Monday, April 28, 2014

New Museum Exhibit: Extreme Motoring - Alaska Style!

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Moving in the 1921 Daniels
before opening day.
The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum has an exciting milestone approaching. On June 1, 2009, we opened our museum to the public. In those five years we have experienced a lot of growth, gained many new fans, and expanded our collections--especially our historic clothing collection. While part of our museum's focus has always been on Alaska's automotive history, this year we are taking this theme a step further in celebration of our five-year anniversary.

On June 1, we will open a new exhibit titled "Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers." Our Alaska Gallery will feature original Alaska cars, including the very first automobile driven in the Territory, as well as examples of the some of the first automobiles in Alaska. Some of these include the 1905 Sheldon, 1906 Pope-Toledo, 1907 White Steamer, 1908 Brush, and 1910 Chalmers-Detroit. New signage about the cars' histories and first owners will accompany each vehicle.

Alaska State Library P228-279
Our historic photograph exhibit is being updated with more photos of Alaska's first cars and the hardships encountered by their drivers. We are also creating new interpretive panels to tell the stories of the most adventurous of our pioneering motorists. You'll be able to learn more details about Bobby Sheldon and the runabout he built in Skagway in 1905, and Martin Itjen's "street cars"--accompanied by actual recordings of these men. We'll have an exhibit on Sheldon's pioneering drive between Fairbanks and Valdez in 1913, with new photographs provided by his daughter, Frances Erickson. Other exhibits will highlight Alaska's first motor stage drivers, Valdez's role in the 1908 New York-to-Paris Race, Charles Percival's transcontinental drive that took him to Skagway and over the White Pass in 1911, the history of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail (now called the Richardson Highway), the first automobile races in Fairbanks, and the unusual snow vehicles Alaskan pioneers built for winter travel.

Our popular Sourdough Roadhouse exhibit, where visitors can dress up in old-time clothing and climb into a 1910 car for photos, is staying put but we've added more children's clothes to the "outhouse closet." Speaking of children, we're building a new play table where they can construct a roadhouse and drive toy cars between Fairbanks and Valdez.

Sandy Jamieson sketches the 1908 Brush.
On top of all of this there will be new additions to our audio tour and clothing exhibits. Later this summer we'll release a new coloring book about Bobby Sheldon's adventures, featuring whimsical illustrations by Fairbanks artist Sandy Jamieson.

"Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers" will run through March 31, 2015 and is free with museum admission. If you are visiting from out of town, we hope you will choose to stay at Wedgewood Resortour exhibit sponsor and home to Bear Lodge and the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. Hotel guests receive half-price admission to the museum, VIP access to museum tours, discounts on passes and a free shuttle to the University of Alaska Museum of the North, complimentary WiFi, and access to other resort activities, including our private nature reserve. Plus, you might get to see one or two of the museum cars motoring right past the hotel entrance!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bakersfield Swap Meet 2014

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Bakersfield 2014 was hot and dry--almost too hot--but the Alaskans survived it. The first day featured the Horseless Carriage Club of America tour, with a lot of interesting early cars. Of course, a lot of dependable Ford Model Ts were there, but there were some more rare cars like a big Marmon touring, and this great looking Cole V8 coupe. We were offered seats in several cars, but took a rain check as my wife Wilma had to return to the hotel and work (darn computer age). I decided to tour the antique shops around the town, and I managed to buy a hard-to-find item at one: a bottle of old metal jacks (remember the little rubber ball with jacks?). Our wood shop needed these, but that's a story for another time.

The first thing that really grabbed my attention at the swap meet was this rare, 1939 Willys pickup. I believe it may have belonged to Richie Clyne (owner of the Auto Collections at the Imperial Palace) or a friend of his. What a great piece of history it is! The body on it is straight and there is no rust to speak of. I would have liked to bring it home, but have no room at the inn. Sigh.

This model T block is a made-up, open valve built by grinding off all of the enclosure that covered the valve area. The job was very well done, and the price was also very "well done" (it was the same price I paid for a complete engine with transmission a short time ago).

Meet regulars Stan and Terry brought this cute little American Bantam Roadster to the meet to sell. It only took a couple test drives before someone purchased it. And no, Terry didn’t run over Stan, and Stan was not trying to block his passage. It's just that little car = little problems. In this case, the horn wire was shorted out and when you turned the wheel, it would sound the horn.

Now this would make a great tow rig for us! The old twin-six Packard was wearing its original paint, somewhat worse for wear, but a great car with a known history from day one.

As with all the swap meets I travel to, I came home with a few parts. With the cars we have, it's rare to find the things on our wish list, but the hunt is half the fun!

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, April 14, 2014

Our Nemesis Car: Duesenberg Model J

1931 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Convertible Coupe at
the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automotive Museum
by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I'm biased, but our TripAdvisor reviews back me up: we have a very, very nice assemblage of automobiles in our museum. There is one hole in the collection, however, and our attempts to fill it have been repeatedly thwarted. That spot is reserved for a Duesenberg Model J.

1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton
at the Gilmore Museum
Introduced in December of 1928, the Duesenberg Model J was a luxury car designed to compete with European royalty like Hispano-Suiza, Rolls Royce, and Isotta-Fraschini. A technical marvel, it had the most powerful engine of its day and often carried the most elegant coachwork available. Its combination of visual beauty and mechanical superiority make the Model J a perfect fit for our museum's mission; that is, to showcase some of the most important and interesting technological and design advances in American automobile development prior to World War II.

Despite years of searching, we haven't yet found the right Duesenberg Model J for our museum. If you know of someone who is ready to part with theirs and would like to see it displayed in a museum (and driven!), please put them in touch with us.

In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy the Duesenbergs on display in other museums around the country.

Duesenberg Model J in the Bruce Meyer Collection
1931 Model J Convertible Victoria
at the Henry Ford

1931 Model J Murphy Convertible
Sedan at the Auburn Cord
Duesenberg Automotive 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. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the Shop: Building a Replica Race Car

Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Our latest project in the museum shop is to build a replica of the car that Bobby Sheldon drove in the first organized car race in Fairbanks, held on July 5, 1917. The rules required that the cars be stripped down and carry both a driver and mechanic. Sheldon won that race and the $500 prize in a Model T Ford. That was a lot of money at the time--more than the factory price of a new Model T.

Our replica of Sheldon's race car will use parts collected in Alaska from 1916-1925 Model Ts. It will be a nice example of an early race car--and it will run! We've gathered parts from all over for this project, and owe special thanks to Bruce Campbell of Anchorage for helping gather several, including the frame.

The frame we're using is from a 1925 Model T. The major difference between it and the frame from a late-teens model is that it has a wider rear cross member. We aren't going to restore the parts for the replica, but rather, put them into safe operating condition. In fact, they'll probably be in better condition than the parts were in Sheldon's car when he raced!

This project is being performed by our "pit crew" volunteers that come in every Tuesday for a day of fun and work in the museum. I can't say enough great things about these guys. Their enthusiasm and dedication is greatly appreciated.

Here are the front and rear axles we're using for the replica. We'll rebuild them to make them operable and safe for speeds under 50 mph (although we probably won't exceed 20 mph). We haven't decided what wheels to use yet, but will probably go with 30-inch wood.

We are building the engine from several we gathered for usable hard parts. By the time we finish the project the pit crew will have a full understanding of how a Model T operates. Then, we'll move on to a full round of driving lessons so they will all be able to drive a "pedal car" (Model Ts have several pedals to master). When you come to the Midnight Sun Cruise-In in June you should see the Sheldon racer being driven by one of the volunteers and a "mechanic" riding in the passenger seat. If you visit the museum on Sunday, be sure to look through the shop windows to follow our progress.

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!

If you would like to view the first installment of our video series on the build-up, visit our Fountainhead Museum YouTube Channel.