Monday, July 21, 2014

A Dose of Hendersons

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Among the rare cars in our collection is a 1913-1914 Henderson Model 66, made by the Henderson Motor Company of Indianapolis. It has been in storage since the day it arrived in Fairbanks back in May of 2009. The car needs a lot of work to make it presentable, but we haven't decided just what that work will entail. Our challenge focuses on the body (from the doors on back) and rear deck of the car, neither of which are correct. With some sleuthing we found out why.

The car originally had a touring body that apparently was destroyed when the owner's son lit the back seat on fire. The damaged Henderson was then acquired by a farrier who cut off the back end and made the car into a pickup. Fewer customers had been bringing horses to him for shoeing, but now he could travel to his clients and maintain his business.

David Robert Kniskern later found the Henderson, complete with the farrier's equipment, in an area called Fish House near Johnston, NY. According to Kniskern's daughter-in-law, it was sold by a dealer named Bob Smith who handled used and obsolete autos. Kniskern, whose initials are on the car's doors, later sold the Henderson to Walt Myers, owner of the Bridgewater Automobile Museum in NY.

Myers converted the Henderson to the "speedster" shown here and then parked it behind chicken wire in a dusty stall inside his museum. Years later it was purchased by J. Parker Wickham, who sold it to us in 2008.

Thinking we might want to replicate a correct touring body, I set out several years ago to find other Hendersons and their owners. The bright red 1913 opera coupe at right is part of the Bill Evans Collection in San Diego.

I located a second car in California--a beautiful blue 1913 Henderson Model 56 5-passenger touring car owned by Walker Woolever in Santa Cruz. The owner kindly sent some pictures and said we were welcome to come take photos and measurements of his car.

The third Henderson owner I found--the appropriately named Bill Henderson--lives in Ontario, Canada. Bill had seen our Henderson in the Bridgewater Museum and recounted what Myers had told him about its history. Bill also sent photos of his 1913 Henderson roadster, along with a copy of a hard-to-find operating manual.

Last week, Bill and Sharon Henderson visited Fairbanks during the start of their Alaska cruise tour. I picked them up at their hotel and took them to the warehouse where our Henderson is stored. Looks like I should have dusted it first! Regardless, we had a great visit and I enjoyed seeing photos of Bill's restored Henderson and the other cars in his and Sharon's collection.

I'm told that there is only one other known Henderson besides ours and the three others shown here. Does anyone know where it is located?

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!

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