her story inspired two books, a Hollywood movie, and the opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe.

Just as with the cars in our collection that were once owned by celebrities, a garment with an interesting provenance often leads to intriguing questions. If this dress was owned by Baby Doe during the height of her husband's wealth, it would have been made during the 1880s or early 1890s. The vibrant color, high neckline and lack of a bustle and drapery point to the latter. Yet, there are elements such as the puff sleeves, pigeon breast, and train that are more indicative of the late 1890s and early 1900s--after the Tabors lost their wealth. Perhaps Baby Doe was always on the cutting edge of fashion, and just happened to have a dress that was ahead of the fashion curve?

Regardless of its provenance, it is an exquisite dress. The color is so rich it almost makes your eyes water. In addition to the velvet lattice and elegant layers on the trained skirt, there are other fine details that delight the eye: the velvet floral accents on the bodice, the black and ivory inset lace collar, and the whimsical trim on the shoulders. One might say this dress is rather busy with so many textures and accents, but that seems appropriate for a ostentatious millionaire forever known as the "miner's sweetheart."

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!